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Once they have graduated, the next generation of designers is faced with the question of how and where to enter the market – but where do you start? How can you get yourself noticed by companies? And how can you present your skills and profile? If you do the rounds of German universities, you’ll find they present their students’ final graduation projects, but often fail to provide a broader view for an (inter)national audience that demonstrates the quality and approach that German design schools offer today.
German Design Graduates wants to change this by offering university graduates a platform to facilitate their entry into professional life.

We spoke to one of the people behind this initiative, Professor Mark Braun from HBKsaar (SAAR College of Fine Arts), about the prospects for the next generation of German designers and German Design Graduates.

Mr Braun, the new German Design Graduates platform offers the future generation of German designers a wonderful opportunity to present themselves to the business community. Is that in response to your own experience when you were starting out as a design newcomer?

This is a new, independent move which complements the existing initiative of the German Design Council – because the German Design Council’s platform for supporting newcomers is also useful and effective. The exciting thing about this initiative is that it originates from the universities themselves, and it addresses the business sector.

In addition to my work in my own design business, in my role as a professor at HBKsaar I am very eager to see the universities networking with each other and showcasing the potential of their graduates, who feature a very diverse range of specialisations. Inspired by Ineke Hans from UdK Berlin (Berlin University of the Arts), and working in cooperation with Hermann Weizenegger of the Fachhochschule Potsdam (Potsdam University of Applied Sciences), I have taken the initiative in driving forward this idea.

How do the prospects look for the future generation of designers in Germany? What is lacking? And what is working well?

The prospects for the future generation of designers are diverse, and they are always characterised by the specialist fields of the respective students and universities. There is no «one size fits all». And that is exactly what we want to highlight, because both industry and research can benefit from this diversity and the multi-faceted aspects of design that it represents. But there is a lack of platforms for graduates to present themselves – this is the reason behind the German Design Graduates initiative, which provides a permanent network and archive where businesses and academia can search for and recruit the right people.

“There is no “one size fits all”. And that is exactly what we want to highlight, because both industry and research can benefit from this diversity and the multi-faceted aspects of design that it represents. “

So what helped you get started after you graduated?

While I was still studying at the FH Potsdam, the Design Academy Eindhoven and the Burg Giebichenstein Halle, I had many different mentors who encouraged me to test my designs on the market and present them on platforms for emerging designers. The German Design Council played an important role in this, with formats such as «Designer Meets The Industry», «Design Germany», and the «German Design Awards Newcomer» prize. Trade fair platforms for emerging designers, such as the Salone Satellite at the Salone Del Mobile in Milan, the imm cologne design contest and the Greenhouse section at the Stockholm Furniture Fair, not to mention the Talents section at the Ambiente, were also important milestones.

But the most important thing is your own motivation and constant curiosity that impels you to take this path – and, where possible, to take advantage of professionalisation programmes straight from the universities, such as Designhaus Halle, the EXIST programmes and others. If you’re not self-motivated, you won’t go far – if only because it is important to have good portfolios and a good website.

Are there things you would do differently today – missed opportunities that have taught you something that you, or the German Design Graduates, would like to use to help the next generation?

Before I started working on my own, I was only employed as a junior designer for a few months – but it was precisely during this period that I gained valuable insights into professional structures and processes. So I learned from my mistakes in a somewhat casual manner, and certainly paid a price in the form of voluntary self-exploitation, which did not make the market or the price of my design work any better. This is exactly where German Design Graduates aims to make a difference with the green cards. Companies such as magazin and Stattmann Neue Möbel, as well as Siemens and the BASF designfabrik, to name just a few of the GDG ambassadors, will offer professionalisation programmes with coaching, paid internships and junior designer positions, to help the next generation start their professional careers.

Currently there are 12 universities participating in your project. Can any university take part, or do you carefully choose which institutions can participate?

We explicitly approached particular institutions so as to represent a cross-section of the best universities in Germany. But that doesn’t rule out wider participation in the coming year – we are looking forward to getting in touch with more universities for 2020.

Current projects show a focus on product design. Is the platform also intended to include projects from other disciplines – UX design, communication design, architecture, etc.?

It is tempting, but it would also be much more difficult to put together because of the diversity involved. First, we wanted to launch the platform with a focused, high quality programme that was achievable with our small team of initiators, coordinated by Katrin Krupka and her team. But if we were to grow our structure, manpower and organisation in a carefully planned way, we could envisage expanding to include UX and communication design, etc.

Do you have a vision of expanding the whole concept internationally at some stage? There are already similar initiatives in England and the Netherlands which you could network with. Have there been any discussions already?

The initial inspiration for the German Design Graduates came from Ineke Hans, who is familiar with these formats from Holland, and values them highly. Just as in the previous question, internationalisation is primarily a question of structure and organisation. Though our archive is certainly a possible starting point for enabling an international network. We’ll see. On the other hand, I think it’s good to concentrate on what we’re doing right now before we consider expanding.

Save the date: The first exhibition of the German Design Graduates opens in Berlin on 10 October.

What is the idea behind the green cards as a support format?

The green cards represent a diverse range of personalised support initiatives offered by our ambassadors from the culture, media, business and trade show sectors. As mentioned above, these range from paid internships to coaching, and even placement on the shortlist for the Ambiente Talents. The aim is also to accommodate and support a diverse range of graduates. 

What advantages does the platform offer for companies?

The platform provides companies with an overview of the graduates who are serious about entering the job market, so they can see whether the potential meets their needs.

What are the advantages for the graduates?

The graduates benefit in particular from the visibility that they gain through the GDG programme. This is an opportunity for them make companies, as well as support programmes run by trade fairs and cultural institutions, aware of their own unique talents. They also benefit from the event itself, both from the scheduled programme from the networking opportunities which enable them to make lasting contacts. And, of course, they benefit from the long-term visibility provided by the GDG database.

Do you already have plans for how you will communicate with the business sector? As a non-profit initiative, I imagine you have a limited budget for communication.

First of all we will communicate to the business sector through the GDG show itself, and in the long term we will do this through our online presence with the GDG archive. Some of the our dedicated partners from business, culture, the media and the trade show sector – some of whom, we are happy to say, have spontaneously offered us their support – are actively contributing to the viability of GDG by providing funding. We will also try to obtain some form of research funding from universities that will allow us a certain degree of independence in exposing the meta-topics behind the graduation projects, and evaluating them in a meaningful way for future activities.

In October you will be exhibiting 42 selected projects by graduates at the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) Berlin. What are your most important selection criteria?

On the one hand, the criteria are derived from long-standing design evaluation guidelines, which are: innovation, function, aesthetics, and symbolism. We also take into account the project’s relevance to current social issues, ranging from sustainability through to artificial intelligence, etc. All the decisions were made by an independent jury consisting of Nicolette Naumann (trade fair sector), Nils Holger Moormann (business), Stephan Ott (media), and Claudia Banz (culture).

German Design Graduates

German Design Graduates works on different levels to make the work of designers visible. Graduation projects are currently being presented on the https://germandesigngraduates.com website by 137 graduates from twelve universities.
A jury of design experts has selected 42 projects, which will be presented in October in an exhibition at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin.
German Design Graduates has also managed to get ambassadors on board from 4 design fields (culture, practice, trade fairs and the media), who will award green cards and prizes in the form of exhibitions and job commitments to young emerging designers.

Mark Braun (Studio Mark Braun | Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar)

Mark Braun studied industrial design at the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences, the Design Academy Eindhoven and the University of Art and Design Halle. After completing his studies, he founded his own design studio in 2006 in Berlin and he has already received the German Design Award a number of times for his work for well-known international companies. Mark Braun has also made a name for himself in teaching: from 2007 to 2010, he worked at the University of Art and Design Halle as an artistic associate in the field of industrial design/strategic product and concept development, and in 2015 he was a visiting lecturer at the ECAL, École cantonale d’art de Lausanne. Since 2015, he has held the post of Professor for Product Design/Industrial Design at the HBKsaar.

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