Educating the next generation of digital talent at MCS

The recently-opened Manchester Creative Studio (MCS) is a school for 14 to 19 year olds where students learn a specific skillset that should directly enable them to build a career in the creative or digital industry.

MCS offers a great opportunity for young people to get a jump start on their career and is sure to become a fantastic asset to Manchester's digital community in the long run too. The design-focused curriculum even covers code as language in much the same way that French or German might be taught at a standard school.

MCS asked if we'd be interested in running an induction session for the opening day of term and, naturally, we jumped at the chance -- after all, we're passionate about educating and inspiring the next generations of creative here at Code, be it through work experience placements, graduate schemes or visits to schools.

So we assembled a crack team of wannabe teachers in the form of Alex, Drew, Dina and Ali -- but the challenge was a difficult one...

We were given free reign over what we wanted to do; it just had to be educational and fit within the hour and half time slot we were given. We wanted to give the students a real taste of the kind of everyday challenges we face in a digital agency; with this in mind, we decided to run a mock solution design session. (We've written about how our solution design sessions work before if you want to find out more.)

Practicing our best teacher voices

We were given the after-lunch slot, which meant a class full of very energetic -- and chatty -- students who were keen to get started on the task.

Once we had got the formalities out the way (mastering our best teacher voices along the way), we opened up with a quick thumbs up or down check in. This got a bit of a bemused response from the students at first, but after some encouragement everyone's hands -- and thumbs too, of course -- were in the air.

With the class a little restless, we introduced our imaginary brief; in homage to the Ice Bucket Challenge, a charity wanted people to throw muddy buckets of water over their heads. The premise? To show that not everyone has access to nice clean water.

MCR Studio Challenge

The task for the students would be to design a homepage takeover to spread the message and encourage people to take part. We introduced them to some of the design and persuasion techniques we use in the agency to encourage various behaviours. Then, without further or do, we kicked off the challenge.

30 minutes to design a homepage takeover

One of the things we wanted the students to get out the session was a feel for some of the different methods we use to get ideas on paper. With this in mind, we kicked the workshop off with a game of crazy eights.

We split the class into groups of three. Each of the groups was asked to fold there sheets of paper into eight squares. Armed to the teeth with a multitude of Sharpies and with timers set, we then gave the class eight minutes to fill each of the squares in with a different idea.

With the realisation that they had just one minute per idea, a sense of panic predictably set in! But we felt it was important to show the students the importance of thinking fast under pressure. As a professional in the creative industry, you don't always have the luxury of time to come up with great idea; you are often expected to be able to come up with something innovative, fast.

MCR Studio 1

Once we had given the students some unexpected bonus seconds, each group had to choose an idea to refine and present back to the class. It's amazing (and quite amusing) how quiet a class goes when you ask them to stand up and present to each other. But again, we were keen to stress that this is part of everyday life in an agency -- you need to be able to be articulate and confident in explaining your ideas, and often have to present to intimidatingly large groups of stakeholders.

Great design thinking

After a bit of encouragement every group presented back. With some slightly risqué name suggestions involved (we're pretty sure 'getfilthy.com' wouldn't get past many clients...) everyone had a laugh -- and the work was impressive to say the least. The students' ideas were highly detailed, with elements of persuasion and design built in; something that, to be honest, is often missing in websites that have been designed by the professionals!

All in all, we had a brilliant time; it's amazing to see some great design thinking going on with the next generation of creative.

During our hard-earned debrief pint we all agreed we'll be watching with interest as this next generation of digital-savvy talent rise through the ranks.


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