Working with the next generation of digital talent

DMU digital design students

A long time ago, I studied Graphic Design at Leicester Polytechnic. I say studied. Much of my time was spent rummaging around in record shops if I’m honest. Anyway, I got my degree (2.2 – serves me right), bummed around for a year or so and then, like many of my contemporaries, headed to the bright lights of London to seek my fortune. That didn’t work, though I did end up staying in the smoke for about ten years, working as a creative digital designer for a number of agencies.

While I was away they rebranded Leicester Poly as De Montfort University, ran adverts on TV featuring killer whales and knocked down the old Student Union (John Peel’s favourite venue apparently, well done). As fate would have it, I ended up back in Leicester in 2000, set up Cite and started learning the ropes running a digital agency.

A few years ago, via a mutual acquaintance, I was invited back to DMU to set an Industry brief for the third year Graphic Design students. This continued for a few years. It felt good to be putting something back, and being able to share some of my modest experience to the students’ advantage. In recent years, this commitment has expanded to becoming a part-time member of staff, running a UX/Web design module each year within the course’s interactive pathway .

This year’s 10 week module was planned around giving young creatives a first taste of working on a digital project. The brief was a fictional website redesign of Leicester’s flagship live music venue, De Montfort Hall. To add a sense of realism, I invited the venue’s Marketing Manager, Emma Dezalu, along to present the brief. Emma also kindly organised a behind the scenes tour of the venue, showing the dressing rooms used by The Beatles, The Smiths and Frank Sinatra among others, and allowing the students to take their own photography.

DMU student digital project

Above: A sample of the students’ work

With the brief and external client in place, I wanted the students to experience a process that echoed some of the typical practices what they would go through working for a modern, digital agency.

Research: We looked at a range of venue websites which the students critiqued among the group, along with a broader review of contemporary design trends.

Content and structure: A collective group workshop was undertaken during which we discussed navigation, structure, target audiences, key goals and calls to action.

UX wireframes: We focussed on 3 templates – Homepage, What’s On (Index) and Event detail – these were considered for both mobile and desktop, sketched out firstly on paper then in fidelity on screen.

Design: Branding and interface were explored during the creative cycle, referencing the agreed wireframes.

Prototype: Final designs were linked together in Invision as a simple, clickable prototype.

Presentation: All project work was collected in their sketchbooks and presented to Emma at the end of the module.

This module was the student’s first foray into design for screen and hopefully they will be inspired to pursue digital projects for the remainder of their course and beyond into industry.

Student comments on the digital module:

“I enjoyed this project a lot as it allowed for us to have a real understanding of real life creative briefs. Our tutor Andy guided us from the get go, from the basic elements a website needs to wireframes and sitemaps and then to final outcomes. With thorough planning and testing I can say I was able to create a website prototype that I am proud of.” – Alisha Babhania

“The module helped me visualise my ideas before I had started designing. With the use of sitemaps and wireframes, I was able to explain the decision I had made for the design. Overall the module was great and it taught me a lot. I really enjoyed this module and would love to get into more digital work in the future!” – Kenil Rawal

“The module gave us the experience of working with a “client” as we had to follow the brand guidelines and present our final website to the De Montfort Hall Marketing Manager. This made the brief feel as if it were a live brief. This module has equipped me with skills in a different area of graphic design that I would like to explore further throughout my degree”
– Shaina Patel