Posted Monday 9 January 2017
A project to bring a famous Chinese painting to life has provided a platform for design students from Kingston University to build their industry expertise, through a new work experience programme that bridges the gap between London and Shanghai.
Talking Through Internships (TTI), created in partnership with Shanghai Jiaotong University, offers students from the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture the chance to finesse their skills with design firms in one of the world's fastest growing economies.
The partnership came about as a result of the Generation UK-China programme launched by the British Council in 2013, which aims to help British students boost their employability and enhance their job prospects through work experience in China. The TTI pilot programme is one of the first to give Kingston University students the chance to take up placements in China, with three undergraduates selected to visit Shanghai in 2016.
BA Graphic Design students Adam Morton-Delaney and Rachel Dawson, along with BA Illustration Animation student Cara Burnett each applied to the programme to gain an insight to an unfamiliar culture. Once selected, the students spent one month interning at China's largest visual production company, Crystal CG in Shanghai. The company animated the famous painting, ‘Along the River During the Qingming Festival' by the Song dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan, which captures the daily life of people and the landscape of Kaifeng in the 12th Century. The 3D digital animation brought the characters and scenery to life for ‘Expo 2010 Shanghai China' and Crystal CG tasked the Kingston University students with a creating strategy for displaying the exhibition in Europe.
Adam was struck by the importance of food within the Chinese culture during his visit and he used it as his inspiration for how to promote the exhibition. "My proposal was that the animation could be a temporary pop-up that would tour Europe alongside a Chinese food market," he said. "In China, every social interaction is based on meal times and the six different types of cuisines in different areas. The concept of eating food for pleasure rather than just nutritional gain was also born in the Qingming era - when the painting was produced - so I felt it was appropriate to connect it with this project," he explained.
Assisted by a Mandarin-speaking interpreter, the Kingston University students worked with the Crystal CG company director to develop their exhibition plans. Adam said the approach to design work in China was quite different to the methods they were used to at Kingston University, but the group quickly adapted to each other's cultural customs. "The way we approach tasks is through lots of experimentation and testing to find a solution," he said. "Crystal CG staff are much more efficient in their methods and their perspectives are purely business-like. But they responded really positively to the way we worked and explored options with us." The 21-year-old was so inspired by the trip that he elected to go abroad again, to do the Erasmus work placement scheme in the Netherlands.
Adam's graphic design classmate Rachel described the trip as a culturally immersive experience that took her out of her comfort zone. "Shanghai has a wealth of areas to discover and a constant stream of events to explore, all of which we found easy to access despite our limited ability to speak Mandarin," she said. "From start to finish I was struck by both the similarities and differences between Shanghai and London."
"Shanghai has opened my eyes to what it would be like to work in other countries and emerging design centres in the future," Rachel added.
Funded by the British Council and Santander bank, the work experience initiative pays for mentoring, accommodation and flights for the students, as well as offering three Chinese students from Jiangtao Tong University in Shanghai the opportunity to take an internship at a London firm.
Shanghai Jiaotong University student Xie Min, from the Anhui Province in eastern China, came to London through the programme to work for one month as a product designer at design consultancy Priestman Goode Company. "I worked on a scooter design for the elderly and a room design for people in Hong Kong," Xie said. "I also visited Kingston University and talked with students about the different education models and lifestyles in Britain and China."
"The TTI programme is a great opportunity for any student who wants to experience a different working atmosphere and culture abroad," she added.
Professor Catherine McDermott from Kingston University's design school said the vision for the programme is future-facing. "There are cultural and practical challenges to overcome, but we're building a community of emerging creatives who visit London and Shanghai for a month and will hopefully continue their experience in both countries during the next decades of their careers," she said.
Professor McDermott is thrilled the programme will offer six places to Kingston University students in 2017 and is seeking London design firms to host Chinese interns over the summer. "Kingston University is helping to build stronger career opportunities for its graduates and, like Shanghai Jiaotong University, is committed to building creative networks in two of the world's creative hub cities – London and Shanghai."