The graphic design course blog for
HND Visual Communication at Edinburgh College

One Week Case Study : Whitespace

2 April 2014

Our recent One Week project was a ground-breaking example of employer engagement in Design Education, where graphic design students worked on a live project in an industry environment for one week, in collaboration with six Edinburgh-based creative agencies.

The brief came from a high profile client, Cutty Sark Whisky, and the students were assembled into six creative teams, mixing up HNC and HND years.  Each team was assigned a design lead, an agency mentor, and external, real-world accommodation - two at design agencies (Whitespace and RAPP), three in Edinburgh's creative business incubator, Creative Exchange, and one in a bespoke studio in the College. The teams presented their solutions to their agency mentors on the Friday, and then pitched to Cutty Sark in the boardroom at their Edrington offices in Perth the following week.

As part of the feedback process, we caught up with mentor Charlie Bell (Design Director) and Neil Walker (Senior Creative) from one of Edinburgh's leading design agencies, Whitespace, and this is what they had to say -

What were your initial impressions of the brief?
Charlie: Jason’s (Jason Craig, the Global Brand Controller for Cutty Sark), presentation was really good at bringing the brand story to life and laying out all the facts. Initially we felt it was far too open but in fact it actually presented the teams with interesting challenges. It was a really tasty project for the students to get their teeth into.

Neil: The Brief was very open which can be a rarity and problematic when trying to 'home in' on what should actually be done - perhaps some minimum media parameters of some sort may help the students get started and be able to shape the campaign in their heads, allowing them to get on with the messaging and design of their campaign.  The brand had little in the way of public brand equity and was therefore a blank slate when it came to reinventing and communicating a tone and personality - the fact that the client wanted to push the brand so far was not only extremely rare, but a fantastic opportunity.

Photo : Derek Anderson 

What did you think of the format of the One Week project:
Charlie: Perfect amount of time. Good that they had a bit of time either side too.

Each team contained students from both the HNC and HND years, how did this work?
Charlie: Our group went down to 4 but actually this might have given them greater focus. The mixture of first and second years seemed to work. The first years' more than held their own. In fact they were the driving force in the team in many respects.

Neil : I agree - a nice setup to working in a real office too - working with different strengths, backgrounds, skills and experience levels.

What do you think were the benefits of working with students in this kind of format?
Charlie: There was a good structure there. They were able to bounce ideas off each other and really work as a team. And working with the agency we were able to give them deadlines that really focussed them.

Neil: Nice exposure to the pressures of working to a set time-limit to produce an ultimate piece of work for client/agency scrutiny. Also, they had to think out-of-the-box to come up with a wide variety of ideas and concepts but learning that ideas and executions must remain commercial and sell the product/concept.  This initially took some getting used to but quickly became realised and put into action. 

What were your observations of the group as they worked through the project?
Charlie: They took a while to get going. There were some interesting early ideas but they did go round in circles for a while. Dan (Daniel Plunkett, HNC Year) quickly became the voice of the group but they all seem to be contributing. Once the visuals started to come together you could see that the team had quite a nice mix of strengths.

Photo : Derek Anderson

Neil: They seemed to have a willingness and passion to take on board advice in order to turn around great work.  They were perhaps a little too polite of each other's ideas but this is expected and creative diplomacy is of course another vital skill to crack...

What did you think of the work they presented on Friday to you?
Charlie: It all came together really well. They had two really strong central ideas. And they were both very different. Which was impressive. It felt like they had really got to grips with the brand. Some of the executions needed work. There were some weaker bits of work in there (things like the merchandise where a bit superfluous). Once they got into the design detail they'd lost some of the edge to the work. The bits that might make the client uncomfortable. It became a bit safe.

Neil : Overall I think there was some very strong work/ideas/concepts.  They had to deliver in so many ways, by the Friday I felt they not only presented their concepts with confidence but learned to 'sell' them too.  I could see both campaigns working but as initial pitches - certainly with some further refinement and consideration - there would be elements that could be outstanding in the industry and gather a lot of interest for the brand. I really felt they had learned a lot by the end of the project.

Did the team work on the project after Friday and if so what did you think of the final presentation?
Charlie: The team came back on both Monday and Tuesday to build upon what they had done. It was really valuable to get feedback from the Friday presentation and they really took it on board and pushed the ideas even further.

Did you get any feedback from others within your agency who weren't directly involved in the project?
Charlie: The wider team were impressed. The other two design directors were impressed. Yep, everyone was pretty impressed. Even more so when they realised how little experience some of the students had.
Any other comments?
Charlie: Just that we were all very impressed with the team's resolve and dedication. And it was a lot of fun.

The team at Cutty Sark will be feeding back their final choice later this month, when all the artwork from each team will be available to view on pinterest and here on the blog.