A tough crowd

By Keith Noble – Design and Client Services Director

You know that moment when you say “yes” to something during a relaxed social evening? Yeah, you know the one. You’ve had a couple of drinks and you’re busy chatting to some new people, talking about what you do for a living: “Oh really? That’s interesting”, yadda, yadda, yadda. Then BANG, suddenly you’ve agreed to do a presentation about art and design to two classes of 30 six-year-olds at a local primary school on February 14th.

It seemed like a great idea at the time, because we’re genuinely passionate about educating the next generation of creative minds. However, that usually involves setting project briefs for undergraduates from the likes of UCLan and University of Bolton, or arranging student placements. This was genuinely out of the comfort zone.

Six-year-olds? 60 of them? On Valentine’s Day? In Bolton? Really?

In the words of Guns N’ Roses – “Welcome to the Jungle”.

Over the years I’ve done my fair share of presentations to various CEOs, Financial Directors, Vice Presidents of Marketing and founders of multi-national businesses – talking strategy, sharing ideas and creative solutions. They’ve often been challenging and nerve-racking, but somehow, facing a grilling from the Key Stage 1 warriors filled me with dread. Welcome back imposter syndrome. If anyone was going to see through me and point the finger shouting: “You’re winging it” surely, they would.

Miss Sharples (sharp by name and sharp by nature) was much more confident: “They’ll love you, they’ll be excited” she said. “They’ll hate me, they’ll be bored” I thought to myself.

How was I going to tackle one of the most arduous presentation challenges I’ve faced in my 29 years as a professional designer? How was I going to explain what I do to a classroom full of eyes, ears and curious minds?

The answer was staring me right in the face.

Love.

It was February 14th after all and St. Valentine had come to my rescue. I just had to ask myself: “What do I love and what do I love about what I do?” I was a six-year-old once and loved art at school. That six-year-old was still inside me, as was the passion that had led me to want to become a designer. THAT’S what I love doing. Simple.

Strip it back and design is everywhere. It’s in everything we use and touch, and it helps us to understand the world around us. From the car I used to drive to Bolton, the school that the kids were being taught in (and the furniture inside the classroom), to the books they read and learn from.

So, we talked about the love of art. We talked about what a designer does – “they design things”– I couldn’t really argue with that. We talked about car designers, building designers and furniture designers. We talked about graphic designers too, and about the most important thing a designer needs in order to do their job – their brain (“Eeewwww”), especially the right side for art, creativity, imagination and 3D shapes.

We talked about the alphabet and typefaces, all 4,511 that I currently have on my laptop. About colours in the rainbow – ROYGBIV, so seven, right? Actually, 1,867 Pantone colours in my colour book and 16,777,216 RGB colours on my computer. Sixty minds sufficiently blown, even Miss Sharples’!

We talked about image making, about photography and illustration. We then shared some old-school letterpress type (a last-minute purchase from eBay), together with the magic of Augmented Reality – seeing Kevin de Bruyne spring to life on an iPad.

Wooden letterpress

We then got messy with ink, letterpress and card, making THE best Valentine’s Day cards ever.

It was lovely to see their sponge-like brains fill with thoughts, ideas, possibilities, and of course the questions:

“I like your hair” (more of a statement, I know).

“Do you use a screwdriver?”

“Are you married to Miss Sharples?”

“Are you a magician?”

I’ll take the last one. Maybe designers are magicians (of sorts) with a lowercase ‘m’, performing minor miracles, helping to solve problems and helping people to do things and understand things in a better way than before.

My three take-aways?

  • Appreciation of the hard work, passion and dedication of our primary school teachers and staff.
  • Creativity and curiosity start early, and should be nurtured and encouraged at all levels of education
  • If you can explain what you do to a six-year-old, nothing else will phase you.

Thank you to all the staff and pupils of Clarendon Primary School in Bolton, for the warm welcome and keen attention. I hope you were all inspired and entertained. I know I was.