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Gunnar Swanson

Kenneth,

Sorry I won’t be able to join you in Pasadena. I have a wedding to go to. I guess a party on the beach might be nearly as much fun.

As you know, I've been struggling with some of these questions for quite a while and as you might guess, I don’t have any neat answers for you. I’m suspicious of many of the moves to move graphic design education away from the production of graphic designers. Many attempts to “broaden” the field look too much like bad political science being taught by unqualified faculty. As you say, graphic design programs are advertised as the place where people learn to be designers. East Carolina University’s is no different in this regard and I’m a believer in truth in advertising.

ECU’s version of the problem is tempered in a few ways. We have a significantly higher related employment number than 20%. We try to be very clear that graphic design is not an easy path for wannabe painters who desire job security. (Last week we had the annual event where area coordinators told foundations students why they should become printmakers or ceramists or such. I spent most of my segment telling them why they might not want to be graphic designers.) Most of all, we are striving to make design thinking the center of our program. Even though the reason has to do with producing graphic designers—we believe that design thinkers are the best, most successful, least frustrated, and most employable designers—the fact is that design thinking is applicable to many more pursuits in life than “narrower” design skills are.

(This approach doesn’t solve all problems of expectations. I had a few complaints that last semester’s time spent on how the conversation the designer has with clients effects the resultant design was “talk and theory” despite their success with a client project based on those lessons.)

Anyway, the best I can figure is that the trick is to see how graphic design faculty can provide depth and breadth while still concentrating on graphic design.

Don’t just drive them to art therapy, though. One of my favorite students in Minnesota when we both taught there quit graphic design to study forensic anthropology. (As you know, this had to be close to a decade before “Bones” made it to television.) She said “You taught me that I didn’t want to be a graphic designer” and I knew it was meant as a compliment.

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