The information here is general. This is because specific course information can change very rapidly and this is not a college bulletin board. The idea of this section is to give general advice that might be of help to any first year design student, and is by no means definitive.
This page and the subsequent ones will take a while to read. If you are paying the phone bill, it might be wise to save these pages and then read them off line (this can be done easily in your browser by selecting "save as.." and selecting text).
before you set foot in college
Beginning a new course can be quite daunting. Be prepared for all sorts of changes, both in your circumstances and in yourself.
If you are moving to London, do this as soon as you can, so that you are not taking on a new home and city at the same time as a new course. Also because many final year students move out of London after they graduate, accommodation availability increases temporarily before the next influx of first years arrive.
Halls of residence are a good intermediary step if you are moving out of home for the first time. Sharing a house with other students can be very economical and fun, but do make sure you are sharing with like-minded people. Be up front about who pays the bills and how (particularly the telephone). Work out in advance how you intend to deal with people moving in or out of your house. An individual contract limiting your responsibility to your share of the house (landlords prefer to make sharers responsible for one anothers payments) is very desirable. Make sure college has your new term time address (in addition to your old one). It is also a good idea to register with a local Doctor. If that seems like a pain now, imagine what it would be like when you are ill. Take your National Insurance number, your NHS number and your old Doctor's name and address with you when you register.
Save as much money as you can before setting foot into college. London is expensive, graphic art materials are too. Make a realistic budget and stick to it. If you do not receive your grant cheque when you should have, get in touch with your local authority and keep in touch until the cheque arrives. Keep all the paper work and the names of whom you last spoke/wrote to, this will save time eventually.
If your bank balance looks as if it is heading for the red, contact your branch before it does. Bank managers tend to be much more helpful when dealing with a potential shortfall than when they have to deal with a real unplanned one. If you go to see your bank manager, dress neat. This is one area where your mum's taste may be right.
Bring all your art materials to London. The more you have the better. You will need a broad range of materials. It would be better if you do not have to buy them all at once. There is a very limited amount of locker and flat plan space at college, but you will soon get to know the rhythm of the days and which items will be needed. Cheap fishing tackle boxes and plastic tool boxes are very good for mass of transportation of art materials. You do not need to buy an expensive portfolio with plastic sleeves, an "old fashioned" cardboard one will do very well. Never roll your drawings, they will stay that way forever.
You will be asked to do many new things at college, accept the challenge and do them. It is very tempting, particularly at the beginning, to stick to the safe, staying with what you know you can do. This is a slow, boring way of learning. Be daring. You can afford to make the odd "noble creative cock-up". Sometimes that will be when you learn the most.
You will be encouraged to develop your own working method. One that you can rely on. This involves a progressive logical approach to your work, research, visualisation, and time management. It is probably too early in your career to specialise. Investigate everything you come across. That way if you like it you can do it again.
One rule, always finish what you start (even if it isn't that good). In graphics there is always a deadline, and unlike fine art, it does matter if you do not finish. Apart from training you for the future, it also means you do not get behind with your work and end up with a poor result. Keep a note of how long you thought something was going to take and of how long it actually took. This will be very useful in the future. Always attend the critiques at the end of the project (whether you have finished or not). You will see and learn from other people's successes and failures and in turn they will learn from yours. This is mutually beneficial. Crits are the starting place of a creative dialogue where more is said than whether something is just good or bad.
The course is a full time one, but this does not mean it is a 9-5 affair. Much of the work has to be done outside normal college hours. This often means quite a bit of creative juggling with any part time jobs that you may have. It is prudent, if you can, to work one solid day, rather than several evenings as that can be much more draining and less financially rewarding.
If you have been keeping a sketch book, great. Make sure you continue to. If you have not, start now. They are important, they help keep your mind and work fresh and well nourished. Imagine how long distance runners would function if they did not eat. Your sketch book is creative food. Your sketch book should, in essence, be like a visual diary. A personal place where you keep interesting visual ideas, words and pictures. Sketch books come in many forms and it may be helpful to keep more than one. For instance you may carry a small one around with you. Jot down things that you see of interest or ideas for projects that come to you. You might keep a separate scrap book of cuttings that you like. "Theme" sketch books can be really fun and get you out of the creative doldrums. Make a book on one theme, say like "green"- only things that are or have to do with green will be allowed into the book. Old paperbacks can make inspiring and cheap sketch books. They get you over the tyranny of the blank sheet of paper. Often they supply unexpected words that can set you going on a different track. Some people paint a white wash over the pages to "prime" them so that the words do not interfere so much with the imagery. Whatever your sketch books are like, make sure you like them and they are personal to you.
London can be creative food too. It is easy to be lazy about going to see galleries, shows, cinema etc., because they are always available. Often students from outside London see more because they have to make a special trip and want to get the most of it. It is amazing how going to see a show of painting can help your typography! You come out sensitised to the creative world in general after seeing a show- even one you did not like. There are plenty of free events about too. Currently London has more arts funding than anywhere else in the country. Use it.
Do remember to read. Designers have to know a little about everything, a broad sheet newspaper once a week can really help with this. At interview it can be quite frightening how little potential students of design know about graphics.
How many living graphic designers can you name? If it is less than three, then you need to look more often at the trade press. The library subscribes to many important design related magazines. Two lunch hours a week spent there, will bring you up to speed quickly.
Personal tutors are there to keep an overview of your work as it progresses. They can help you by pointing out the strengths and weaknesses in your work, in a detailed manner that would not be appropriate in large group crits. They are also good to talk to if you have personal problem that may affect your work. You tutor may be able to help you directly, or advise you to make an appointment with student services or discreetly inform your year tutor as appropriate. They will arrange to meet their tutees individually- keep an eye on the notice boards for dates and times etc.
At the moment, there are three formal assessments of your work, one each term. The largest (and most important) is at the end of the year, you must pass this assessment to go onto the second year.