Inside

Florian Schmidt

PhD Critical Writing In Art & Design, 2011–15

I studied visual communication in Berlin, finishing in 2008, and then worked as a freelance designer and writer. I planned to do a PhD in Germany but thought it would be wise to do it in English in terms of my career, so my wife and I moved here. I wanted to do research but, on the other hand, I wanted to do something accessible to an audience beyond fellow researchers.

Critical Writing in Art & Design at the Royal College of Art is a very particular approach. What’s great about the programme is that you are not just writing for other researchers in the same field, which is true of most research. Here, the aim is to address an audience that is not doing what you’re doing and to publish for a wider audience. 

The interview was quite focused on checking that I knew why I wanted to do research and had thought through my topic of crowdsourcing in design. I started my research with a very optimistic outlook: I wanted to understand how the open source movement might influence the design industry and how design is done via the internet. During the course of my research, my outlook became increasingly bleak. I realised that what was really going on had much more to do with precarious labour and exploitation of the crowds on an industrial scale, than it had to do with collaboration and the free sharing of ideas, as the providers of crowdsourcing platforms want people to believe.

As an MPhil student you’re eligible for a bursary, but not once you move onto the PhD. Unfortunately, I didn’t get an AHRC grant, so I had a choice between completing my research as quickly as possible and not working, or doing it slowly while also working. Even with the financial pressure, it was absolutely worth being at the RCA as it enabled me to fulfil my aims.

I am very happy that I went to the RCA. In particular, it was amazing to work with my supervisor, David Crowley. The three and a half years were a really tough experience – as writing a PhD thesis probably always is – but already during the process, it became increasingly easy for me to find new, good jobs and a career path, partly based on my research and the skills that I acquired at the RCA, and those are now enabling me to pay back my student debt. 

I finished my thesis in spring 2015 and am now negotiating with a well known publisher about publishing it. I’m living in Berlin again: London is such a great city, but so expensive – I would have loved to have stayed longer. Since 2014, I have been a guest professor for design theory at the University of Applied Sciences (HTW) in Dresden and I am also editor-in-chief for a new German print magazine called Agenda Design that will launch in October 2015. The publisher is the German Alliance of Designers (AGD).

Finally, I am involved in the development of the website FairCrowdWork, which is directly connected to the research I undertook in my thesis. The website is run by IG Metall, one of the world’s largest trade unions. It provides crowdworkers with information about online workplaces, with legal guidance and with the opportunity to evaluate crowdsourcing platforms. 

"The three and a half years were a really tough experience – as writing a PhD thesis probably always is – but already during the process, it became increasingly easy for me to find new, good jobs and a career path."
Florian A Schmidt
Florian A Schmidt