The Scoop - Morne Venter

Please supply us with a short bio. (Eg How did you find out about Open Window and how did you start working for OW?)

I’m Morne Venter, serving as the Head of School for Creative Technologies. During my time at a design studio, my focus was primarily on print. However, I observed the rising prominence of digital design, user interface design, and web design. Recognizing the importance of adapting to this shift, I decided to explore opportunities in these evolving areas.

While searching for job opportunities, I came across an advertisement for a lecturing position in Communication Design at Open Window. On the same day, I had interviews lined up, one for a User Experience Design lecturer position at a different institution and the other for the Communication Design position at Open Window.

Interestingly, upon reaching Open Window, I learned that the Communication Design position I initially intended to apply for was already filled. Instead, they suggested I consider applying for the interactive design position, which encompassed what we then called interaction design/user experience design. I decided to pursue it, successfully securing the position. Looking back, it feels like the universe was guiding me towards the path I was meant to take.

How long have you been a lecturer?

10 – 11 Years

Can you speak to any recent personal projects that you’re particularly proud of?

Certainly, the most recent project I engaged in was an art project. Most of my endeavours revolve around fine arts, particularly painting. I received an invitation to participate in a piggy bank show, where artists were tasked with creating a conceptual piggy bank in any shape, size, or form, as long as it could hold and dispense coins.

To be honest, working on this project felt like pulling teeth. Conceptualizing it proved to be a challenging process, and progress was slow. Despite the difficulties, I persevered and eventually assembled the piece. Unfortunately, I don’t have a proper photo to share at the moment. Nevertheless, I’m delighted that I completed the project. This accomplishment stands out as something I’m proud of.

Can you provide an overview of the Bachelor of Creative Technologies Degree program and its key objectives?

Let me break down the Bachelor’s of Creative Technologies for you. In this program, we equip students with a technological toolkit to tackle real-world challenges and devise meaningful solutions that resonate with people. All our courses, whether centred on digital or physical products, are designed to cultivate a mindset that utilizes technology effectively for creating products people love.

Our first course, User Experience Design (formerly Interaction Design), focuses on the conceptualization and crafting of user interfaces for digital products. Whether it’s mobile apps, websites, kiosk interfaces, or interfaces for various devices like game consoles and smartwatches, this course emphasizes visual design, information architecture, and the expression of interfaces. Students prototype these products, concentrating on the front-end aspects.

On the flip side, we have Interactive Development, where students learn programming languages to create interactivity and functional digital products. While User Experience Design is concentrated on the visual and front-end design systems, Interactive Development delves into the back-end, involving coding and programming to bring these designs to life.

Product Design, another key subject, shifts the focus to physical products. Despite sounding distinct, there’s considerable overlap between Product Design and our digital subjects. Product designers grapple with questions like how people interact with products, the product’s interface, its presentation, and its integration into people’s lives – similar considerations in designing digital products. So, in summary, we cover User Experience Design (UI and UX), Interactive Development (coding and programming), and Product Design (creating physical products like furniture, appliances, etc.).

What sets the Creative Technologies program apart from similar programs at other institutions?

What distinguishes the Creative Technologies degree from others? Firstly, it holds significance as a milestone degree in the country, being among the first to provide this type of education in South Africa. Accredited early in its lifecycle, it paved the way for numerous programs to follow suit. Secondly, our degree program adopts a unique and targeted approach to various skill areas. In contrast to many general design and technology degrees, our program allows students to develop a deep and diverse skill set in their chosen field. A third, perhaps underrated, aspect that sets our degree apart is the environment it fosters.

In elaborating on this, I recently discussed with one of our industry partners the origins of developers and the institutions they come from. The conversation veered toward demeanour and soft skills—communication, collaboration, and the like. At Open Window, we emphasize collaboration and cross-pollination between subjects. Here, digital designers, product designers, and web developers are exposed to a variety of people and ideas. This environment promotes the development of soft skills, creating a unique breed of students equipped with the interpersonal abilities sought after in the workplace.

What career opportunities do graduates of the department typically pursue?

Graduates of the Creative Technologies degree find themselves with a diverse array of opportunities in the realms of digital design, digital development, and product design. The vast landscape of product design presents numerous niche avenues, often hidden from an external perspective but revealing themselves once you delve into the industry. For instance, you could specialize in scientifically selecting colour palettes for platforms like Airbnb – a unique and specific role.

Within the field of user experience design, the possibilities are extensive. You could become a UI designer, a Design Systems designer, an icon designer, a colour palette manager, a UI animator, or a UX researcher. The development path opens doors to becoming a full-stack developer, delving into web development, mobile app development, or even venturing into creating an iOS app. As a product designer, the spectrum broadens to include roles such as jewellery designer, furniture designer, appliance designer, or toy designer.

The overarching idea is that, armed with a combination of skills from these three subjects, you can evolve into a creative technologist – someone who uses their diverse skill set to create products that transcend individual components. The degree isn’t just about the opportunities each subject offers but also about creating opportunities by embracing exposure to all three disciplines.

Aligned with principles of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the School of Creative Technologies supports students through a maker space on campus. Here, students can fabricate, 3D print, laser cut, and utilize various machinery to bring their projects to life, whether they’re physical, digital, or a hybrid of both. The maker space houses 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, resin printers, vinyl printers, and large-format printers.

How do you balance teaching technical skills with fostering creativity and critical thinking in students?

In essence, the Bachelor of Creative Technologies degree at Open Window leans towards a more technically focused approach compared to other programs. The students frequently attracted to this course are individuals who appreciate precision, often seeking pixel perfection and adhering to numerous technical guidelines, particularly in the domains of UI, UX, and product design. Each creation by our students is subject to specific guidelines, including accessibility standards, which are integral aspects we instil in them.

While there may be a common perception that such a technical emphasis might compromise creativity, our program strikes a crucial balance. We are steadfast in our commitment to teaching students how to articulate and solve problems effectively. I firmly believe that the paramount skill for any designer is the ability to identify, analyze, and address problems. Thus, our approach harmonizes technical expertise with creativity. We provide students with the space to immerse themselves in problems, encouraging them to independently frame and solve challenges creatively while abiding by technical guidelines. The belief underpinning our philosophy is that being technically proficient does not diminish creativity.

Top 5 favourite bands at the moment?

Certainly, when it comes to discussing favourite bands, there are those timeless Evergreen bands that remain a constant throughout your life, and then there are the flavour-of-the-month favourites. In terms of Evergreen bands, I still hold a deep appreciation for Metallica, Talking Heads, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Talk Talk from the ’80s is also a significant favourite of mine, encapsulating that era’s music vibe. In the contemporary scene, I’m drawn to bands like Preoccupations and Dry Cleaning, particularly enjoying the Post-Punk Revival they bring to the table.

On a different note, my recent exploration of pop music has led me to discover and appreciate Jesse Ware’s work. Interestingly, every time I’m driving and hear a catchy song on the radio, it turns out to be Dua Lipa – so now I’ve become a fan. This is just the tip of the iceberg; I could delve into this topic for quite a while.

How does the program support students in developing a portfolio of work that showcases their skills and expertise to potential employers?

Our degree program is meticulously designed to empower students to present their work in the most compelling manner possible. Every aspect of our curriculum is tailored towards this goal. Each subject begins with a creative brief, guiding students to conceptualize and execute tangible products by the term’s end. We challenge them to consider the purpose and functionality of their creations and to showcase them effectively.

Central to this approach is the development of a portfolio, which we evaluate both mid-year and at the end of the year. Communicating effectively about their work is integral to their education here. Whether digital or physical, our projects are often multifaceted, requiring students to articulate their features and functionality clearly and concisely.

Furthermore, we provide numerous opportunities for students to present their portfolios and receive feedback from industry professionals. One such event is the Behance evening, where students showcase their work and engage with experts in the field.

In essence, every facet of our program – from teaching formats to assignment structures – is geared towards preparing students to assemble a comprehensive portfolio that effectively demonstrates their skills and achievements to prospective employers.

Top 3 Podcasts?

I have a constant affinity for podcasts; they accompany me during various activities, whether it’s running, relaxing, or even drifting off to sleep. Particularly, I’m drawn to video game podcasts, making them my go-to companions. “Into The Ether,” “Triple Click,” and “The Besties” are some favourites in this category. On a different note, when seeking life advice and thought-provoking content, I turn to podcasts like “The Knowledge Project” and “Honestly with Barry Weiss.” The “Ezra Klein Show,” although leaning more towards politics, also captures my interest.

Additionally, like many others, I enjoy a captivating narrative, especially in True Crime podcasts. Among the best I’ve encountered are “Into the Dark” and “Crime Junkie”; both provide comprehensive and engaging storytelling.

Are there any specific industry partnerships or collaborations that the school has established to enhance the learning experience and career prospects for students?

Establishing robust connections with industry holds great significance for us at the Creative Technology School. This emphasis stems from our desire to align our educational curriculum with the evolving needs and skills sought after in the industry landscape. Regular consultations with mentors and industry partners form a crucial aspect of this process. We engage in discussions about current priorities, the technologies in use, and the skills gaining prominence. This ongoing relationship helps us continuously benchmark our curriculum to meet industry standards.

Moreover, our ties with industry extend beyond just curriculum alignment. Industry partners often play a vital role in sponsoring and supporting various events that enrich the educational experience for our students. For instance, the recent Micro Fighters event, featuring battling robots, was sponsored by Glucode. The upcoming annual hackathon, a significant event for our school, is also sponsored by various industry partners.

Among our esteemed partners are StackWorx, Glucode, Retro Rabbit, Lucky Beard, DVT, Accenture, and Jack Studios, to name a few. While some are direct sponsors, others contribute as industry partners. Many of our students find employment in these organizations, becoming ambassadors for our school and reinforcing our collaborative ties.

While we have had numerous sponsors in the past, we are consistently working to enhance and deepen these connections. If you are a potential sponsor, we invite you to reach out and explore the possibilities of collaborating with us.

Can you suggest any great resources for students in the CT department?

Figma has a lot of cool plugins. Ai is definitely helping.

What’s your go-to creative snack?

I’m not sure if I can pinpoint a favourite snack, but I consistently find myself drawn to sweet treats. A good cookie or something along those lines always satisfies my sweet tooth. However, daily, my go-to indulgence is probably coffee, and occasionally, I enjoy a glass of wine as well.

Any favourite hobbies?
Boardgaming, Video Games, Comics and Manga

Do you have any advice for prospective students who are looking into doing their Bachelor of Creative Technologies?

I believe the advice I would offer to any student aspiring to pursue a career in design or any field, for that matter, is rooted in the understanding that knowledge is interconnected. Often, we encounter educational systems that compartmentalize creativity from subjects like math or science. However, for those interested in design, I emphasize that curiosity and a broad knowledge base should be the driving forces. The more diverse your knowledge and exposure, the better equipped you are to tackle a range of problems.

To students currently in school and contemplating a path in design or art, my encouragement is not to shy away from various disciplines. Embrace science, delve into math, and challenge yourself to understand different ways of thinking, whether it’s scientific, economic, or beyond. By incorporating these diverse spheres of influence into your mindset, your problem-solving skills and creativity can reach far greater depths than if you solely focus on one area.

It’s crucial to recognize that art, in itself, is not the exclusive solution. Rather, it’s influenced and informed by everything else. Therefore, my advice is to avoid restricting yourself from exploring different fields simply because you identify as creative. Challenge yourself, engage with various disciplines, and recognize the valuable thinking and problem-solving skills that can be gained from these diverse spaces.