First Hand — Designer Stacie Woolsey on her decision to make her own Masters programme

Posted 20 March 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

What do you do when your degree leaves you wanting more? When designer Stacie Woolsey graduated from university last year, she felt she still had a lot to learn. With hopes of enrolling on an MA, but no financial backing, she decided to take matters into her own hands and create her own Masters programme. She’s since embarked on a one-woman mission to curate a custom-made, industry-sourced curriculum, including briefs set by practitioners she admires. Turning to both peers and professionals as teachers and mentors, Stacie hopes the venture will help better define her own practice and result in a more informed portfolio – or even encourage others to do the same. She tells us more about the idea behind the programme, how she made it happen, and the challenges she’s faced.

When it came to facing the real world after graduation, I wasn’t so interested in setting myself up as a freelancer, because I knew there was still so much that I wanted to learn. I got in touch with places like the RCA, but the reality was that I couldn’t afford it. On the other hand, there were studios out there already doing what I wanted to do. 

After working a full-time job as a junior designer for Candy Mechanics for five months, I realised the role wasn’t a good fit for me and I started worrying that I’d lose sight of my ambitions. I interned at a small advertising agency called Atomic, and later VCCP, which felt like the complete opposite – advertising is all ideas. It was a better fit, but it still wasn’t quite right. 

It was at this point I decided to attempt making my own masters. It was almost like an epiphany moment where I thought: ‘Why don’t I take a year to do my own work, but also learn from people I want to learn from – without having to go to a school or an establishment?’ I didn’t have much to lose. I’m doing it myself, so I’m my own guinea pig. I came up with the idea last October, and spent the rest of the year figuring out how to make it work, while still applying for internships and jobs. 

The Make Your Own Masters website

The Make Your Own Masters website

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I often explain MYOM as a homemade cake; I could go out and spend money on a really nicely iced cake, or I could spend time crafting something myself. It might be a bit rough around the edges, but it would teach me twice as much.

A lot of being able to make it happen depended on getting people on board. When I thought of that as networking, it really scared me. But when I thought of it as asking for help, it was much easier. And actually, it was much more rewarding to reach out to someone with your own project, rather than the backing of a university or a college. I think people are interested in seeing what happens, and see if some kind of model can be built from it. Overall, people have been so supportive, offering their time and advice on the spot.

I currently have three creatives setting me projects to work on: Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsburg, who designs within synthetic and future biology; Thomas Thwaites, a multidisciplinary designer and author of The Toaster Book; and Andy Sandoz, a digital designer and chief creative officer at Deloitte Digital UK.

As these projects got more technical, I recognised that I’d need to call upon specialists for help in different areas, so I enlisted mentors, like my ex-tutor Kieran O’Connor, designer Ruby Steel and artist Stephanie Bickford-Smith. Plus, Mettle Studio let me gate crash with them for a while, and Makerversity [a creative co-working space in Somerset House] are helping me source mentors too.

“Interning made me worry that I wasn’t doing the right thing. Doing MYOM has taken a bit of fear out of the industry for me.”

My family are my number one fans, but they can’t back me financially, so I have to do it myself, which I like. It’s not been the easiest; I’m renting in London, teach at Kingston a bit, and have two part-time jobs, so it’s a lot of juggling. I’m also looking into funding opportunities for materials. But most importantly, I want to make sure this is feasible and not kill myself in the process.

Doing MYOM has taken away some of my fear of the industry. As scary as it is, in terms of having no money or job security, it’s really nice to do something where you feel like you’re doing the right thing every day. I did this to figure out what I wanted to do, but also to create opportunities for myself. I’ve met loads of people, have a clearer path and more confidence. On a bigger scale, I hope this idea can be passed on and inspire someone else.

My plan could crash and burn, but when I get scared, I think, ‘Well, I can’t really lose’, because the worst-case scenario is that I have a much better portfolio. While originally, the end goal was to get a real job with real money, this might change as I learn more about the industry. And if I decide I want to do a real MA, then I’m in a much better position for a scholarship, because I’ve proven how serious I am about learning. Hopefully it will put me in a better position all round.

Posted 20 March 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Collection: First Hand
Disciplines: Design
Mentions: Stacie Woolsey
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