Des King ponders why young designers are shooting stars

Without wishing to rain on someone’s parade, what price a long and fulfilling career ahead of this year’s crop of packaging design students?

Around 200 young hopefuls will be hoping to pick up bronze, silver or gold at next week’s Student Starpack awards, of which this esteemed organ is one of the sponsors. Game on for trophy hunters, and the kick-off for a rash of graduation shows due to be staged by colleges around the country over the ensuing couple of months. OK, the design work on display will range from the unworkable to the outstanding. But commercially viable or otherwise, you can bet it won’t be lacking in freshness and originality.

Year in year out these bright young things enjoy their allotted 15 minutes of fame but to what end? The sad reality is that the bulk of the work and, indeed the overwhelming majority of its creators, will never end up on the only shelf that counts – barely 5% of all graduates will stay in the industry – truly a bitter harvest.

Not too surprisingly, degree course intakes are in decline. Worse still, as a standalone discipline in its own right packaging design is increasingly being subsumed within a graphics ‘catch all’ categorisation.

Who’s to blame has long ceased to be the issue. With colleges effectively forced to operate on a quota basis, through traffic is a far more immediate concern than journey’s end. If this year’s lambs are destined for slaughter, well so be it – there’s always the next generation.

To its credit, the IoP is now doing its bit to extend awareness of its junior Starpack initiative. New retailer sponsors this year include Iceland, M&S and Debenhams. To keep award entrants interested after the gongs have been dished out, there is also a year’s worth of membership free of charge to help keep them in the loop. There is a thriving schools initiative, too, which is aimed at getting packaging on the agenda at an early age and a developing thrust towards expanding the take-up of PIABC training and capability courses amongst colleges of further education.

At its peak, the annual Student Starpack competition has pulled in as many as 450 entries. Indeed, in excess of 10 000 students must have passed through the process over the past 40 years but little effort seems to have been made to keep tabs on them. The Institute can’t invent job opportunities but perhaps more could be done to find out why they don’t materialise in the first place. Better armed with that knowledge, we could maybe develop a strategy to hold on to a talent pool that is currently slipping through our fingers.