Jenni Whitehead, Sheffield Hallam University

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As part of the effort to ICAD Design Days to stimulate deeper discussions with the design community on the nature of being a design professional and the values of our work as a collective, we reached out to various industry practitioners and stakeholders, seeking their perspectives on a series of thought-provoking questions on current issues in relation to the core values professionalism.

Jenni Whitehead, our Collaborative Course Leader from Sheffield Hallam University, UK shares her thoughts with us.


What should the relationship between the academia and the industry be? How are we able to bridge the gap between what the academia is producing and what the industry is demanding (skills/traits/attitude, etc.)?

The relationship between academia and industry should be a close, mutually beneficial relationship, creating a back and forth exchange of ideas, collaboration and work in progress. It’s about preparing students for the jobs of the future. Now more than ever graduate attitudes and traits such as being adaptive, confident and resilient are as important as a good understanding of design principles, software skills, typography etc.

It’s important to create and nurture our relationships with the industry and provide varied authentic learning experiences, such as working with a client or agency to set live briefs or facilitating placements, setting up studio visits, portfolio shares etc.

Students need a space where they can create and foster their own networks with industry and to help demystify the design world, it is therefore important that our students create a network which they can draw from throughout and after their degree has ended. The industry is such a broad field, and its vital that we introduce a diverse and inclusive range of opportunities for students to explore; it’s not ‘a one size fits all’ job – which is exciting!!


What does “multidisciplinary” mean to you? In your practice/industry, do you think it is more important to be a “generalist” or a “specialist”, and why?

I don’t think it’s about one being more important that the other; there is a place for both. Personally, the projects which work across different disciplines excite me more. For me, it’s about looking at a problem or a piece of communication through various design lenses and using the most appropriate tools or materials to resolve it. That might mean working with a specialist to bring in that specific expertise to a project.

The industry is in a constant flux when it comes to technology. Having to keep up with new platforms, screens etc. can be endless, but in turn it creates new and exciting opportunities for growth within your practice.


How has your industry incorporated ethical practices, if there are any? Do you think ethical responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the artist/designers or the client, or both?

Diversity and representation within the design industry is a key ethical responsibility that falls on both designers, employers, the client and the education providers; we all need to work together to make a more inclusive design industry.

In our day-to-day design jobs, we need different viewpoints from people who have grown up within different backgrounds. There needs to be a more diverse range of voices and opinions heard to create inclusive and engaging designs. If all your work comes from one type of person (gender, age, class, race, ability) it will be one dimensional. Design needs diversity to be innovative, to look at a problem from as many perspectives as possible to be relatable.

Visibility and role models are important factors in this. As young designers are entering the industry, there is a need to see designers that they can relate to. There is also an ethical issue around paying a living wage for internships; otherwise, we will see an automatic bubble where only the more privileged can take part in these opportunities to enter the workforce


Are the nature of awards and competitions still relevant today and why?

Student design awards are a great way for students to have their work seen by a set of industry professionals. It also adds a healthy level of competition which can up the ante of the work. At Sheffield Hallam, we encourage students to partake in a number of competitions, which we see to be relevant to their area of expertise and provide a range of exciting challenges such as the RSA awards. In winning these awards in the past, students have gained valuable exposure and have increased their confidence. These have in turn opened up new opportunities. It is also a great talking point at an interview; not only does it show their work in a positive light but it also shows their organizational skills amongst others.


What do you think is important for the arts practitioners/designers of the future to think about and challenge?

As the recent pandemic has showed us, now more than ever, is a time to be responsive and entrepreneurial. Being able to respond and adapt to the social and political changes that are ever changing is an important skill to develop. In the immediate future, the UK will see a recession. This can be a challenging time to work in the creative industries as funding and jobs may be more scarce, but we have seen some truly inspiring work and an amazing coming together of communities during this difficult time which I hope will continue. I think we will see a shift in buying habits and the way we spend our time, with less focus on consumerism and more focus on people and community. This will lead the way for more social-focused projects, looking at how design can make an impact for good – for people and the planet. Attitudes of empathy and resilience will be important as a result.  A focus on service design and human-centred design will be more prevalent. Of course, with technology constantly evolving, designers need to be aware of these and how they can harness the power of new technologies to make connections between people and planet. As discussed in the AIGA designers 2025 report, designers must be ‘technology fluent, yet human-centric’