Real Magazine – Design with Giles Woodward
Is it possible that a person with a pile of seashells and a permanent marker can find a solution to a business communications problem as effectively as a trained graphic designer?
If you ask Giles Woodward, a faculty member with 12 years experience in the Visual Communications program, you’ll discover the answer is a clear yes. “Designers don’t have a monopoly on design,” he explains with an accent that clearly links him to his original home in Burton upon Trent, UK. “Lots of people communicate effectively everyday without the need for a designer.”
That response might come as a surprise because Woodward dresses with a creative flair, uses language of the design world, and in fact is a very capable graphic designer with international credentials and years of experience. Intrigued with the design solutions that people discover for themselves, however, Woodward recently devoted a year to completing a master’s degree that focused on what might be described as do-it-yourself design. An apt example is the manager of a do-it-yourself lumber store who deployed the supplies available at hand to create signage that grabs attention and builds business. Lumber fastened together to spell out “DIY” in metre-high letters might not be the usual approach to signage, but the solution works. Equally, the owner of a shellfish business discovered that using a permanent marker to scribe contact information on the interior of empty shells provided the message that the business needed to send.
The common point in these examples is that successful design brings improvement to people’s lives and solves problems. And whether the problem is that of a homeowner pitching a garage sale, or an ad agency charged with increasing luxury car sales, the best design solution is one that fits the need. Woodward explains that good design solves a problem for the user. “The designer comes into his own when he doesn’t put himself in front of the solution. First you frame the problem and then you look for the solution.” He believes that good design isn’t “divine inspiration,” as much as it is the byproduct of structured thinking. That lesson is one that he strives to impart to students in the college’s four year Bachelor of Applied Arts Visual Communications program. He says it isn’t uncommon for new students to “jump straight to style,” essentially aim for “pretty” design solutions before delving into the communications challenge. Similarly, Woodward laments a tendency to assume technology offers all the communications solutions. He recalls a student, for example, who spent several hours finding the perfect computer font to simulate handwriting for a poster design. Woodward’s question to the student: “Why didn’t you just write it out?”
Woodward’s own entrance to the world of design can be traced back to childhood. “I was the kid that hated colouring books and wanted my own pens and paper.” His interests were recognized and supported with extra art classes on weekends. At the age of 14 he landed first design job, albeit during a weeklong work experience program organized by the school system. “That experience blew my mind,” he says. The fast-paced world of a design agency, complete with art directors who drove different coloured sports cars for different days of the week, was a workplace that piqued Woodward’s interest. He continued working, but focused on school as well. “My father was very much, ‘Ok, you’ve shown inclination in art, but you’re going to do academics as well.’ ” His foundation year at the former London College of Printing included exposure to ceramics, painting, textiles, print making and more. “They were trying to encourage me to be the fine artist, but I saw myself as a designer. I liked to solve the problem.” So what’s a London-trained designer doing in Medicine Hat? “Several years ago I applied to a job ad that I saw in a UK newspaper. I wondered, ‘Where in the world is Medicine Hat?’ so I got out the atlas and thought, ‘Oh. Canada.’ ” A one-year contract was extended to three. Those three years have stretched to 12 and today, Woodward is a Canadian citizen. “I used to like the idea of having relatives in different countries and I didn’t have any; now I am that relative,” he says with a smile. Woodward continues to teach, and as a practicing designer, prefers to focus on communications for social issues.
Real Magazine: Volume 1, Issue 1, December 2009, Medicine Hat College