The creative kaleidoscope

November 9, 2006

Universities in the metropolis foster the talent and research that make London's creative and cultural industry a global leader, says Geoffrey Crossick When the Chancellor said in his last Budget speech that the creative industries represented almost 10 per cent of the UK economy, he might have added that they were heavily concentrated in London.

Whether it is new media, digital content, computer games, design, architecture, music, fine arts or theatre, London's creative kaleidoscope encompasses a wealth of high-value design and innovation that is recognised for its diversity and imagination.

By exploiting the city's high-tech infrastructure and working with technical experts, people in the creative sector can develop new technologies, redefining creative boundaries while engaging with global markets.

London's higher education institutions are central to this creative landscape. They drive research and innovation and supply skilled graduates and postgraduates. This, coupled with strong links to creative businesses, makes for a uniquely dynamic laboratory that produces people with the vision and the resources to drive the growth of a sector that generates £21 billion a year.

Creative links to business are found across the capital. In the west, the rapid prototyping service developed by the Royal College of Art, in collaboration with Moxia Design, allows businesses to reduce risk by visualising products through detailed 3-D components. East and across the river, Goldsmiths, University of London, is working with Creative Lewisham to establish Creative London's first hub incubator for small creative enterprises. Already, its innovation and design workshop programme has introduced new approaches to innovative thinking for the fashion industry.

The creative sector, which is responsible for one in five of the capital's new jobs, is vital to London's future. Higher education fosters the imagination and skills that transform creative businesses - through the graduate designers, freelance practitioners, digital content developers, animators, artists, performers, journalists and others whose work revitalises communities across London.

Graduates of the city's universities have started creative businesses that inject new energy and bring job opportunities to many parts of East and South-East London, for example, establishing networks via which their own and other enterprises can thrive.

To flourish, the small enterprises that dominate the creative sector need research interaction and access to new technologies. Such support is provided by the Design Laboratory at the University of the Arts London, and by Furniture Works at London Metropolitan University. Similarly, Westminster University organises business-sector learning networks for the digital media, music and imaging industries.

These examples demonstrate how the capital's higher education institutions sustain partnerships that are vital to the continuing growth of London, and therefore of the UK. The creative and cultural scene they contribute towards is something that London can claim as uniquely its own, and something that benefits the rest of the country and the world beyond.

As Helen Murray, a textile designer and winner of the prestigious Oxo Peugeot Design Award, says: "There's just something about being in London... I can't imagine being anywhere else."

Geoffrey Crossick is warden of Goldsmiths, University of London.


Learning curves
London retail design consultancy rdc Foley Cooke was keen to build up the services it offered clients such as Harrods and Tesco.

It decided to approach London South Bank University's Centre for Knowledge Transfer, which is funded by the Department of Trade and Industry's national scheme to help the private sector tap into academic expertise.

The project initially focused on the development of in-house graphic design capability. The company went through a six-month assessment process before it was accepted, filling in "zillions" of forms, design director Roger Cooke recalls.

Two LSBU academics were placed with the company, and a software developer was recruited to help rdc Foley Cooke produce three-dimensional visualisations of designs without costly outsourcing that was eating away at profit margins.

There was also an opportunity for the LSBU academics involved. They produced a paper on the project and key issues of digital design in the retail industry.

Cooke says: "The structural way in which the Knowledge Transfer Programme functions helps us stay on track with project goals. It has highlighted areas of potential weakness and allowed us to improve, and given us a competitive edge."

However, not everything went according to plan. The software developer left; but rather than being left in limbo, the company went back to the centre to review its options and take the association further.

When the first chapter in the saga came to an end, Cooke says, "we maintained the dialogue and redrafted our original thinking of what we were looking for, into a slightly more academic role of project management and design development".

Cooke adds: "The second round of the project is far better. It was a learning curve."

As a result of the project, the company now has a qualified architect in a project management role - "senior enough to have some business acumen as well", Cooke says.


Design brief
Amid the bustle of the recent Paris Fashion Week, Emma Downing was considering her options.

Should she continue at the fashion house in which she had been working since she graduated from Westminster University earlier this year?

Or should she join a manufacturer, with the objective of setting up on her own?

Downing, who was picked by fashion journalist Camilla Morton as one of this year's graduates to watch, chose Westminster's fashion design BA course for its technical flavour.

She is from Devon, but she homed in on London as the only place she wanted to study - so great is the capital's pull in the fashion industry.

"I always wanted to do fashion design, but I wanted to do a course that was technically based. I didn't even look at universities outside London."

She found the course challenging. "The first and second years were a bit of a shock - I didn't realise how many hours of work it would involve."

She was quickly pitched into the London fashion scene. Her London base made the industrial placements that are a critical element of the Westminster course easier to secure. "After the second year, I wanted to take a year out to do industrial placements."

Downing worked first in a design house and then on the production side with a manufacturer during a year's placement while pursuing her degree. "Being in London, it was much better for hounding designers and delivering CVs. Going to studios for interviews is so important - it is really competitive."

Downing has worked at design house Jens Laugesen since graduation, but that placement ended last month, and she now expects to find a role with a manufacturer. Ultimately, she aims to establish her own business.

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