Tilting the scales - How D&AD Shift is pulling the rug out from under the establishment

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A life-changing and career-making program returns to New York for the third year running. D&AD Shift is a free night-school for emerging creatives without college degrees and exists to unearth raw talent (from artists to writers and creative thinkers without a college degree or industry networks) and propel them into creative roles. D&AD Shift sets out to break the cycle of privilege that exists around the creative industries, which sees those entering into the creative workforces only via existing connections or expensive further education.

Whilst New York City holds the country’s biggest concentration of creative roles and opportunities but US college tuition fees currently exceed $33,000 a year. So, the opportunity of higher education is not accessible for all young people from low-income households. 

The intensive three-month night-school provides participants with a solid foundation and prepares them to enter into the creative workforce with confidence. Throughout the program applicants will get the chance to develop and refine their creative skills through a range of workshops, talks from leading industry figures and experience working on real briefs set by leading brands.

One such figure is Hilary Chittenden, Senior Foundations Manager at D&AD, who is always excited to meet the next wave of change-makers as they take the first steps into their creative careers. I had a chance to speak to Hilary last week about the power of the Shift initiative and how it’s subtly changing the creative industry paradigm from the ground up. 


Hilary Chittenden

Can you explain to our readers exactly what D&AD Shift is and what it represents for the creative community?

D&AD’s New Blood Shift programme is a progressive way of finding and supporting creative talent. At present,  securing a job in the creative industries often relies on a traditional (and expensive) route of college, grad school, internships and the networks that come with them. New Blood Shift sets out to break this cycle. By finding raw talent from NYC, we engage a population of artists, writers and creative thinkers that did not complete art school or college - but have a vision, talent and tons of potential.

Shift is a free night school learning programme. Delivered in and by the city's top agencies, our students (Shifters) meet two evenings a week for 4 months to get a crash course in briefs, audiences, design thinking, strategy, digital platforms, and more. 

Shift represents a shift in how we teach, in how we recruit and in where we look for the new wave of creative talent

The aim is that our Shifters leave the programme armed with a portfolio of work, a network and a clear understanding of where their skills fit within the industry. We want them to leave with the tools they need to secure placements and junior roles – levelling the playing field and ensuring equal opportunity for creative talent, whichever route it takes. Shift represents a shift in how we teach, in how we recruit and in where we look for the new wave of creative talent needed to fuel our industry. 

Are there any success stories from the programme you wish to highlight specifically?

We now have Shifters not just employed at some of our most awarded creative agencies in the city, but creating amazing work for them, which to me, defines success. We have Shifters working at Droga5 (one of our 2019 Black Pencil winners) and Design Bridge (awarded in 2019 for Collaboration of the Year), to name a few.

Have you noticed any differences between the way the Shift graduates work and more traditional ‘creatives’ that have gone the more conventional route?

Shifters approach each brief in a channel-agnostic,problem-solvingg way, which is really exciting to see. They very naturally adopt a really wide range of media. We’ve seen PR, influencer, social, gaming and experiential responses to briefs on the course.

Shifters approach each brief in a channel-agnostic, problem-solving way

The Shifters also bring an exciting and diverse collection of reference points to their work. Shift brings a group of 20 completely individual creatives together, and with that, they bring their experiences, interests, and inspirations. When applied to brands’ business challenges, we see some really exciting fresh thinking.

There is a final showcase event scheduled in July. What form does this take and is it more of a celebration or a ‘final exam’?

The Showcase is a celebration of the Shifters’ 4 months of hard graft, and an opportunity for them to show off their portfolios to the city’s creative industry. Taking the form of a networking event-meets-exhibition, this acts as a shop window for the Shifters, and attracts talent reps from some of the biggest and best agencies. The Shift New York Showcase will be happening in July, with the London Showcase taking place on 30 January.

Do you feel that New York is a natural home for the programme?

It’s funny you say that because Shift actually launched in London first in 2016, followed by New York in 2017. London is D&AD’s home, so it felt like a natural place to start the programme – but with New York being home to some of our most awarded agencies and a huge creative industry, it was the obvious place to expand the programme.

Over the coming years, we’re hoping to bring Shift to more of the world’s most creative cities, collaborating with the industry to deliver training to new creative talent. We understand that each city has a unique set of barriers, so we work hard to ensure the programme is tailored to help emerging creatives overcome these.

Can you offer some examples of the kind of workshops and industry figures that populate the school?

We’re lucky to have such incredible support from industry partners – and this is one of the keys to Shift’s success. It’s important that the Shifters are being taught the most up to date and relevant learning, so we work closely with our supporting agencies to co-create the curriculum

It’s important to us that the Shifters have a rounded view of the industry, so we look at strategy, design and advertising. Some examples include immersive tech sessions with The Mill, collaboration workshops with SY Partners, branding workshops with JKR and typography sessions with the design leads at TBWA. The sessions typically start with an introduction from the host agency, before a hands-on practical workshop, guided by some of the top creatives.

It’s important to us that the Shifters have a rounded view of the industry

The Shifters then have the opportunity to apply this learning, working on 3 client briefs throughout the duration of the course – which form the basis of their portfolios.

What advice would you give to those young creatives thinking of entering this year?

Do it! Shifters are often apprehensive about applying as they think they don’t have the right type of work, or that it’s not polished enough. The beauty of Shift is that we’re not looking for perfection, or for the ‘finished thing’. We’re much more interested in your process, in how you think, and in where you get your ideas. 

We’ve accepted Shifters who have applied with just a couple of sketches or ideas scribbled in an old notebook. If you’re good at solving problems, excited by technology, making your own content or looking for a way to use your creativity for a career, I would urge you to apply!

How important do you think initiatives like this are in the current creative landscape?

We firmly believe that creativity can be found anywhere, but there are so many who will never have access to our amazing industry. New York has the second-lowest share of well-paying jobs for non-grads in the USA – yet less than half of New York State public high school students successfully navigate the full college-going pipeline. 

There is more talk than ever about the importance of a diverse creative industry. Shift is one of the ways in which D&AD is taking action, and the success of the programme shows that our model works.


D&AD Shift has already put over 80 emerging creatives through 12 weeks of free training to date. This includes an even BAME and male/female split. In 2019, meanwhile, over half of the ‘Shifters’ secured placements after graduating from the programme in London and New York. Alumni of Shift New York have also gone on to work in leading companies such as Droga5, The Mill and McCann.

Applications are now open for the Shift New York 2020 programme. To enter, people need to submit up to 3 pieces of creative work and a description of why they would benefit from the program. Details and entry requirements are available here.

Applications close on March 6, 2020

For Londoners, meanwhile, the latest Shift showcase is being held at the D&AD offices on Cheshire Street next Thursday (January 30). Invitees will be able to meet this years’ ‘Shifters’ and see an exhibition of their work (alongside some tasty canapés and drinks).


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