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A Guide to Digital Design Schools

Right from the off we’ve identified that one of the challenges regarding the digital design world is how quickly it moves; no sooner have you got your head round one trend or technology when the next Big New Thing comes along. This means that the most important people in the digital design world are actually the next generation of practitioners whose creative minds and technical skills will define the shape of things to come. With this in mind we’re taking a look at some of the universities and design schools which have a particular reputation for digital design excellence and innovation, as recommended by some of the best creatives around…


When you ask around a lot of the same courses crop up again and again, only With Associates founder Mathew Wilson though gave us a tabulated ranking of London College of Communication, Camberwell College of Arts, Ravensbourne and Kingston University. his reasons were two-fold: “Firstly the course tutors are inspiring and smart people in their own right; proper thinkers that seem aware of the the context in which the design discipline sits in the outside world. The kind of people that industry has lost to education. And secondly, over the years these institutions have fostered a culture that attracts the right sort of thinkers. Each is like a really healthy gut flora with the right mix of good bacteria to help fight the bad sort when it arises or to simply thrive when given the chance. I’m a little bit into the human microbiota at the moment, but trust me, it’s a good simile! It’s about a myriad of tiny biological effects combining to create a healthy ecosystem. The right people in the right place with the right thoughts and right opportunities.”

Jessica Walsh also mentioned Kingston after working with a recent intern from the south-west London university. “Hearing about the facilities and opportunities and free equipment was quite shocking and eye-opening to me,” she said. “It sounds pretty incredible.”


In Switzerland the École cantonale d'art de Lausanne (ECAL) is one of the best design schools in the world let alone Europe, and both its BA in Media & interaction Design and Masters in Design Research for Digital Innovation produce some of the most exciting new design talents. Less traditionally, Hyper Island has transformed the design education landscape with its immersive programmes developed in association with the creative industries. Launched in Stockholm, its courses have now spread to Singapore, Manchester and New York City, but the quality of graduates remains sky-high. “They do a fantastic job of preparing people for what it’s like to work in a real-world agency,” says James Chambers, founder of Animade.


As far as America goes, a lot of the most famous creative schools are still the places to look – Yale, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Arts Centre College of Design Pasadena, and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Two that get a special mention are both in New York: The School of Visual Arts (SVA) and ITP, the two-year graduate programme at the Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. Of SVA Jessica Walsh says: “There are so many talented working professionals teaching there. If you’re motivated and seek out the right teachers, you can make an awesome curriculum for yourself.” Jake Barton, founder of Local Projects agrees. “SVA has the best instructors and a good sense of adventurous pedagogy. The departments are all top notch, and each one flourishes within its field.” he also waxes lyrical about ITP. “It’s a hot mess of a programme in all the right ways. Its only constant is change and experimentation, making its students very proactive and capable of self creation. In fact it requires you to make yourself and your programme a success, which builds an uneven but often brilliant group of students.”

South America

Brazilian designer Felipe Rocha feels that his country’s creative culture is often commercially-driven, but says there are a few universities with good reputations. “PUC Rio de Janeiro is a very traditional private university renowned for their design research labs,” he says. “Also Unesp, a public design university in Bauru-SP. Although it's not focused on digital design, there are many good Brazilian digital and new media artists who studied there, like Rodrigo Braga, A Parede, Lucas Odahara and Pedro Veneziano.”


The importance of having tutors who also work as practising designers comes up again via Caroline Clements of Australian digital magazine Broadsheet. She says the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) stands out by virtue of its staff – “Many of the lecturers there work in the industry, rather than just being long-standing tutors,” she says.


Almost everyone we spoke to mentioned that finding the right people was only partly a question of identifying the best universities, or the most impressive courses. Mathew Wilson explains: “I’ve observed more commonly with digital designer/developers that the best come from non-design specific courses. Some of the smartest sorts I’ve worked with or met over my 15 years in the business have come from either a sociology / psychology course, or some sort of business or general ‘computing’ course. People from these backgrounds with a natural design eye turn into awesome digital designers and developers.”

James Chambers goes even further; for him the very best people will rise to the top because of their own talents. “I think the best digital designers tend to be the kind of people who have a real thirst to make beautiful digital things and will do so off their own back, university course or no. While certainly there are interaction and graphic design principles that all digital designers should be aware of, the fast-moving nature of the industry means any syllabus would quickly become outdated. New interaction models, devices, and operating systems are constantly evolving, and you’ve got to want to stay up-to-date with it to remain relevant.

“For me it’s about the self-starters, the people who see something, think ‘I could do better than that,’ then do. That’s the amazing thing about the internet - you can take on the world with an idea, a computer and a bit of elbow grease,” he adds.