De-brief was the inaugural symposium of the Graphic Design Educators’ Network.

The brief is the ubiquitous backbone of graphic design, driving project-centred learning within the graphic design curriculum. Its incarnations are numerous: self-directed; open; one-day; live; tutor-set; competition. Yet it’s rarely scrutinised.

Participants of ‘De-brief’ were invited to an open inquiry of the brief.

What is the heritage of the graphic design brief? How has it affected the purpose and discipline of graphic design? How might we deconstruct its tropes, forms, tones, and language? To what extent do these aspects allow for fluid interpretation? Where does the brief position designers, clients, audiences, students, authors, systems and tools? What are its alternatives, complements and tensions?

De-brief drew on keynote provocations, an exhibition of printed briefs, and interactive participant-focussed workshops to generate insights and inspiration through shared practice and perspectives.

Delegate reflections on the day:

“Hugely valuable insights from different graphic design educational perspectives. More of this. Very positive and leaving with new ideas and questions about my practice and delivery as an educator. Big thumbs up.”

“An excellent event that carried many relevant areas of contemporary graphic design education. Strong speakers and interesting points of view.”

“Highly relevant, informative and thought provoking, Great keynote speakers especially and most enjoyable workshops. Great atmosphere and sense of community.”


Keynote Speakers

Briefing Ourselves
Professor David Crow, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Art and Design, Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University

2015 gave us a number of events to think about. In the wake of a General Election landslide, a removal of the cap on student numbers and REF 2014 we have change all around us. What might be the key issues for Graphic Design education in the immediate future?


The brief: co-authorship and collaborations
Tracy Allanson-Smith, Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design, University of Derby

Can the notion of the brief help the student question, debate and engage more effectively? This workshop debated whether setting briefs by tutors is effective or passive and what happens if tutors and students deconstruct or debate the contents of a brief.


Non-linear exploration: how do students navigate a brief?
Lucy Brown, Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design, Staffordshire University

A practical introduction to a workshop series designed to help students to learn about the difference between linear and non-linear creative exploration, using the local area of Salford as a guide.


A Brief Excursion
Darren Raven, Programme Leader for Graphic Design, University of Salford

This session focussed on the dominant ideas, tropes and clichés regarding the brief that we, as educators, find challenging to move beyond. It provoked and explored ways we can ‘escape’ from the notion of brief and proposed new ways of instigating, facilitating and encouraging learning through design.


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Jonathan Baldwin, Associate Head of School, Faculty of Creative Industries, University of South Wales

Very soon, our traditional intake of 18-year old undergraduates will have been born in the 21st century. Let’s put that in context: to us a phone is a device for making calls. To them a phone is a device with an app for making calls. The way they see the world is very different from us. Their world is RGB, while ours is still CMYK. If you lament that, you may be a curriculum hoarder. The graphic design curriculum is dominated by three things: what everyone else teaches, what we were taught or did as designers, and what industry says it wants us to teach. It’s a pile that’s looking more and more unconquerable. It’s time to declutter our curriculum. But fear not: what if there were a way to declutter without discarding the things you hold dear?


On Trial: interrogating the graphic design brief
Dr Kirsten Hardie, Associate Professor, Arts University Bournemouth

This session will provided a unique opportunity for delegates to observe and engage in the delights of a mock trial. On Trial presented a courtroom scenario – wigs and gowns aplenty – where colleagues interrogated the Graphic Design brief in relation to the provocative charge: HE Graphic Design courses are guilty of setting safe and uninspiring briefs. All were invited to participate (as judges; prosecution and defence teams; witnesses; jury) and engaged in focused, playful and provocative interrogation and cross examination of the fitness for purpose of the brief.


Undead: myths of the ‘live’ brief
Will Hill, Deputy Head of Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University

This session examined some fault-lines in the concept of the ‘live brief’ and the relationship that it presupposes between the conditions of a taught programme and those of professional practice.


Briefing for Digital
Jamie Steane, Principal Lecturer, Department of Media & Communication Design, Northumbria University

How to plan and brief students for increasingly prevalent digital and interaction projects without getting fixated on the technology. This discussion addressed and explored ongoing debates and tensions around classic conceptual thinking verses modern digital craft skills for graphic designers.