I’ve had a really productive two weeks over the Easter break talking with graduates from all walks of life. Some chats have been with graduate friends and some have been with people I’ve connected with through The Dots.
Generally speaking there seems to be a lot of positivity out there for this project. Talking with graduates has really helped me to understand how to move forward, their insights and feedback were the final missing piece that have finally helped me to pull everything together. That being said, the ambition and direction of this project has changed massively from where it began to where it is now.
I’ve written a quick recap of where this research project has taken me, mostly for my own benefit but I imagine it will be helpful for others too:
Initially I was focused on figuring out a way to bring some of the ideas I’d explored in a previous module to life. I was interested in interdisciplinary practice and how the skills necessary to thrive as an interdisciplinary worker might be taught to different groups. (students, postgrads, workers etc.)
2. The more I looked into this subject the harder it became to envision a viable business providing this kind of service, I learned that there were more barriers to interdisciplinary competence than I had originally thought and so I went back to the drawing board to rethink my direction.
3. I decided to spend time identifying a specific group that I wanted to create for. I had been looking too widely up until this point. After some consideration I landed on the idea of supporting graduates. Specifically those that have aged out of traditional graduate / early career support.
4. Running with this idea I began to research heavily into the graduate jobs market to try and understand the situation as best I could. I began to devise an idea for an online community that gamified participation in order to passively build potential employability for graduates. It was complicated and in hindsight, probably unrealistic too.
5. I took this idea to the panel review where it was generally well received. The main takeaway however was that it was too ambitious and that I should try to think more locally, responding to my own lived experiences and those of graduate friends.
6. I was stuck for a little while after this, struggling to pull together everything I’d learned into a project that made sense. Stuart suggested that I focus my efforts on talking with the actual user group for this project. This turned out to be really helpful. Through these conversations I learned a lot about what kinds of things appeal to young adult graduates and what things don’t.
7. The idea continued to evolve to where it sits now – very different to where it started but fundamentally still responding to the same issues. How can Bristol’s graduate community be better supported?
The idea as it is now:
The conversations with graduate peers were really helpful at allowing me to essentially see the bigger picture. We were talking about all these different ambitions that the project has – (to provide support around things like creating businesses or applying for funding grants, to build community through events like talks, workshops, club nights, coffee shop discussion groups and so forth) and it dawned on me that what we were describing was kind of familiar. It was basically just like a students’ union for graduates.
This notion really grabbed me, it’s such an easy to grasp concept. What is one of the best parts of being a student? It’s all of the social aspects right? Stuff that is facilitated by the students’ union.
So why not build a grassroots, community-led version for graduates here in Bristol? It’s the perfect way to blend fun, engaging stuff with more helpful and supportive services in a format that is already familiar to graduates. We could even draw upon some of the semiotic language of students’ unions by creating events that feel like university events – a freshers’ fayre for graduates where they can find out about all the independent and cool groups that exist within the city for example.
One of the key questions that emerged from my discussions with graduates was ‘How do you make this something that people want to actually get involved with?’ Sure, there are important services and support that we might offer but what draws people in? It’s the promise of a good time right? A fun event of some kind. There are tons of possibilities here.
Management and organisation of the group could also draw upon the democratic processes that are often employed by students’ unions. Leadership roles could rotate often allowing fresh ideas to surface and helping the organisation remain relevant to its users’ needs. Overheads could be paid for by a monthly membership fee supplemented by any grant support we could drum up. This idea also has the flexibility to start off very small and to naturally grow over time as the membership grows.
I’m really excited about this idea.
A look at some design
One thing that I haven’t done enough of yet is actual design work, mostly because the idea hadn’t coalesced enough yet to warrant it. Now that I’ve got something to work on though, I can start thinking about how it looks and where / how it’s advertised. When I spoke with Evening Class, one thing they said was that in the early days they just created one basic landing page that outlined their ambitions and shared it as widely as they could to drum up interest. I think that something like this makes sense as a first step for this project too. It would help me to source potential collaborators and find people who might be interested in helping get it off the ground.
I really like the bold look of their site overall, it’s simple and to the point – they’ve made it look good but haven’t spent hours and hours to make something excessive. There are only a handful of information pages available with some contact information etc. too. The clock design appears on each page and shows a different time when you reload, it can be moved but is more of an annoyance than anything, it’s interactivity isn’t very interesting. A good blueprint for what I might like to make and put out there though for sure.
Again this site is fairly simple in the way it’s laid out. It takes you through the basics of what they offer and how to apply to get involved. The design is fairly safe overall, they haven’t taken many risks which leads to it feeling a little stuffy and corporate. I think that this actually feels too resolved for what I want to put together.
This seems like an interesting project, it’s organised by a design agency and the branding throughout carries messages like ‘it’s the least we can do’. Some might argue that it could be seen as a fairly inventive if not cynical bit of self-advertising but nevertheless it seems to be doing a good thing and we need more support like this out there. The site itself is fairly sparce of information around how the money will be spent but it seems to still be under construction at this time. Again, the design looks well resolved as you would expect from a design agency. It works in this context really well as it’s a design industry-based project.
In the wake of the panel discussion last week I’ve had a bit of mental block regarding where to go next with this project. I happily took everything that was said on board – I agreed with most of the feedback and was thankful for the opportunity to receive it but when it came time to put the advice into practice I struggled to collect my thoughts and move forward. It has become obvious that I need to scale back my project ambitions as what I’m pitching right now is just not feasible but I’ve struggled to figure out a way to do that whilst still keeping the same basic heart and soul of my idea.
It has taken me stepping back for a few days and giving myself some headspace to be able to see things a bit more clearly. I had a conversation with Stuart just before Easter which also really helped. I was able to convey all my concerns to him and we talked them through, he sent a follow up email afterwards reassuring me that the project idea was good (I must have sounded pretty defeated) and he gave me a few pointers for how I might move forward. We also looked at pinpointing where some of the weaker parts of my project were just now and he helped me to see a path forward towards resolving them.
We mostly talked about my need to conduct more direct research. I desperately need to talk to my potential user base to really understand how they feel about this idea, it’s something that I’ve not done much of, instead largely focusing on academic research. We also discussed my need for more in-depth research around other similar projects that are already out there right now; both in terms of their design & in terms of the service(s) they offer. My plan is to focus on these two areas over the Easter holiday break so that when we come back in April I’ll have a more fully formed idea of where my project sits in relation to my users needs and to the wider market.
I have a talk booked in with two members of Evening Class soon which I’m hoping will give me some insight into how small, local groups can make a comparatively big splash in their local area. I’m interested in learning as much as I can from them about the practicalities behind running events and workshops as well as a little more about how they organise themselves democratically. I’ll post the recording here below once I’ve spoken to them.
Things I learned from chatting with Alessia and Nicola:
When they started, the way they got their idea out there was to make a simple landing page website and shared it with as many people as they could. This generated a lot of interest from like minded folks who wanted to get involved to help get it going. This is something I could look to emulate.
They would pay a flat rate of £60 for anybody who came to deliver a talk, usually the talks would be on something that the person was informed about & so didn’t require much preparation. If they needed someone to develop a new talk they’d negotiate for a fair fee.
The leaders initially had a strong idea of what they wanted to create but over time this changed and morphed into something slightly different, remaining flexible and reacting to changes has helped them to remain active and relevant for longer than if they’d stuck rigidly to their original ideas.
Major decisions would be voted on and there was a general attitude that if certain members were uncomfortable with something then they wouldn’t do it, even if it meant losing out on an opportunity. This obviously is a balance and needs to be approached maturely to ensure that people don’t just leave in droves.
Building community is part of the whole point of projects like these. The work that is made is a shared purpose but shared interests such as meditation classes and social events helped to bind them together and make it a worthwhile investment for many members.
Interviews with graduates:
Over Easter I’m going to get in contact with some of my own graduate contacts to arrange some in-depth qualitative interviews looking at their graduate experience and their response to my ideas. As I record each conversation I’ll post them below here along with a short summary of what I’ve learned from each chat.
The branding and message should make it clear that this project / group is not affiliated with or owned by any one specific University in the city. That would put a lot of people off & make them think that it wasn’t for them. This is especially true for graduates that studied elsewhere then moved to Bristol.
It should be easy for new members to join and integrate, nothing is more off putting than joining a new group that has well established power dynamics and is hostile to new members.
Make it appealing not just to people who are looking for a step into their desirable career but also to those a bit more established so that meaningful and helpful connections can be made naturally through the group.
For something like this a polished social media ad campaign might actually put people off as it can come across quite corporate. Think of other ways that word can be spread that feel more genuine.
Make it fun, people are sick of boring lectures – how can you put a spin on it that is a USP that makes people want to come?
Sometimes socialising outside of your specific academic specialism is more rewarding than just chatting to people with the same experience as you. Opportunities for both are important.
Make it low stakes to get involved, the less corporate and overdeveloped it seems the more likely people are to want to come along.
The sweet spot between fun and useful is important to find. Why do people come along?
Post-uni isolation can come in many forms whether it’s moving away from your uni town, losing your uni friend groups or breaking up with a girlfriend as in Torben’s case.
People are clued in when something is being sold to them and actively ignore paid ads. Somewhere like Reddit might be a good place to advertise events.
Making it clear that it’s not for students is super important, most of these kinds of things are for students.
Paying a monthly due to be a part of the union wouldn’t be a problem for Torben.
This week we had the panel review overseen by four designers from different backgrounds & specialisms. It was great to see Joe P. again and I found the experience overall to be fun & insightful. I was proud of how well we all did as a group, our presentations were all clear & everyone delivered their project in a clear, understandable way.
A PDF of the presentation I delivered is linked below for anybody who wants a closer look –
I’ve picked out most of the key points of feedback (paraphrased) from my panel review, each is listed below in the order they were given.
Where are the employers in this idea? Is there a plan for how you’re going to connect users with employers?
Perhaps you can think about some kind of certificate to give out which people can add to their CV ?
Perhaps to give the project legitimacy you could partner with an existing platform such as Indeed or LinkedIn? Might give the project some visibility / weight and some legitimacy in the eyes of employers.
I wonder if the first thing this young design community should do is to build this thing themselves?
I would focus on making sure that there is an easy way for businesses / companies to connect with this platform. I think that’s more important ultimately than thinking about trophies and badges. Sometimes when I look at these kinds of things I’m left thinking what’s behind this? Can I trust it? What does it tell me about this person?
There’s something about building alternative communities here – be careful not to fall down the corporate trap too quickly. Start at a more local level, start with you and your mates, start in a way that’s responding to your conditions and the conditions that you see around you and from there hopefully you can invite more people and grow.
There’s something about this idea of building it together that’s really enticing otherwise it will just feel like another faceless service which we’ve seen before & which aren’t that interesting or creatively rewarding.
What alternative models of organisation can you come up with to what’s already out there?
This thing can be lo-fi there’s a google doc I’ve shared with hundreds of thousands of users sharing resources and tools but it’s just a document. Your idea doesn’t have to be super polished, it doesn’t have to be a platform yet – it could grow into that but how do you begin it?
In order to reflect a little more deeply I’ve grouped the feedback I’ve received into two rough areas – “how are employers going to connect with this project” and “how can this start small and grow over time”:
1. How are employers going to connect with this project?
The point about connecting with businesses first raised by Yuki & which was echoed throughout the feedback is a really valid point. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about it until very recently (funnily enough it was something that Alec also picked up on in my last conversation with him). There were a few suggestions like partnering with established companies like LinkedIn which I like the sound of. Obviously there’s a kind of universal hatred of these kinds of platforms amongst jobseekers and young adults but their names hold a lot of weight within many industries. Alec also had a suggestion in his last email to me, he explained that I could maybe try and get employers involved in the group work aspect, perhaps partnering with them to set briefs or competitions for users in the same kind of way that a lot of design competitions do. They could even set challenges as a kind of alternative recruitment strategy:
“It might be worth also figuring out exactly what the “sell” is to potential employers. What about this resource makes it a valuable untapped group who could be great hires? How do you put that in a nutshell? In terms of revenue generation, there are perhaps some opportunities on this side of things… You’d need to be careful and clear with the rules and regs re: the use of creative work, but what if companies could set briefs or advertise competitions (in return for a fee). The first idea is tricky because you wade into the spec work realm if you’re not careful, but so long as the companies aren’t using the submissions within their business then it could be workable. Why would they set a brief then? Maybe as an alternative recruitment strategy. Maybe to give back a little as the jobs market has contracted.” – Alec Dudson
There are a lot of potential directions to consider here, I’m going to have to bundle everything up that I’ve worked on so far and use it as a starting point to begin working out these finer business details which will become more important as I move towards writing my business plan. I think the next step will involve some mind mapping and a deeper look at each of these potential ideas.
2. How can this start small and grow over time?
The other main glut of feedback was focused on the practicalities of building up the project from a relatively small and humble beginning to hopefully something bigger down the line should it be a roaring success. This is something that I had already been thinking about heading into the panel review and I knew that it would be mentioned in the feedback. So much of my work on this idea so far has been me grappling with the concept, trying to figure out how it works as a business, how it’s monetised, how it supports itself that what I’ve been focusing on is essentially an ‘end product’ or a best-case scenario should everything go to plan.
I think it’s been important for me to understand what my end goals are though as any roadmap has to have an end goal to work towards. The tricky part is now going to be paring it right back and thinking about how I get something up and off the ground with limited resources and even less publicity. Joe’s advice about focusing on my own & my peers’ material conditions and responding to those struck a chord. I’ve actually booked in a chat with a couple of members of London-based collective ‘Evening Class’ to talk about exactly these kinds of things. Hopefully that chat will bear fruit & I’ll be able to make some connections / learn about how they’ve managed to organise and work together in a low-key decentralised way. In many ways what they’re doing is really great as their collective voice and online group presence allows them access to opportunities and conversations that might perhaps be harder to secure as an individual. I’ll see what they have to say anyway, it could be that I take some lessons from them and move towards creating something similar as a starting point.
I will have a little bit of money to kick something off at the end of this project so as long as I’m realistic about what I want to achieve in the first instance there’s a good chance that I could get something going here. It almost feels as though I’m now working on two projects though – the version that would exist right now and the potential version that might exist in the future. The tricky part is going to be putting down that future ambition and focusing on the here and now.
Joe popped a bunch of really good resources into the chat too, many of which I’d not heard of before. There seems to be a lot of these kinds of small-scale decentralised support groups out there for folks in the creative fields but there’s next to nothing out there that supports a wider range of grads like I want to. I think that perhaps the best way forward is going to be to return to the interdisciplinary focus that the project started out with using that as the USP that brings people in.
This week I continued to reach out to different groups and individuals in the hope of some feedback. Andrea got back to me with some really useful insights and I’ve opened a dialogue with Gareth from Evening Class which looks likely to bear fruit in the near future.
I also managed to have a really insightful conversation with Thomas Joy – creative director of Beacon agency recently. We talked at length about their journey as a start up company, their commitment to diversity and about how they’ve managed to thrive despite Covid-19 and Brexit. It was a fruitful conversation and allowed me to cut my teeth as an interviewer which I was initially nervous of.
Feedback from Andrea
I sent over a PDF last week to Andrea Zanibellato and Alec Dudson outlining my project idea & seeking some initial feedback. Alec has yet to get back to me but I know he’s a busy guy, Andrea on the other hand was really quick though and packed a lot of useful insights into his response. He has been really supportive of my idea from the beginning and I’m very glad to have him on board. Now that we’ve opened a dialogue he’s assured me that I can keep asking questions and discussing stuff which is exactly what I was hoping for.
His feedback was this:
Not everything he had to say was music to my ears but I’m really grateful for how comprehensively he’s thought about the practical limitations and costs that this project would accrue. This kind of information has been really tough to come by online but Andrea really clearly lists out what would be needed and how long it would take.
One of the major takeaways from this feedback is that I’m going to need to scale back my ambitions if this project realistically ever stands a chance of launching. I simply don’t have the money to pour into development that I’d need to make what I want but that’s fine. Andrea has really helped to put everything into perspective & I think that what I need to do now is to think about what the MVP might actually look like right now. If I can launch small and move to scale up down the line that means a lot less risk out of the gate which makes a lot of sense. I’m envisioning that a lot of the feedback I get from Thursday’s panel will be along the same lines. Now that I have an idea of what the end goal might look like I can start to think about what the route map to getting there looks like. One thing that I’ve been thinking about already is the possibility of simply emailing out a newsletter to all users with links to eventbrite pages for each online talk which would negate the need to have all of that built into the website itself.
Discussion with Evening Class
I’ve also been in conversation with a chap called Gareth from Evening Class – a london-based experimental research & education group. They’re interesting as they work in a radically unconventional way, I’d like to chat with a couple of them soon about what they do, how they work and to try and get some feedback on my own idea. Currently still in negotiations with them though, they didn’t seem too happy to give their time for free so we’re emailing back and forth trying to see whether I have any books that they might like which I could exchange for some of their time!
I’ve spent some time this week knocking my presentation together ahead of Thursday’s panel. I was pretty confident about how I wanted to lay it all out, the RSA talk I went to just before this module began has been really amazing at boosting my confidence in writing and designing a pitch deck which is what this essentially is. I’ve also created two time slots this week for peer-to-peer presentation preparation as it seems to be something that folks are quite worried about. I’m certainly no expert but I’m happy to give my time to try and offer pointers where I can. It’ll give me a chance to do a dry run of my one too anyway which is a bonus.
Things I haven’t managed to finish this week
I focused my time primarily on building my presentation this week as I knew that I would need to be a bit ahead of the pack so that I could help others to make theirs through our peer-to-peer sessions. This along with chatting to external helpers meant that my other goal of working on my literature review didn’t get done.
At this point I don’t think that I need to worry about finding much more evidence to back my position though. I’ve read a lot of papers and peer-reviewed works that deal with the area of graduate underemployment & have key texts that I’ll likely reference all saved in a word document. This means that when it comes time to pull together my argument I should be able to find what I need easily as I have them all indexed.
I still need to do further market research and business viability research with an eye to thinking about my business plan. At the moment that’s taken a back seat to other work though I know it’s coming up in the not too distant future. Next week I will look back through my previous business plan form GDE730 and reacquaint myself with the different sections it contains. From there I should be able to better understand what info I need to find for this project.
I also need to finish up the user profile mapping that I started at the beginning of the week. I did a lot of work on it one evening but haven’t gone back to finish it off. I’ve created three well rounded personas, I just need to map out their journey through the site. The reason that I haven’t done this already was because Andrea’s feedback made me stop and think about whether I need to scale everything back but I now realise that it just means I’ll probably need to make more than one of these for each stage of the businesses potential growth.
This week has been busy with a lot of focus on research and translating that research into a rough draft of my lit review. I’ve read widely around the issue of graduate employability from a number of different perspectives. I’ve found a lot of peer-reviewed literature that goes back a long way on this issue; graduate underemployment is certainly not a new phenomena though it does seem to have ramped up over the past 20 years or so.
One of the most interesting things that I’ve discovered recently though is just how many people have an opinion on this matter. I’ve had lengthy chats with everyone from my local corner shopkeeper to the friendly chap who came to inspect our rented flat about it.
I think it’s such a hot topic of conversation right now in part because of Covid-19 and the effects that the pandemic has had on the HE sector. There has been a lot of media coverage of anxious, distressed students and of rent strikes that have brought the plight of the student into the public eye, with countless articles speculating on where we go from here & what the future of HE might look like. The thing is though, from what I’ve read recently, the graduate jobs market was already in crisis long before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Like depressingly many aspects of our contemporary lives, all that Covid-19 has really done is expose the knife’s edge that we had already been living on for some time.
Reaching out to industry professionals:
I’ve been fortunate this week to finally start having some conversations with industry experts with the aim to procuring some feedback in the near future. This has been a relief as there have been a number of different academics and design professionals that I’ve contacted that just haven’t gotten back to me at all.
I’ve had confirmation from Alec Dudson to say that he’s happy to take a look at my stuff and give feedback which is really great, he’s such a force within the graduate sector and his feedback will, i’m sure, be very good.
I’ve also opened dialogue with a software and web developer Andrea Zanibellato, a professor of UX design at the university of Waikato. I was put in contact with Andrea through a friend and was able to have a short video chat with him this week. He’s on board to help out any way he can and thinks that my project sounds great so I’m hopeful that he’ll be invested to continue to help as the project develops.
Other helpful interactions
Alex has also been really helpful this week, sharing a resource that he uses when embarking on UI/UX projects (which I think he does as part of his day to day work). The document sets out a series of user-centred questions and scenarios which help to understand the user journey etc. I’ll definitely be using this framework to develop my concept further.
Stuart has been very helpful this week on the Ideas wall. I’ve done so much research this week that I’d let my design development slip a little and this comment helped me to move forward with it by giving me an idea of where best to next focus my efforts. I’ve since worked on locking down my concept more robustly.
As it stands, my concept looks like this:
It’s still a work in progress but I’m happy with how it’s coming together. My main concern at this point is that when it comes to looking at ‘viability’ the main obstacle I’m going to face is the initial cost of building the platform. By design it’s reasonably complex right now and from my current understanding a site of this complexity could be very expensive to build. I’m hoping that this is one of the things that Andrea can put into perspective for me when he takes a look at my project in the near future.
There are a number of platforms online that are specifically set up to help individuals to learn and to network with others, in order to best understand how I can position myself as unique I’ve taken a deeper look at some of my competitors:
Skillshare – Skillshare is a well established online learning platform. They work with content creators to develop video tutorial series that can be accessed by users at any time & which cover a huge variety of different subjects –
Their target audience is extremely broad though they could be said to have a creative focus with this category having over 2x the amount of subject areas that other categories have. The site comes with a free trial period of 30 days which then converts to a subscription-based service after that. The regular monthly cost is actually difficult to find, you need to click their ‘get started for free’ button & then make a profile before you’re able to access any pricing information at all. This trick certainly helps build user investment in the platform but feels a bit sleazy and made me uncomfortable. As well as the wide range of videos that they have to browse through, the site also has a section where users can upload images of the projects they’ve completed with the help of the courses. This is a great way to get potential customers excited about the possibilities of using the platform.
In terms of how much the creators get paid – they make royalties of between $0.05 and $0.10 per minute watched of their videos meaning that for a ten minute video one watch might make them up to 1 dollar. Skillshare is clearly making a LOT of money from this set up whereas the creators themselves don’t seem to be doing that well. Like a lot of online environments, the key here is that creators keep creating in the hope that their content becomes popular but there is no underlying promise that their efforts will be rewarded. Other sites such as Spotify, YouTube and even Etsy also work in this way. It seems that from a business perspective this is a good way to quickly make a lot of money but is it an ethical way to operate? I’m not so sure.
Different access models – ‘Free’ access to limited content, ‘Premium’ (£13 pcm) access to all content and ‘Teams’ accounts which cost more but give multiple users access.
Hands-off tutorials – no active engagement between creators and users.
Creators paid royalties based on amount of views they get.
Huge variety of subject areas to choose from.
Well polished UI design.
Market leader for this kind of educational content with an aggressive digital marketing campaign and hundreds of sponsorship deals with YouTube creators to get their product out there.
Does not have a focused target audience (generalist).
Does not encourage much interaction from users outside of content consumption / showing off finished projects.
Udemy – This is another of the huge online learning platforms that is a direct competitor with Skillshare. Unlike SS though Udemy charges for access to each individual course and does not charge a monthly subscription cost. The UI is nice but less polished than SS, the site seems to be aiming towards more of a young professional market than SS which is more of a generalist. Like SS there are a huge number of courses to choose from though the focus here seems to be more on technology than on creativity. There is an ‘introductory offer’ available here for a ‘limited time’ which sells courses for less than their usual going rate. In general, access to the individual courses through Udemy costs a lot more than you might expect from SS with some costing upwards of £100. The site uses a price slash tactic on their frontpage to show users just how much they can save by accessing now (£13.99 instead of £49.99 in most cases). This is another good sales tactic pushing users towards feeling that they’ve got ‘value for money’ when in reality they’ve just paid the equivalent of 1 month of access to SS.
Udemy seems to be confident in the quality of their videos and uses a lot of access positioning themselves as ‘experts’. They also use a lot of data-driven marketing tactics including showing how many users have engaged with different topics of learning through their site –
It’s hard to say how genuine these figures are though they aren’t unbelievable given the scale of the business. Note that they don’t give context to the word ‘students’ so you aren’t able to tell whether they mean current students or total students ever.
One source I found states that the average content creator can hope to make between $15-$30 per month per course through Udemy though the disparity between the top earners and the bottom earners is vast (as on other similar platforms). Many creators have supposedly spoken out about poor business practices at Udemy too including price gouging courses (meaning creators earn less), theft of intellectual property and keeping customers for themselves. These kinds of business practices do seem to be incredibly common across these large platforms and if anything can be viewed as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Many of them seem to use the sheer scale of their operation to bully creators and give them a rough deal, there are many such sites out there that operate in this exact same way, even places like Redbubble or Society6 do it. It’s the same kind of brainworm that’s instilled in many Americans in a way – the ‘American Dream’ of making it big. The whole point of what I’m trying to do though is to operate differently to this, to pay a fair wage to content creators whilst earning enough to keep the platform alive and growing. I have no plans to become a multi-millionaire.
Domēstika – This is a smaller learning hub than SS or Udemy but has seen fast growth over the past couple of years. Based in Spain it’s a less anglocentric site with many courses in both Spanish and English. The focus of Domestika is much more on craft and creative pursuits though there are other courses available. I’ve tried out a course on Adobe Xd as you can see above which I was able to pay a one-off fee to access with no monthly subscription.
The UI design is very pleasant to use and navigate and discounts are offered when multiple courses are bundled together and purchased at once. It can be a little annoying to have to navigate some pages where not everything has been translated to English fully but that’s a minor concern and doesn’t tend to affect general usage of the site.
In a way it feels like Domestika have tried to position themselves as a direct alternative to Skillshare using a different pricing model but offering much the same kind of content. There are a lot of disgruntled users online that complain about bugs and things like paying for courses that they’re unable to access though this hasn’t been my personal experience so far.
One thing that I will say about Domestika though is that they are not at all upfront about how much they pay creators for their work. There is no section in their FAQs about it and I couldn’t even find anything from an extensive google search. They also require that users pay an additional fee to get a certification of completion upon finishing a course which leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many users that feel this should be included in the cost of the course.
Stuck In – These guys are a charity set up to help young people in the UK (16-18) that are trying to get into the arts. It’s by no means a direct competition but the kind of work they’re doing is admirable and aligns somewhat with what I’m looking to do. They have a lot of useful information on their website to help people out which is something that I might like to incorporate into my site.
Freshmeet are another graduate-focused support group that operate predominantly through Instagram. Their work is very much focused on brand new graduates and those leaving HE that are trying to break into the creative industries but their brand appears to be very popular and they do a lot in terms of practical support for their target group rather than just waxing lyrical about how tough the industry can be.
There are definitely a lot of benefits to working in this kind of way – for one there are almost no overheads to get a message out and to build a following whereas a website comes with a lot of upfront costs. It allows them to be quite conversational with their users too building up a rapport and using their platform to share things that perhaps don’t get enough attention. Ultimately though, what they’re offering is completely different to what I’m looking to create and so it’s hard to make much of a direct comparison. I think that a strong social media presence will be helpful for me though to get people to the website in the first place.
Intern – I can’t forget to include Intern, the work of Alec Dudson who uses this platform to champion young creatives and to dunk on those who engage in bad faith practice within the industry.
I did reach out to Alec to try and get some feedback on my idea but he never responded. He has operated within this graduate space for several years now though moving from print into web and finally into social where he is positioned today. Like a lot of creative industries graduate-focused support out there, Intern deals primarily with concerns and issues of fresh grads and does a pretty good job at providing advice and support through a range of different subject areas. Alec does also offer out access to a paid course that he’s developed through this profile called ‘the price is right’ where he teaches designers how to best price their work. I have no data on how well that course sells though anecdotally I think he makes a decent bit of cash from it.
There is only so much that you can do through social media though, and that’s my main criticism of Intern. It’s a great platform for short catchy infobites and feel good stories or exposes but there isn’t really much in the way of community support and interaction beyond this. My aim is to create a space where the kinds of people who might follow Intern on Instagram then go to actually network and move forward with their ideas.
My first piece of formative feedback from Stuart arrived yesterday and it contained a lot of useful stuff. The overarching theme was pretty much ‘do more research and substantiate your claims’ and so I’ve decided that I’m going to spend this first chunk of Phase 2 really getting to grips with what the actual audience is for this project and making my intentions crystal clear. From that position I feel as though I’ll be in a much better place to create a case study for the panel and to put together a solid literature review.
I’m going to start by using Stuart’s feedback as a framework for further research, responding to each of his points with my thoughts and then with some data to back my positions up.
1. Research question – (How can design support struggling graduates?)
Initial thoughts – Whilst I understand that there is a need to quantify and qualify the ways in which graduates are ‘struggling’ and that both ‘struggling’ and ‘support’ are vague terms; I don’t quite understand why their vagueness is a problem in this specific context. As I understood it the point of the research question was to act as a beginning hook, essentially a prompt from whence a deeper investigation would ensue. The feedback on this has not been consistent between webinars and written feedback, my initial question was actually much more specific than this and was pared back for this hand-in after the majority of our questions were encouraged to be less wordy in the webinar.
My plan is and has always been to target any graduate that needs a leg up. Part of the impetus behind this project was to rally against the traditionally narrow window of support that is available to most graduates in the immediate period after graduation. Limiting my focus to the slightly wider window of 3-5 years after graduation doesn’t do much to address that, all I’d be doing at that point is creating another arbitrary cut off point and excluding a huge body of individuals that might wish to engage with my project. I reject the idea that I should only cater to a narrower group; I believe that there is a more effective way that language can be used to market this project to individuals that doesn’t put an age range or hard figure on who can / can’t get involved.
The particular types of support that graduates require are also nuanced and multifaceted in nature. A lot of the issues that Stuart listed in his feedback are actually more intertwined than they are separate. Graduates that are financially struggling for example might be having problems with employment or with health, a lack of academic confidence could be the direct result of a demeaning job wearing someone down or a bad relationship with a university tutor etc. etc.
My primary hope is to develop a confidence & competence building platform for the plethora of today’s graduates that feel mis-sold on the notion that their university degree would ‘open doors’ for them and allow them to ‘get ahead’.
The problem is that there is an oversupply of graduates for the number of Knowledge Based Economy (KBE) i.e. graduate positions that are available. [Hesketh, Brown & Williams 2004] The result of this shift has been that many of today’s graduates are unable to transition into the graduate positions that they’ve worked towards for years. In this sense, academic attainment can be seen to have lost value in the marketplace as the number of potential employees with HE qualifications continues to rise. The university degree, traditionally a marker of employability in the KBE is often now seen as little more than a ‘tick in the box’ for employers who have instead shifted their focus towards graduates that display a wider array of skills and competencies. As Hesketh, Brown & Williams write in their book The Mismanagement of Talent: Employability and Jobs in the Knowledge Economy:
I’ve found this book to be really helpful in understanding the wider discourse around this topic. At the core this text is an evaluation of graduate employability in two major western countries (UK & USA). It looks at the ‘promise’ sold to graduates by governments and HE institutions and compares it to the lived experiences and realities of graduates and employers engaged in the graduate marketplace.
Though the book is now ten years old, it goes a long way to setting the scene we see before us today. It concludes that despite an increase in demand for knowledge workers there remains a supply/demand problem with regard to jobs in these areas which is not something that has improved much since this book was published.
The take away from this text is that more needs to be done to aid ’employability’ of graduates which can be quite a nebulous and hard to define thing that varies from industry to industry. The book broadly gestures that ‘personal attributes and skills’ are increasingly more important than academic attainment, largely in part due to the oversupply of new knowledge workers (graduates) for the jobs that are available.
This backs up my initial position that there is broadly an ‘oversaturation’ of graduate job markets which has lead to a scenario wherein many skilled knowledge workers are being underutilised. Another article that I’ve recently read further backed this up:
Tomlinson summaries it well in a section referencing earlier work undertaken by Hesketh and Brown:
What does all of this mean for me and my project?
Based on the evidence outlined in these two texts it would appear that my presupposition that the ‘value of a degree in real terms has fallen’ was broadly correct. Employers are increasingly looking for graduates that offer the ‘whole package’ rather than just the ‘tick in the box’ of academic attainment. In a labour market where Higher Education becomes the norm, graduates that have not found new and innovative ways to stand out from the crowd are left behind and in many cases now flood labour markets that were traditionally reserved for those without a degree. The problem is in the supply of KBE jobs and without broad, sweeping changes to government policy this is unlikely to change. My aim with this project is not to try and ‘solve’ this issue. I’m not even sure that I would know where to start with that. Instead I want to develop a business aimed at minimising the effects of this failing system on those that are subject to it.
2. Aims, objectives, purpose
Initial thoughts – Stuart’s main criticism throughout this submission has been that I haven’t backed up anything I’ve written. It’s a fair criticism and is something that I’m struggling to adjust to. Up until GDE740 my more hyperbolic and informal writing style had stood me well but I need to step up my academic writing for this module and I recognise that. It’s just hard to change old habits!
I believe that some of the unsubstantiated claims in the initial text such as the ‘value of a degree having fallen’ have now been discussed above. I will also make sure to back up my claims about UK political parties’ negative influence on the overall direction of HE over the past 20 years. (I don’t think this will be hard to do). I have however struggled to find any specific data on the proportion of graduates that are working entry level service industry jobs but will continue to dig around. The closest stat that I’ve found is that around 40% of graduates have not made it into ‘graduate jobs’ at all in recent years but that’s not quite the same thing.
The Guardian also recently touted the figure of a 12% overall UK-wide drop in graduate opportunities. The impact of Covid-19 & Brexit on graduate employability cannot be understated. It may take time for specific hard data on these evolving issues to emerge however it isn’t hard to speculate how graduate markets will be affected. The closing off of free travel and work within the European jobs market for one has been a specific and significant blow.
Thoughts on a business model-
At the time of writing I hadn’t locked down answers to many of the questions Stuart asked in his feedback. I had started to play around with some rudimentary ideas about how the project might be structured and might make money / pay for itself but more research needs to be done in this area. It’s clear from the feedback however that the level of detail that I outlined in my project brief was not granular enough and so I’ve done my best to begin to describe my idea below:
There are a number of key differences between this proposed model and other online learning platforms such as Domestika or GreatCoursesPlus which I will explore in detail in another post. The most obvious difference though is that my idea promotes active engagement and involvement rather than passive consumption of materials. Sites like Domestika work with individuals to create curated tutorial video series and can be pretty great for when you want to learn a new skill. I’ve used them myself to learn things like Adobe XD but my main criticism is that they lack any semblance of interpersonal interaction with the content provider. These sites also don’t offer any hands-on workshops / personal development opportunities which form a core part of my proposal.
Another key difference between this model and more formal qualifications such as a degree itself is that there is no pressure to succeed in my model. The user profile passively builds over time through engagement with topics that interest the user which merely help paint a broader picture of them as an engaged and curious person. This wider engagement in learning and personal growth carries none of the performance-based pressures that HE contain whilst also aligning with what many businesses identify as desirable characteristics in graduate applicants:
Another positive aspect of my business model is that it essentially provides a ‘side hustle’ opportunity to mid-career industry insiders and experts / professionals. Such individuals can sign up to deliver events which we would then advertise bringing in attendees and money; they would then earn a healthy cut of the total. Having such an open schedule also means that there is a route for long-term users of the site that have proven themselves through collaborations and engagement with events to eventually host their own events. It’s a fluid way of building an online learning community that I haven’t seen tried anywhere else in quite the same way.
A valid criticism of my model however is that users could abuse it, paying for ‘the right’ courses to construct a great profile and then simply not attending them. (or attending them to get the badge and just putting the computer on mute or whatever). I would however question whether the cost / reward of doing that would ultimately worth it. The site isn’t offering formal qualifications, attendance isn’t graded at the end – it’s merely a way for graduates to engage with learning and for others to get a general picture of you and what you’re interested in. You could fake attend 100 lectures on business through the platform but if a prospective collaborator or employer asked you questions about your involvement it would be quickly apparent whether or not you were actually engaged in that learning.
3. Target audience
Initial thoughts – Stuart is right in that there are a number of various schemes established to help graduates within the creative industries, many more than exist for other specific subject areas it seems. I suppose this can perhaps be attributed to the overall poor performance of these industries in terms of skilled graduate employment. Creative industries have struggled to translate qualifications into employment outcomes for a long time and thus could be said to have a head start on other subject areas in terms of additional community / institutional support.
Today however, thanks to the year-on-year increase in university attendance there are a huge number of students that are graduating with fairly specialised degrees that don’t benefit from the same level of active graduate support that the creative industries are known for. This is partly why I don’t believe that narrowing my project’s focus to one subject area would be the best route forward. Desired employment / opportunity outcomes for graduates have stagnated for several years now and my aim is to support all graduates that have been sold the university premise but that haven’t been able to reap the reward that they were sold through participation in that system.
One particular line of Stuart’s feedback doesn’t sit well with me however, it has to be said. More than once he has now repeated the assertion that ‘graduates are in a privileged position because they can afford to come to university’.
I really dislike this take, it’s reductive and fails to account for the huge amount of variance within the graduate population. Whilst it’s certainly true that university attendance has traditionally had strong links with the middle classes & that recent changes to tuition fees has driven some potential undergraduates from lower socioeconomic backgrounds away, there remains a healthy proportion of students that do not have the kind of positional privilege that Stuart presupposes. Another thing to consider is that many of the graduates that I’d currently be looking to help would have studied before the tuition fee changes came about in 2012. Back then the comprehensive tuition and maintenance loans that were available allowed many working class individuals such as myself to partake in Higher Education despite my lack of ability to ‘afford’ to do so. (I’ll literally never pay back that loan, I don’t even earn enough to pay anything towards it right now).
What I think we miss if we assume all students to be in a financially privileged position is the fact that what we’re actually talking about is 50% of the total (eligible) young adult population. Are 50% of UK households in a privileged position? You could certainly argue that they are from a relativist perspective but why you would bother? We don’t discount 50% of a population because of their relative privilege when talking about other concerns like access to housing or health care so why would we when it comes to education? We’re not talking about ‘the 1%’ here.
Even if a family is able to pay in full for their child to attend HE, what does that meaningfully say about that family’s situation? If we use the same relativist framework as above, what positional advantage does this student then have over any of the other individuals in that 50% demographic that are able to ‘afford’ to attend university? We’re talking about such a huge segment of the young adult population that regardless of any supposed financial privilege there are still ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in the graduate jobs market. There are still young people that need support to succeed and to develop into the more well-rounded individuals that employers are looking for. We can’t forget that we’re talking about young adults here, many of whom choose to attend university simply because they have been funneled that way through every aspect of their learning journey:
This is something that is explored in more depth in Tomlinson’s study:
Initial thoughts – I agree with Stuart’s assertion that I need to continue to do more research. I have begun to engage in a broader body of research over the past few days but this is something that I need to continue with. I have done a lot of research over the past few weeks but the problem is that my initial research direction hasn’t wound up becoming directly relevant to the way that my project has evolved.
I initially spent a lot of time looking at teaching methodologies and at ways of teaching interdisciplinarity but the focus of my project has shifted somewhat since then. In a broad sense I am still interested in developing a platform that supports and encourages interdisciplinarity, the difference now however is that I’m not necessarily looking at how I can directly teach those skills to graduates.
I also think that the sentence about graduates working in entry level service industry jobs needs to be removed or altered. Stuart has picked up on it more than once in his feedback & I’ve not been able to back it up with research. Unless it’s something that I can meaningfully research myself somehow I might have to leave it out or change it as at the moment it’s purely colloquial & based on my own perceptions and experiences which are unlikely to be fully reflective of wider statistics.
As part of the research I’ve done over the past few days I have begun to dig out a lot of statistics though to back up my various assertions. I’ve been looking at the government’s website as well as HESA’s stats and much of what I’ve found broadly correlates to what I’ve been saying which is good. There are plenty of figures out there to draw on and I plan to do so in my literature review. My next steps will be to create a post looking at the current competition out there on the market to try and better understand what my USPs actually are and to quantify how my proposal is unique.
I pushed out a questionnaire to some graduates that I know through social media yesterday afternoon. It had a relatively good level of uptake with 36 respondents so far at time of writing.
The dataset is of course limited in a host of different ways and certainly isn’t representative of the wider graduate population however as a point of entry it does have some value. Unfortunately because of the Covid-19 situation and my relative isolation here in Bristol I am quite limited in the primary research that I’m able to conduct.
Here are the results as they stand right now:
The final two questions were free text boxes where participants were asked to write in responses:
26 out of 37 respondents gave at least one example of something they would like to learn more about with 11 writing N/A. Within the 26 there was a really broad range of topics, some that were really specific such as ‘making vampire movies’ and many that were quite broad such as ‘politics’. Several mentioned the desire to learn coding and computer languages and a total of 4 people specifically mentioned their desire to learn something to help further their careers.
Of the respondents to this question 16 responded in the affirmative that they would like to use a platform like the one mentioned with another 6 who saw a benefit in it but probably wouldn’t use it themselves. A total of 14 people stated that they would not be interested. What was most interesting and useful though was seeing the kinds of topics that people were interested in collaborating on. The information here helps me to start thinking about the content I might try to include on my platform.
As mentioned at the top, it’s hard to make too many assumptions from a sample size of 36 but from the results I have it seems clear that there is a desire for a graduate learning space online.
I found it interesting that when engaging in online learning the majority of respondents do so with the aim of furthering their career but when asked about which online groups they would be interested in forming almost all of them were more academic / personal interest focused.
This questionnaire has been helpful in that it’s allowed me to question my own preconceptions and learn more about how graduates really feel. My next step to follow up on some of these results will be to have a couple of more in-depth detailed qualitative conversations with graduates to try and probe deeper into how they feel.
This week was the first that I’ve been able to fully dedicate to my MA project. For the first two weeks I’d chosen to straddle two projects because I’m a masochist and I was working to finish a deck for the RSA student design competition which I wanted to enter my Mynd project from GDE740 into.
Having a little bit of space from my initial ideas actually really helped though, I had done a lot of initial research around interdisciplinarity and around teaching methodologies but I needed to give myself some time to parse everything that I’d learned and to think about what direction my project was going to take.
As before I used Milanote to work through my process, focusing on the design question and the aims / objectives. I tried to pare back from the previous questions that I’d posted on the ideas wall as they all seemed to get a similar response – basically that I was probably biting off more than I could chew!
Initially I don’t think that I had been clear enough about my intentions and Stuart didn’t quite understand what I was trying to do. I wrote a long response to his questions discussing in depth the myriad of ways that graduates are actually a really struggling group within wider society right now, especially those that come from disprivileged backgrounds. I think Stuart’s initial response was perhaps grounded in what he saw as a narrowing of the kind of students that are coming to university today whereas I was much more interested in looking at those students that graduated a few years ago that were from a much wider demographic group thanks to the relatively low fees that were charged then.
Still, some of what Stuart said was fair enough and I continued to tweak my research question removing the ‘we’ until I ended up at this:
This was the question that I ended up taking to the webinar on Thursday, the consensus was that it was perhaps still too wordy but that it better reflected the direction that I wanted to take. I eventually managed to break it down even further and the final question (for now) that I’ve arrived at is simply “How can design support struggling graduates?”
Alongside these discussions on the ideas wall and during the bi-weekly peer-to-peer sessions I had started to really think about how I might try and go about what I wanted to achieve. My initial focus as I said had been on interdisciplinarity but when I took a step back I realised that perhaps the specific skills that I’d like to help graduates by teaching them wasn’t as important as the creation of a space in which that teaching can take place. I bounced a few ideas around with my partner and with some friends and eventually landed on an idea that took me back to the Mindhive project which had really been the start of all this. I was reminded that in that original plan I had proposed a website with individual profiles on it which would allow you to see other individuals that you might like to work with and their specialisms / background. I decided that perhaps I could take that aspect one step further and create a space where learning was essentially gamified with the end goal of adding items to this digital CV.
I realised that I could host events such as talks, workshops and short courses on a platform that gave a badge to everybody that attends. Over time they could pick and choose what they wanted to learn about and their profile would build up to reflect the extracurricular learning that they’d engaged with. This could then inform a collaborative back end to the website where graduates post up project ideas that they want collaborators for and they’re able to select participants that they feel might be the best fit based on their profiles. In essence, what I want to create here is a space that rewards interdisciplinary working but that doesn’t bog the users down in the formalities that tend to accompany that kind of practice. I believe that most of us have the capacity to work in diverse teams and I want to create a space where graduates can try it out and keep themselves switched on and engaged even if there’s no career opportunities in their field of study.
I had a chat with Stuart 1-1 yesterday and he seemed to like the idea and the direction that the project was taking which was good to hear. I’ve been working on my submission for Friday whilst also trying to help out other students wherever I can. I now have everything except my resource plan completed but I have a few ideas and items for that already prepared so it hopefully shouldn’t take long.
I’ve paid for an online course with Domestika which will take me through the basics of Adobe XD which I’ll try to fit in over the next week. I haven’t used the program before but I feel as though wireframing is going to be a core part of this project and I’ll need to brush up on it.
I’ve also pushed out a questionnaire to a load of my graduate friends yesterday which I’ll cover in another blog post. I’m hoping that it will give me some broad insights to kick off my primary research. I’ve also booked in a chat with Thomas Joy who is a creative director with Beacon Agency – a start up marketing consultancy that works with smart home companies like Ryng. I’m hoping to chat about his experience as a young entrepreneur and what some of the pitfalls to watch out for might be etc. Hopefully that will be recorded by next week too.
Using the insights that I’ve already begun to piece together I had a crack at writing a research question. Because of Covid-19 I know that I’m very likely to end up trying to create a digital platform and so I reflected that in my first draft:
Stuart was the first to offer feedback & it was quite comprehensive. This was very helpful though & exactly what I needed to get moving forward.
I guess for the sake of this project I will tighten my focus to graduates as they are really the primary group that I’m interested in helping and as Stuart says, they will have different needs to students. Whilst a lot of the ideas that I’m considering right now might in practice have an overlap in terms of uptake between students and graduates I’ll focus on graduates for the time being. Perhaps I can allude to a desire to open out the project later on to other groups as I develop a business growth plan.
With regards to the second point on targeting a more focused discipline area – that’s not something that I want to do actually. The point of this project is not to focus too narrowly. I’m interested in creating a space for all graduates from a whole range of different backgrounds to be able to learn skills to boost their interdisciplinary competence and to find interdisciplinary projects that they can get involved with. The interdisciplinary focus loses something by limiting the potential user base in this way I think. Graduates are a targeted enough group without also limiting it by subject area.
Finally with regard to the ‘technology’ terminology – this one I found a little frustrating, I’d narrowed the scope to ‘technology’ in this question in order to essentially narrow the focus of the project in much the same way Stuart is trying to help me do with his advice. In reality, for the kind of project that I want to create technology IS going to inevitably play a central role. Even in a more hands-on model with face-to-face teaching like I was originally postured in Mindhive, there was a strong digital element in the form of a website. With the advent of Covid-19 and the changing ways in which we’re able to work in groups I figured that focusing on technological solutions would be a safe bet. I kind of understand where Stuart is coming from with his criticism on this point, Covid-19 won’t be a problem forever, however the reason that I chose to narrow it that way was not arbitrary, it was actually considered. I believe that the legacy and effects of Covid on our wider trends and habits will last longer than the threat of the virus itself and so I’m focusing on a technological solution for that reason.
With Stuart’s feedback in mind, I’ve written up a second draft:
I think that this version better gets to the core of what I want to achieve. My focus is on supporting continued learning and academic engagement within the graduate demographic which I think this question reflects. I’ll pop it back on the ideas wall for further discussion.
Illuminating chat with Robin
I had a great 1 on 1 conversation with Robin this afternoon (07.02.2021). I jumped on big blue button with him after he missed the 12pm peer-to-peer I’d organised and we talked at length about our shared interest in interdisciplinarity. He has offered to share a lot of his own research with me from previous modules which was extremely kind of him.
Helpful link from Alex
Alex was also really helpful this week giving me a heads up about https://www.pair-up.org/, a website that targets the same ballpark area of support that I’m interested in exploring. I’m definitely going to sign up to try and talk to the website’s founder sometime soon as well as perhaps one or two other ‘Pairers’.