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Dr Manny Ling: How to get the most out of your Design degree

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We had a chat with Dr Manny Ling, Senior Lecturer in Design, to find out what Sunderland has to offer Design students.

Dr Manny Ling

What attracted you to the University of Sunderland?

"What I find about Sunderland is that everyone is very, very friendly and helpful. As an academic, you feel you’re supported and you can do things and change things for the greater good. The students get a good deal, they get a lot of one-to-one contact with tutors on the course, and in terms of resources, we’re very, very well equipped. All of the academics that I know are actively involved in their own research and all of the tutors on the programme are practitioners themselves and have their own company or freelance practice, so they’re constantly designing and are up-to-date with the latest developments in the area and we always try and filter that down to the students and the curriculum."

What facilities do students have access to in the Design Centre?

"We have fantastic technicians, they’re extremely helpful; they love helping students and nothing is too much trouble. In addition, we have lots of facilities: laser cutting machines, 3D printing machines, lots of printers, fabric printers, cameras, computers and software. You name it we’ve probably got it. Recently the FabLab opened and we’re negotiating for students to go in there and use the facilities.

"We have open plan studios and open access areas for students to work in, there are computers everywhere and we’re very well supported in that area. On the Illustration programme, students have individual desks, and in the Graphic Design programme, there are spaces for students to work in and there are lots of computer rooms where they can use the facilities."

“Our students do end up employed by very good companies."

What employment opportunities do students at Sunderland have?

"We hold employability days and we invite alumni who are doing well in the industry. We invite all of the third years to go and they can listen to stories and ask questions such as ‘what do you look for in a portfolio?’ to industry professionals, senior creative directors and so on, locally and nationally as well. They give their professional experience and knowledge and they take questions and answer sessions. We also have people from the University Futures Fund and Careers and Employability Services.

"On top of that, in the afternoon, students can then book to see the individuals on the panel for a portfolio review, and they can see as many of the panel as they want. They get really good feedback and if the panel like the students’ work they’re offered placements and sometimes even jobs, so it does work very, very well. The students get really excited about it and they always have fantastic feedback throughout the day. In addition to that, they get to do a Professional Engagement Document and write about the contacts they’ve made and rationale about the things they want to do and career aspirations. It’s a really good way of enforcing the employability and professionalism they need to have before graduating.

"The talks are open to all students. Recently we started a lunchtime talk, where we invite speakers internally and externally, and where students and staff are invited and we provide lunch and the speakers talk about their work and research."

Are there any other opportunities for Design students to gain real-world experience?

"We organise trips to places like New York and Barcelona, and to museums and galleries, as well as local design companies. We also have placements, and we have a standing relationship with the Sage as well as Durham University Library, and for the last three years, students have undergone three-month placements. Working in a professional environment shows them that they have to turn up, meet deadlines and do the work, which has been really beneficial and enhances their portfolio by having professionally printed and designed work.

"We also set up HotHouse Studio to incorporate the freelance work that we get from external parties, companies, and charities, and it’s an opportunity for students to work with real clients and manage real constraints. That is a really important aspect of their learning. HotHouse has been developed and we’re getting quite a lot of projects in at the moment for students to participate in."


Jardine Sage BAFTA Winner
Former graduate and Bafta award-winning designer, Jardine Sage, offered career advice at our employability day

How does your research benefit Design students? 

"As an academic, my research area is in Western calligraphy, and about 15 years ago I started the International Research Centre for Calligraphy (IRCC) in Sunderland, to use that really as a platform to disseminate the work that we do here, as well as providing opportunities for people to come to Sunderland.

"I organise an annual international symposium where people from all around the world come and have workshops and masterclasses. Last year we had our first international symposium in Bruges, Belgium and we’re in the process of organising the next one in Kyoto in Japan. We also curate exhibitions and publish work related to calligraphy. We literally have people from every continent and they always say Sunderland has a unique atmosphere and an approach to the teaching of calligraphy and the masterclasses. We have a really good reputation for the symposium and the work that we do, and obviously, that filters through to the research aspect as well."

"Work hard and you'll succeed in whatever you want to be successful at."

What makes Sunderland unique in comparison to other universities in the North East?

"Although we are a relatively small department we do pack a big punch. Our students do end up employed by very good companies, they end up being very successful and win international and national competitions. We’re very very proud of that. Our students have gone on to win the Design and Art Directors Association Award and the Adobe Design Achievement Award, which is a major international award, you’re talking 23,000 entries from around the world. That’s a great achievement, we do produce top quality students.

"We have companies who prefer to employ our students, for example, Everything Different always come to our Degree Show as they believe in the quality of our students and the quality of our teaching. We spend a lot of time with our students on top of the normal contact sessions, we have an open door policy so they can come in and see us anytime. We do care about our students a lot. We have a relatively small cohort which enables us to do that, and those are unique to Sunderland."

What element of your course do you enjoy teaching the most?

"Graphic Design is a very wide subject, but my specialism is in typography and calligraphy. I teach typography to the students and because the students have seen a lot of my work they’re interested in calligraphy as well. In general, it’s about teaching them to be creative and I teach across programmes. It’s about research and developing ideas and how to be creative and then you can apply that to any discipline.

"I really just love working with students and challenging them sometimes and encouraging them, that’s the most enjoyable part of the job. To see students progressing to graduating with a First – that’s a really humbling experience as a tutor, I’m very proud of my students and they do very well for themselves.

What advice would you give to Design students?

"It’s a really good time to be a Design student, and it’s a really interesting area. If you want to study Design you need to have passion for the subject. I always say to students, 'what’s better than doing something you really love every day and getting paid for it?'. We produce very good students and if you have a good portfolio and a decent personality you’ll get jobs anywhere in the world. It’s all about perseverance – work hard and you’ll succeed in whatever you want to be successful at."


Published: 11 September 2017

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