University of Huddersfield inspiring young designers to explore creativity in print

Brent Hardy-Smith

When PhD student and senior lecturer, Brent Hardy-Smith discovered the textile department’s new Mimaki UJF, he saw a great deal of potential.

The University of Huddersfield takes a unique approach to how it promotes the benefits of digital printing to its undergraduates, and much of this is down to a chance encounter that PhD student and senior lecturer, Brent Hardy-Smith had four years ago with Stephen Calcutt; Technical Manager Coordinator at the university’s School of Art, Design and Architecture.

“I became aware that the university had invested in a bit of kit that could produce a UV varnish,” recalls Hardy-Smith. “At the time, I didn’t know what or how, but after a bit of investigation, I discovered the textile department’s new Mimaki UJF.” That machine now sits alongside a state of the art Mimaki Tx300P-1800 direct to textile printer in a facility that also offers small format transfer printing, large format graphics output, binding, finishing and other print processes.

This is no ordinary university print bureau though. Under the watchful eye of Calcutt, the space has evolved into an inspirational and collaborative hub that oozes creativity, challenging teaching norms and encouraging students to question and investigate every aspect of the design and print process.

Creative tools

“I’m not here to sit and critique students’ work,” says Hardy-Smith. “Instead, I run workshops, learning alongside the students. Our methodology is all about discovery and transformative design, using the printers as creative tools and collaborating with other technology and materials.”

This is apparent when looking at some of the work undergraduates presented at their final year exhibitions. Embroidery, animation, interactive AR elements, microchips – all interlaced into digitally printed fabrics, books and photographs. “Bringing the Mimaki UJF into the facility transformed everything,” proclaims Calcutt. “It’s a school-wide resource; utilised across our textile, graphics, photographic, architectural and fine-art courses and it unites them all – it’s incredibly powerful.”

Mimaki’s UJF series of multi award-winning small format flatbed printers are utilised in a broad array of industries, from high-end decor applications, to the promotional product printing market, within manufacturing environments, as well as many other sectors that benefit from its arsenal of creative tools, such as opaque white ink, clear varnish, vibrant process colours and the ability to print to almost any substrate.

The creative capabilities of the Mimaki printers enable Hardy-Smith to lead students in different directions. “I encourage them to ask, ‘can we?’ and to question convention,” he states. “The design software says what’s possible but it’s the Mimaki that adds the potential, and this is transforming the way students think about the connection between design and print.”

Hardy-Smith’s PhD thesis investigates the teaching relationship and there’s no doubt the other students are benefiting from the experiential approach he takes with their education. “We focus our sessions towards the creative use of print, rather than simply creating within the software and this allows the students to operate outside the conventional framework.”

Their stand at this year’s prestigious D&AD New Blood show bore testament to this. Amongst a sea of screens and monitors, Huddersfield’s Mimaki printed backdrop embodied a sense of northern English pride and a strong textile heritage. Consisting of a dozen, technologically interactive pieces of digitally printed laundry, each produced by one of the twelve students selected to participate, the washing line graphic promoted the subtle, self-effacing humour that courses through the department. “We’re still a little bit under the radar,” confesses Hardy-Smith, “but we’re incredibly progressive and so passionate about what’s achieved here.”

“Putting it simply,” concludes Calcutt, “We’re weaving the creative use of print into the fabric of how we educate the new generation of designers and our suite of Mimaki printers unites everything.”