Saatchi & Saatchi and Media Design School embark on a mission to discover ‘digital Columbuses’

A collection of bureaucrats, educators and ad folk gathered together in an old building on the corner of Halsey and Packenham Streets in the Wynyard Quarter this afternoon to eat chicken sandwiches and hear about a new partnership between the Media Design School and Saatchi & Saatchi that will see the creation of a new Graduate School focused on digital innovation—and hopefully add some fuel to the ICT fire in Auckland’s innovation precinct. 

Mayor Len Brown was his typically ebullient self and was fulsome in his praise for the new initiative—and for the role he imagines the new ‘anchor tenants’ will play in the growth of the innovation precinct (ASB is soon to move in and Fonterra is also on its way). He said it was a great day for Auckland, and that the pair were exactly the calibre of tenant the council was looking for. 


To illustrate the merging of creativity and technology the school is aiming to inspire, Saatchi & Saatchi chief executive Nicky Bell and Media Design School chief executive Frances Valintine took to the stage and played a clip by Assembly’s Jonny Kofoed and Mr Heyday called Acker that spelled out the mission statement of the Graduate School and the one-year, full time Master of Interaction Design, which has been adapted from the qualification of the same name delivered by Domus Academy in Milan. This is owned by Laureate International Universities, which acquired Media Design School in 2011 and has Bill Clinton as an executive chair (Kate Humphries recently ventured to Milan to set up the advertising creativity course over there as there was a gap in its offering, so the favour is being returned with this course now being set up in Auckland). 

Valintine says the idea is to attract innovators who will bring a wide range of skills and diverse backgrounds that will enable them to collectively develop unique ideas that have both commercial and social value. And she estimates there will initially be around 20-40 ‘Digital Columbuses’ doing the Master of Interaction Design, which is still being assessed by NZQA. 

Says the release: “The students will apply research and experimentalbased education in the real world of digital innovation. And, by bringing together students from a range of creative and technical disciplines, The Graduate School aims to allow for ideas to be supported through a pipeline of development to produce commercial innovations.” 

This spans anything from cross‐platform information and entertainment platforms; mobile applications for audiences requiring social interaction tools; apps that create business efficiencies; new digital tools for health diagnostics and education; or accessibility applications for the socially or geographically disadvantaged. 

As Valintine says, the younger generation is presenting us with so many solutions to the problems we’re currently experiencing, so this is about trying to create a new type of graduate school that blends the traditional learning environment with a high tech, experimental and creative lab that reflects how innovation might occur in a modern agency—and also trying to create strong and flexible companies that are better able to handle the rapidly changing business landscape.

“We see Auckland as the creative capital of the Asia Pacific, so we felt it was an obvious choice for The Graduate School,” she says. “The real magic will happen when we bring students together to study and research as a collective community, developing concepts that have both commercial and social value. This collaboration will enrich our bright young talent’s learning through direct exposure to the dynamic folks at Saatchi & Saatchi and the perspective only an international curriculum can provide.”

So what’s in it for Saatchi & Saatchi? Chief executive Nicky Bell says is open about the fact that, in a world where digital skills are highly sought after, the agency will have direct access with some of the best talent in the country who may want to join their “open collective”. And it also fits well with the agency’s philosophy that creativity requires inspiration from outside the sector. 

“What we see time and time again with our clients is that they’re looking for creativity and technology to reimagine their businesses,” she says. This partnership is a way for the agency to actively engage with a generation of problem solvers. But it’s not just a way to get free intern labour. She says it will support student learning through live client briefs, lectures and mentoring (Saatchi & Saatchi’s clients have been informed about the new MDS tie-up and planning director Murray Streets says clients with an innovation profile, such as ASB, seem very happy about it). 

“We believe that this collaboration will be hugely beneficial to both the next generation of our industry’s talent and to our agency,” says Bell. “Our Saatchi & Saatchi team are a spirited, talented and ambitious collective of people. We’ve actively broken down historical hierarchical structures in favour of a more open, collaborative environment, so the opportunity to expand our population of creative thinkers by partnering with Media Design School makes perfect sense to us. We are excited to engage in the school and will certainly benefit from the ‘reverse mentoring’ this new generation of students will give us in return.”

The Graduate School will take possession of its location on the corner of Halsey St and Madden St at the end of this year. The building will be re-skinned by renowned Auckland architects RTA Studio. 

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