William Fairbrother

MA Information Experience Design, 2013–2015

I studied Archaeology and Anthropology at Durham University. While I was there I did a lot of design work on the side, making posters, and so on, for events at my college. By the end of my BA I knew that I wanted to do a Master’s degree that would continue some of the themes of my undergrad – the big themes, such as what it means to be human – but I also knew that I didn’t want to produce academic papers.

Show 2015, Willaim Fairbetter, Information Experience Design
Show 2015, Willaim Fairbrother, Information Experience Design
Photographer: Nick Frayling
I wanted a course with an academic, critical element as well as a practical hands-on aspect. I read about the new Information Experience Design course on the Royal College of Art website and got in touch with the Head of Programme Kevin Walker; I talked to him about my experience and my interests. The application process involved putting together a portfolio. That was an interesting one, since my BA wasn’t in art or design. I ended up putting in work which showed my ability and experience in things like exhibition design, but that didn’t relate directly to what I’d be doing on the course. At the interview, they were more interested in the research that I’d done during my undergraduate degree. I think that, more than anything, they were looking for a certain mind-set, a willingness to experiment, and a preoccupation with the themes that the programme addresses.

It was quite a difficult shift to go from writing papers to using my hands. During my BA, I learnt how to conduct research, and then communicate that research through my writing. Now I might do a similar amount of research, but I’ll use materials to communicate the ideas, rather than language. It’s more explorative here, and much more self-driven. I’ve found that there’s a steep learning curve for each new project, because I’ll often be learning things from scratch. If I decide to use a certain material, for example, I can seek advice from someone who knows much more about it than I do.

The IED course is quite new and being part of a new course is exciting – I think it gives the students the opportunity to be instrumental in defining what the course is, and what its direction will be. IED deliberately has a very varied intake: biologists, graphic designers, computer scientists, and more. I think the course is many things to many different people. I’d say that it’s perhaps defined less by its output (there’s no one media we all work in, for example) than by its philosophy: thinking critically about how humans interact with the world around them, and working out ways to effectively communicate complex issues.

As many of us come from backgrounds other than design, it means we are very good at collaborating with people across the College, and outside of the College too. We’ve done some great projects with PhD students at Imperial College London, for example. Together we made installations that ended up as an exhibition in Shoreditch Town Hall.

I’m interested in making work that communicates with the viewer, and gives the public access to really interesting, big ideas – I don’t want them to be left locked up in libraries or in grey academic papers. I also want to be able to empower people by explaining how things actually work, rather than how they might benefit from them. If we don’t understand how things work then we’ll only ever be consumers.