A few weeks back I read an article in the New York Times by Stephanie Clifford about the struggle to groom the next generation of media savvy graduates and the task of equipping them with the skills to prosper in the rapidly changing world of digital media.
I faced a similar challenge when I wrote my Digital Media and Advertising course back in 1988. At that stage visual media education hadn’t evolved beyond the Bauhaus thinking that first began in 1919. Visual Design education was stuck with a Bauhaus dogma that was no longer relevant to the students of the 1980’s. To be honest it was probably redundant by the 1960’s but as I have often said if it is in a University curriculum then chances are it’s probably already become a museum piece in the “real world”.
So what did I do differently? Quite simply I changed the tools. Much to the horror of the design staff I replaced the pencils, set squares and drawing boards with Apple Macintoshes, Silicon Graphics work stations and Sony Cameras and Video Recording equipment. I provided the students with the tools of the future rather than forcing them to learn with the tools of their grand parents.
I did this because I recognized intuitively that it was the tools you use to express your ideas that shape the way you think.
The other thing I did was to get rid of the old Copywriter and Art Director creative “Dynamic Duo” model and replace it with collaborative teams. Teams that could change shape based on the problem. For example if you’re building a leasing calculator for a CD ROM or Lap Top presenter then who needs a copywriter and art director? What you need is a GUI designer, a programmer and an actuary.
I did this because after a few years of making TV commercials I discovered the much hyped agency creative partnership to be one of the biggest barriers making a great TVC. Trained as either story writers or graphic designers most of the creative teams I worked with simply didn’t understand the TV medium. They had no concept of the fourth dimension – time.
So one of the other things I focused on was the concept of time. Back in the 70’s and 80’s the design courses could teach anyone how to fill a page or a poster with colour, texture, balance, direction, patterns, lines and shapes. What they were not doing was teaching students about the manipulation of time.
Finally we spent a lot of time teaching the students how to pitch an idea. We would regularly invite industry personalities to come in and judge the groups efforts. Providing professional feedback on both their ideas and their ability to get their message across.
Today these ideas are now part of the educational Zeitgeist. As the New York Times article points out today we have seen an explosion in interactive media courses. Question is: Are they preparing their students for yesterday’s challenges or tomorrows?
So ask myself: If I was to restart this challenge today what would I do now?
The short answer is I’d probably just give them all a smart phone and use that as a building block for a new media education.
Think: Lars Erik Holmquist work at the Mobile Life Centre in Sweden. e.g. The SwarmCam: a mobile broadcasting system that enables users to collaboratively produce, edit and broadcast live video using only mobile phones, a laptop computer and available mobile networks dveloped by the Swedish Mobile Life Centre. As Lars has pointed out in his post today on Techcrunch “We are finally entering the age of the mobile mash-up, and it will all be happening at even greater speed than the Web 2.0 revolution“.
The long answer is each new medium brings its own revolution to the business world. Newspapers brought us a market place where reputation could be bought and sold in column inches. The colour magazines introduced us to the lifestyle appeals – those seven deadly sins of advertising. TV introduced to us the cult of the CEO. Those media savvy high flyers more renowned for their toothy smile and quick witted repartee than their business ethics. The age of Google, with its focus on page rank, page hits and SOE, introduced us to the idea that traffic was more important than customers.
The age of Facebook and Twitter has brought us the problem of reputation management.
As the recent Pew Center Report indicates online reputation management now a full time job it has become a “defining activity” of life online, not only for businesses but also for individuals.
“Search engines and social media sites now play a central role in building one’s identity online” – Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist and lead author of the Pew Center Report
Just as the old advertising model was all about setting the agenda – either by advertising or influencing the editorial content – today’s advertising model is increasingly shaped by the need to respond to the “Wisdom of the Crowd”.
As we have seen before advertising agencies and PR consultants are now in the business of influencing the ratings on popular “Crowd Knowledge” sites like Trip Advisor. (See Hotel review websites: a five-star scam and Can TripAdvisor hotel reviews be trusted?) and responding to customer complaints that go viral.
Thanks to the impact of social media I suspect we’ll see a seismic shift away from the “creative” advertising mode to the “real time” response model. A new advertising agency model where the big money will go to the professionals who can utilize the social media platforms to quickly respond to any challenge to – or conversely any opportunity to improve – the reputation of their clients.
This of course means the future looks more like PR than traditional advertising.
Knowing all this, what would I be teaching my students?
The easy answer is they will be trying to reach and influence a time poor and fragmented, media savvy audience. An environment where the delineation between amateur and professional is blurred beyond recognition. Indeed we live in a world where media is so pervasive that perhaps all education should include teaching everybody how to create and manage their own personal Brand identity.
The difficult answer is to revisit the revolutionary values that forged the Bauhaus phenomenon back in 1919 and have them forget – better still reject – everything that has gone before. Invite them to reinvent the media world anew with a brand new language, syntax and experience that only they can discover and create.
After all isn’t innovation all about creative destruction?
The rise of the Brand was coupled to the rise of the mass media. I may be wrong but suspect the rise of the new mobile media will result in the death of the Brand. Teaching everybody to how to create and manage their own personal Brand identity would be a regressive step simply because it is an attempt to manage the possibilities of the new mobile media within the limitations and frame work of the old media.
So I suspect the future will not be owned by the media managers hooked on “passive” iPads and regulated App Stores. It will be owned by the emerging generation who will fundamentally change our perception of what the media means to us. Leaving our old media industries to service an aging population.
Today SMS and Twitter interest me because they are creating a new language. The next revolution I am looking forward to seeing is how the new tools (e.g. Smart Phones and mobile devices) provide us with a new way of seeing the world.
Post Magazines, Post TV, Post Desktop PC and the Web. With the Smart Phone we are on the road to creating a new visual literacy. I wonder what it will look like and who will be the ones to take us there. Somehow I suspect they won’t be holding a degree in Media or Design.