Professor Neville Brody Trans-forms the School of Communication
Professor Neville Brody has led the ‘trans-formation’ of the RCA’s School of Communication into a rigorous, interrogative, exploratory, culturally connected and fluid environment – one equipped to train the designers and communication practitioners of the twenty-first century.
‘This is an unprecedented opportunity to extend and deepen our subject landscape,’ Brody says, ‘allowing a more leading-edge approach grounded in experience and expertise, with new initiatives underpinned by our reputation for innovation and skill. Our challenge is to combine scale with opportunity and agility, looking to lead change from the front. Our motivation is to help build a better world; our new structure is designed to support that ambition.’
Brody has led the School for five years, during which time he has escalated his own practice, building on his explosive creative directorship of 1980’s Face magazine to redesign and repositioning contemporary cultural icons, including BBC online, The Times, Channel 4 and the England football shirt. His reputation and experience as a design practitioner are indomitable, and he brings ‘thinking design’ to the challenge of repositioning the School for a future in which protocols evolve daily.
The new School maintains defined programmes in Animation, Information Experience Design and Visual Communication, with new and distinct pathways embedded that are designed as a response to environmental and subject shifts in society and industry – tendencies evidenced by student interest and activities, which are increasingly social, connected and multidisciplinary. The pathways ensure flexibility and agility, responding faster to trends and changes, and reacting effectively to new academic ideas and models.
Brody says, ‘The School must be alive, nimble and fleet of foot, underpinned by rigorous knowledge and wisdom based on its heritage of decades experience and experiment. Our graduates must be capable of transformation, both personal and in the societies and industries they will occupy: fearless, aware, “skilled, dangerous minds” that will lead through change. We sit at the heart of the matter, and our environments of print, installation, screen, digital, urban and physical are increasingly the battlegrounds for thought.’
This dynamism can only be delivered through flexibility, requiring a fundamental dissolution of rigid structure towards a fluid model. Across academic, research and industry environments, cross-disciplinarity, hybrid practice, self-reflection and clarity of intent are key drivers, manifested through mixed studios, open electives, cross-school expertise, shared credit frameworks and consolidated resource. ‘De-programming’, ‘de-computing’ and ‘re-forming’ students, conventions, assumptions and control mechanisms will inform new possibilities and thoughts, producing emerging practitioners who are capable of both self-direction and risk-taking.
Animation, led by Dr Birgitta Hosea, remains grounded in tradition and craft, driven by expressive narrative and the maker as auteur. Pathways in Documentary Animation, which focuses on the real, with serious, factual content, and Experimental Animation, which builds on the strong tradition of directing, production and narrative, look forward to digital and post-digital environments, incorporating a new emphasis on physical space and post-screen.
Information Experience Design (IED), led by Dr Kevin Walker, focuses on areas such as de-computation; modelling, making and manipulating; big and little data; UX/Experience design; data visualisation/manifestation; community and identity. At the intersection between society, technology and poetry, IED speculates and invents by making information manifest through lateral or synaesthetic means.
IED (Sound Design) engages sonification, composition and spatial sound, to experiment, analyse and bridge the spaces between technology, emotion and society. IED (Moving Image Design) connects the current dissolution of traditional form with the explosion of distribution platforms and media, where content becomes scaled and scalable, fixed and mobile, across surfaces, environments and technologies, and the democratisation of capture, edit and distribution introduces exciting new challenges – including those of identity and urban design. IED (Experimental Design) transmorphs a new perspective of experience and interactive design with cross-disciplinary practice and extended disruption, evolving new forms, mechanisms and strategies for future urban and social environments, grounded by IED’s core expertise.
Visual Communication (VC), led by Dr Rathna Ramanathan, is rooted in social purpose and invention, crossing form, media and discipline, incorporating installations or digital disruption, ceramics, objects and performance, and united by a broad embrace of all tools of communication in order to alter contexts and experience.
VC (Experimental Communication) dynamically challenges the accepted form and function of communication design, speculating and positing new modes of practice and thought that embrace a platform-independent, agnostic, multidisciplinary approach, contextualised within new forms of community, distribution, engagement and making. Communication design becomes transformed, transformational and trans-form. VC (Graphic Design) maintains its strong focus on core Graphic Design mechanisms and methods across key platforms: print, brand, digital, environment and typography, with links to IED in data visualisation and information design. VC (Illustration) benefits from a deep tradition and level of expertise within the School, exploring image-making and expressive narrative within a broad field of practice that extends from woodcuts to digital photography. Underpinned by observation and reflection, the subject locus fluctuates between authorship and articulation.
Research is core to the School, ensuring deeply rooted currency, contextual awareness and relevance around Identity, Publishing and Experience, driving academic development and reinforcing the depth of thinking and practice. Staff research activity, MRes. MPhil and PhD clustering and knowledge exchange coalesce within these thematic foundations, framing external influence within collaborative projects.
Associate Dean, Professor Teal Triggs sums up, ‘The distinctiveness of the RCA can be described as irreverence set in a landscape of critical thinking and contextual awareness: one focused on informed play, disruption, experimentation, making, reflection and risk. This meant evolving a new strategy, one where knowledge is viewed as a form in constant flow, but where the necessary foundation is provided by a rigorous and permanently evolving pedagogical framework.’
Note that the pathway titles MA Visual Communication (Experimental Communication) and MA Information Experience Design (Experimental Design) are subject to validation.