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“Nothing seems inconceivable” – Reasons to learn and keep learning in 2022

D&AD’s first president from education Rebecca Wright looks ahead to a landmark year

Rebecca Wright by Kirstin Moore
Illustration by Kirstin Moore

As the first D&AD President from education, Rebecca Wright, Dean of Academic Programmes at Central Saint Martins/UAL, aims to put an emphasis on learning this year. Whether looking at the role of the creative education of young people, or delving into the ways that we’re all still learning and sharpening our skills throughout our creative careers, D&AD will be exploring themes of learning throughout 2022. 

A series of thought leadership from across the creative industries and the world invites different perspectives on the “urgent” issues of education and learning. To kick off: Rebecca Wright herself on why we should continue to learn throughout our working lives.

So here it is, 2022. A year in which we dare for hope and seek new beginnings, and one in which we celebrate the extraordinary milestone of D&AD’s 60th anniversary. A good year to be D&AD President, a privilege to be the first from education, and the right year for D&AD to celebrate and shine a light on learning. This feels timely, even urgent, for a number of reasons but the focus here is on just three.

“This feels timely, even urgent, for a number of reasons but the focus here is on just three”

First, there is the impact of the global pandemic on learning, which has ongoing implications for individuals and our industries. As a design educator at a UK university, I know first-hand the uncertainty and disruption experienced by current students and recent graduates, the Herculean efforts of colleagues across our sector to deliver curriculum and support students in the most humane of ways through the last 22 months – and just how depleted everyone still feels as we begin again. In education as elsewhere, the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and we’ve seen how students with caring responsibilities, those dependent on wages from now non-existent part-time jobs, or whose living circumstances lack space, tools or internet connection to engage in online learning and living, can be so substantially disadvantaged. As educators turned counsellors, we know too the loneliness and anxiety of self-isolation in half empty student halls, distanced from social and support networks in a world turned topsy-turvy, and how this has impacted wellbeing in profound and long-lasting ways.

And yet, as we enter the new year, I’m reflecting not on what has been lost but also what has been gained. Through the turbulence we learned to appreciate and exploit the different spaces in which learning takes place, to value the social activity of learning and what is uniquely meaningful about learning as a community in physical proximity, and also through virtual interconnection and in digital spaces; we learned how to be borderless institutions by opening access and sharing archives, events and expertise. As makers we discovered new resourcefulness and bounty in scarcity and the materials most immediately at hand. We were reminded that within restriction and limitation it is possible and powerful to imagine freely. And that creativity can flourish not only despite adversity and challenge, but because of it. It is clearer now that we have learned about learning. We have learned to learn in new ways, appreciating not only the products of learning but the process too.

“It is clearer now that we have learned about learning”

While recent and emerging graduates in the UK are still keenly aware of what they have missed from the education experience they expected – open workshop access, social studio culture, aspects of craft skills and technical production experience, large messy making and big messy parties – they as yet have less appreciation for the alternative skills and knowledges they have developed as pioneers of new learning experiences. In art and design education and the creative industries we’ve not been bold enough about articulating and advocating for the high-level transferable skills learning our disciplines facilitates, but we should be. For those in doubt of their value, these skills align strikingly with those identified at the World Economic Forum 2020 as the top five skills employers believe will be prominent (and most desired) by 2025: analytical thinking and innovation; active learning and learning strategies; complex problem solving; critical thinking and analysis; creativity, originality and initiative. It’s notable that this is the first time learning has appeared in this skills list; we’ve taken it for granted for too long.

“In art and design education and the creative industries we’ve not been bold enough about articulating and advocating for the high-level transferable skills”

Second, is the pressing and collective need for us to learn how to change and respond to the shared grand challenges of our time. Learning is a process that necessarily involves change. There is urgency to the learning we must do to be able to transition to new ways of living to avert the worst extremes of the climate crisis and to achieve equitable, just and sustainable futures. The next generation of creatives understand this existential threat as close and real and are helping drive changes in curriculum through their expectation that consideration of all living things, people and planet, should be integral to every brief and every outcome. Achieving and embedding this requires tutors and students to learn together, to build new knowledges and to challenge – convention, structures, systems and hierarchies. This is a challenge to us all to be enquiring, open, and humble: to be active learners, learning from and with each other and the different lived experiences and expertise we bring.

“The next generation of creatives understand this existential threat as close and real and are helping drive changes in curriculum through their expectation that consideration of all living things, people and planet, should be integral to every brief and every outcome”

Finally, at this annual time of reflection, renewal and often overly ambitious new year resolutions, it seems a meaningful moment to consciously commit to learning new things in new ways. Learning is at the heart of creative practice. It is not done to us, it is something we do for ourselves, for our benefit and for the benefit of others. Through my presidency at D&AD we’ll be publishing a monthly piece by individuals and industry insiders who have important perspectives to share on learning. We hope that among them you’ll find things that inform, inspire and perhaps even instigate small change. As a community of creatives, for us to learn nothing seems inconceivable, impossible even. To do nothing with what we learn would be unconscionable. What are we waiting for?

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