I was at the London College of Communications yesterday. I casually asked if the famed tension between the design students and their counterparts learning a trade in the printing department still existed–it was always a little microcosm of the tension that existed between the creative and print industries when I started in the business. So, I was led through the inevitable winding corridors, up some bleak stairs to the third floor and into the print department to see for myself.
Despite the obvious connection–it was the London College of PRINTING–I was still taken aback to come face to face with a B2 4 colour Heidelberg press sitting on parquet flooring on the third floor of a London University in Elephant & Castle. Ten years ago, there were thousands of presses in obscure, cramped city-centre buildings, but most have closed or moved out to windy industrial estates in obscure post-codes 'inside the M25'.
Sadly, the LCC no longer runs a proper print course producing trained machine minders. Instead, it teaches digital and DTP skills and keeps the press for students to print their own work. I was equally amazed that students could actually use this machine with only an introductory workshop–though I suspect running was an overstatement and the skilled technicians were never more arm's-reach away.
There was a strange and powerful sadness to the idea that London's principle printing college no longer teaches printing–a bigger kick-in-the-teeth than the digital obsession that's fixating the marketing community nowadays. If there's nobody training to become printers, who's going to run the machines? Unlike letterpress machinery, which has found a grass-roots base to keep it going, colour litho printing isn't really within the realms of hobbyists–a 60 foot long 8 colour press won't fit in a garden shed.
The generation of designers coming through the college now, have grown up without print being part of their daily lives; their relationship with it is different. It's not a necessary part of their visual vocabulary and needn't ever be part of their careers.
So, now there are no inky-fingered print students to jeer at in the canteen, I wondered what the design students thought about printing; what did it mean to them? Whatever it is, it will be a huge loss to them–and us–if it’s not there. So, then I wondered what else LCC could do with that press to make it more valuable to keep?