Cool way to sell <i>thexperience</i>

January 30, 2004

Luton is one of the few institutions that connects with students, Wayne Hemingway says

I have four kids. The eldest two are doing their A levels and contemplating university. Both have been emailing for prospectuses and, with very few exceptions, have found them to be totally uninspiring.

But it has not been a complete waste of time: they have had some fun sitting around with their mates, laughing at photos in Leicester's prospectus depicting life in the city by using a photo of a fountain; or at utterly dejected and bored-looking students hunched over their desks at Huddersfield; and, the pièce de résistance of all prospectus pap, two poundstore table-tennis bats representing the section on sports facilities at the London Institute.

Add to this dozens of staged shots of young lovers walking down tree-lined avenues, assorted cheap models sat with laptops perched on their thigh-revealing mini-skirts, lots of Ivy League-style "cheese", and there are some real comedy moments.

Today's young adults are a demanding lot and they are visually aware. The majority read style magazines, shop in record stores and respond to marketing. The products and services that "talk" to them cost vast sums and are the work of teams highly skilled in knowing how to excite their interest.

Why should it be any different with universities? Even with a government intent on pushing ever higher numbers towards university, there is an increasing number of things that could put potential students off.

When they see their A-level mate Tristan, who decided to go straight into employment, earning decent sums, and their enemy Kevin, who left school at 15, pulling in £35,000 a year with his plumbing business, and compare these figures with the debt millstone around their necks, why shouldn't they think that university might not be such a good option?

My eldest wants to be a designer (surprise), but when he learns that there are about 60,000 students doing a creative degree every year and that most of them send their CVs to design companies such as mine only to get a polite refusal, it makes him think again.

But just as important as a degree and knowledge, university is about a life experience, and this is where Luton University's new magazine thexperience (notice the trendy, unacademic lower case title) hits the spot. In the words of my eldest: "I know it's not a prospectus and it's meant to accompany the prospectus, but it's the only bit of material that I have bothered to read. The others are crap. This has got cool graphics, interesting pictures and tells you about all aspects of life there."

This says it all, really. The mag tells you that Luton is the home of Easyjet and how cheap and easy it is to go on European weekenders. Luton is honestly appraised: a footy team in trouble, a cool art gallery - and there are features on "where to large it in Luton". Students talk about their experience from a cultural, sporting and academic perspective. There are interviews with lecturers that show them as real people rather than Crimplene-besuited boffins.

All of this before listing the courses, and all in a visual language and photographic style that wouldn't look amiss in youth-culture style mags Dazed and Confused or Sleaze .

Congratulations, Luton, on understanding that there is another way to address potential students rather than the formal tones of an academic prospectus, and for looking to a publisher who understands the market.

Wayne Hemingway is a designer and is co-founder of Red or Dead. He heads design and consultancy business hemingwaydesign, which specialises in affordable and social design.

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