VMPD: Not Just Window Dressing

I’ll admit, when I started my role at Hugh Baird College and University Centre, learning about the wealth of courses and opportunities that are available was initially overwhelming.

I spent a week or so, scouring the website and reading information about the veritable feast of subject opportunities we have open to potential students. When I came across Visual Merchandising and Promotional Design (VMPD), I will again admit that I had never heard of this particular course before. So, in an attempt to learn more, I headed over to the University Centre to investigate.

In the midst of these investigations, I was lucky enough to sit in on a presentation given by the British Display Society and got to talk to VMPD students and see their work; I was impressed, I wanted to learn more.

The course itself offers an introduction to a range of skills and knowledge in Visual Merchandising and Promotional Design, which include the design process through project briefs, visual merchandising theory and practice, fashion promotion and styling, spatial awareness, 2D and 3D digital design, product presentation and historical contextual studies. In the final year skills are applied in the following areas: ‘live’ briefs, advanced product presentation, fashion promotion, visual merchandising, retail brand identity and promotion, contemporary contextual studies, preparing for industry employment and the designing and installation of a final major project exhibition.

Students will develop a number of computer design skills by using industry software such as AutoCAD and Adobe Creative Suite (CS). Industry experience opportunities are an integral part of this course providing experience of real working life within the design industry. Students will be given the opportunity to gain work experience via ‘live’ briefs, realistic project briefs, and industry talks as well as work experience with personal development planning.

Alice Harvey is a former VMPD student, who came along to this years’ Faculty of Creative Industries Degree Show to show her support, give advice and thank her former tutors.

Alice started at the Hugh Baird University Centre in 2018, starting out straight after sixth-form college:

When I started out at Hugh Baird, I was 18, I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do. There is a lot of pressure on young people to decide their lifelong ambition straight out of school.” After initially starting out at a different college studying fine art, Alice set up a meeting with our course tutors.

Pete and Ang helped me so much. VMPD was definitely a better fit for me. They were such welcoming, supportive tutors.

When asked about her favourite parts of the course, Alice said:

Definitely the excitement and the scale of each project. Each brief expected me to reach my creative potential whilst producing work to industry standard - meaning I pushed myself a lot to create compelling work and really surprised myself with the execution of my designs.

Alice's course highlights included designing and executing a life-sized window display in year 2 and her final major project for the BA.

The "cocktails and cushions" window was significant because, inspired by Iris Apfel, I advertised cushions in a garish house-party scene with a retro cocktail trolley and hot pink walls. It was the first project where I thought to myself, "wow, people could pay me to do this one day!

For obvious reasons, my final major project was tough and I really did put my everything into that, so I was always going to remember it for all the hard work I did. However, I realised that this would be my last project and perhaps the 'stepping stone' into my next career move, so I wanted it to be my best work. My final project helped me to learn 'industry standard' and forced me to improve my adobe creative suite skills to give me that professional look. It paid off and all the skills I learnt then, make my life a lot easier now.

Since graduating from the Hugh Baird University Centre with a first-class degree in 2021, Alice has been studying for her MA in Interior Design at UCLan. When asked if Alice felt that her degree prepared her for the demands of a Master’s degree, she said:

The course 100% set me up for my interior design MA that I am currently studying, and will 100% help me in any future design job that I get. I find myself saving a lot of time now, because I can quickly do things that would have taken me days to do when I started my VM degree. All of the transferable skills that I picked from my degree have firstly made me a more capable designer, but secondly helped grow my confidence and maturity.

So, what is next for Alice?

Something I have recently found out about myself is that I am drawn to designing for cultural/social change. As a passionate person, if a project has a theme of social justice or just making things a little bit better for someone who needs it, I will put my everything into it to show that I care. For my MA project, I am designing a sex education centre that pushes boundaries and challenges societal norms around sex and gender, with the overall aim of fighting to end violence against women.

After my thorough investigations, it turns out that VMPD is so much more than just window dressing. In fact, if you are looking to unlock your creative potential, work with amazing industry professionals and set-up your dream careers just like Alice, Visual Merchandising and Promotional Design could be the next step for you.

As the old saying goes: when one door closes, open a window.

There are still places available on the VMPD course for a September start, apply today at www.hughbaird.ac.uk/application-university.

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