Wednesday, 12:00pm
24 June 2020

Virtually speaking

Design educator Nigel Ball weighs in on the positives that Covid-instigated online talks have offered students who live far from big cities

It seems inappropriate to suggest that some good has come out of Covid-19 – given the number of people who have died, and the sacrifices that many have made, writes Nigel Ball.

However, it has forced change in some directions, and it would be wrong to neglect the positives, especially given the efforts many have made to support others. With regard to graphic design education, a real positive I have seen is the amount of high-quality content that students can access online.

Typically, in the UK at least, design talks and conferences understandably happen in big cities. For students and lecturers based in the regions, these can be both difficult and costly to attend. The latter is particularly important for students. Taking Ipswich (where I live and work) as an example, it is a three and a half hour round trip by train to attend an evening talk at St Bride Library, at a cost of £43.70 in addition to tube fare and the ticket price. For me this is not a great problem, but students would be looking at a minimum of £50 for one evening.

At Home With … is a series from Glug Events. Designer and art director Luke Tonge was the guest for episode two. Other guests have included Rachel Clancy (Wieden + Kennedy), and designer and lettering artist Craig Black.
Ruben Pater of Untold Stories at Insights 2020.


On some occasions I have managed to convince students to go to a talk if it relates to a project or piece of research they are conducting. However I always feel a pang of guilt when I do, considering the amount of money they have to spend. While students may be mentally enriched by the experience, they rarely have the luxury of time to stick around and network, which is as much part of these things as the talk and Q&A. The chances are, they then have to beg an extra couple of shifts at their part-time job to help pay for it, which will have a negative impact on their study time.

When I attend talks in the capital, I am always pleased to see the number of students in attendance, but they are nearly always from London universities. Such easy access perpetuates the London-centric opportunities afforded to those who choose to study there, which creates an imbalance. It is difficult for students from outside the metropolis (and applies to big cities other than London) to meet others and possibly catch the eye of a designer for the chance of a placement or internship.

Guests on Extracurricular, hosted by Alec Dudson at Intern magazine, have included Shannie Mears, Craig Oldham and Vicky Carr.


In the last few months that has changed, with many talks and interviews taking place online. Students from my course have been plugging into the excellent Extracurricular interviews hosted by Alec Dudson at Intern, focused on advice for those about to graduate. I have read my students’ reflections on watching Ruben Pater give an online lecture hosted for free by Walker Arts Center, and they have taken notes on ‘personal branding’ from Luke Tonge’s talk on Glug’s At Home With… series, and added these to their reflective journals. And they have quoted Craig Oldham, swearing and all, from the various interviews he has done online in recent weeks.

At the University of Suffolk, our recent Life After Lectures series had to be abandoned after two sessions. So the efforts that many people have gone to in mounting online events has been a godsend in this difficult time. Speaking personally, it has been highly thought-provoking and refreshing, and I have been able to refer students with specific questions to an online event in which similar things have been discussed.

Adobe Presents: D&AD – Insight Sessions has covered writing, advertising and craft, as well as discussions with Kwame Taylor-Hayford, Debbi Vandeven and Simon Griesser.


In several recent talks, including the first online Type Tuesday on 9 June, (which celebrated the publication of Eye 100), questions were asked about whether there should be more such online events – to which I say a resounding ‘yes’.

Post-Covid-19, putting such high-quality content online, whether for a small cost or for free, is a democratising process. It is helping talented and hungry students in the regions – and throughout the world – plug into something that big-city undergraduates take for granted, and that can only be a good thing.

Where are the black designers?, an online event taking place on 27 June. Leading up to the event, the event’s social media features a wide range of images by students and designers including Kettelie N. Dubuisson, Qamile Dani, Ally Hwang and Laura Og, among many others.



Keep up with online (and real-life) design events via the Eye Events page. If you have an event you would like listed, please send an email.

Nigel Ball, design educator, graphic designer, photographer, Ipswich

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.