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Sparking a co-nnection

“You can’t get a job without experience; you can’t get experience without a job.”

It’s a common complaint from graduates.

And it’s a particular problem in the creative industry, according to a survey of Wellington design students and recent graduates by Fraser Callaway and Oliver Ward. The survey was part of a study into the transition from study to studio employment.

“We found 80%-90% of the design graduates had never walked into a studio,” says Fraser. “Design courses have become disconnected.”

He says internships have quite a negative connotation both for the companies involved (which worry about having to spend time “babysitting” a student) and for students, who find a three month internship tricky to fit in with their university work. 

But unusually, the pair have also come up with a working solution.

Co-nnection is a multi-platform system intended to spark conversation between student and employer – and help students get their feet on the ground in a working studio.

It combines a temporary cardboard desk, which the students brings with them alongside a laptop and a mobile phone (thus sidestepping the “there’s nowhere for them to sit” problem), and a flexible template for a oneweek work experience programme (instead of the traditional three month internship).

To avoid the problem with companies struggling to find enough suitable work for a student to do, the Co-nnection plan suggests giving students work when it’s available, but at other times allowing them to sit at their cardboard desk and carry on with their university projects. Either way, they get to absorb the studio atmosphere.

How it works

Design studios register online for the Co-nnection programme, offering a week’s work experience at least once a month, for a year. Meanwhile, design students create a profile, and register interest for the advertised experience. The Co-nnection team helps select a candidate. Students can even buy a nifty temporary cardboard desk (see below) to take into the studio, so they don’t have to hunt for a surface to work.

Co-nnection at work

Part of the project involved workshops with design graduates to find out where the leap from study to studio was failing. Later, 12 students and three studios trialled Co-nnection, including Wellington design/marketing communications company The Church. “Having the students as part of the studio brought a vibrancy to the office we have since missed,” says former creative director Adam Cansino.

See what unfolds

“A problem we came across when approaching studios is an apparent lack of desk space,” say Fraser and Oliver. So they created a temporary desk. The Refold standing desk is made of corrugated cardboard, and folds to the size of an A1 folder. It can be set up in seconds, anywhere, thereby promoting engagement and a healthy work environment, its creators say.

Earning accolades

Fraser and Oliver hope to launch Co-nnection next year. Meanwhile it’s gathering awards, including a Gold Pin in the student graphic category in the Best Design Awards, a Red Dot in Berlin and Singapore, and a rising star prize at the Resene Total Colour Awards. The pair has also developed the Refold cardboard desk into a separate business, which was launched via a Kickstarter funding campaign in September. It exceeded all expectations, raising just over $70,000 – the pledged goal was $25,000).

Hands-on colour

Fraser and Oliver bought a load of second-hand items – cup and saucer, desk, table lamp etc – and spray-painted them in a makeshift booth of old sheets strung up in a garage. Then they photographed them and integrated the images into the Co-nnection packaging. “The clean colours and vibrancy differentiate the brand, allowing it to exist beyond the logo.”


Follow the designers’ progress on Twitter @RefoldNZ

Surf, design, travel – these are the things that gets Leigh out of bed every morning (those, and a piping hot cup of milky tea). She holds qualifications in both fashion design and communications, and has written a bunch of fashion, beauty, food, travel and design stories.

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