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Tony Brock

Thanks for doing your part to shift design education discussion from curriculum toward pedagogy. Too often we concern ourselves with the list and what must be added and not how we go about effecting some change with/for a student in all the complexity. Our roles as facilitators, mediators, mentors, and designers requires that we ask some tough questions about the act of teaching and not just pass them off as many curricular discussion do frequently.

Far too often focus is put on personal preferences, biases, and a predetermined sequence toward ‘success’ and not the opportunities which present themselves daily in a dynamic, multi-linear dialog with students. The baseline here is fluid communication and our ability to negotiate meaning not just within our personal conceptions of either ‘good’ or ‘new’ but among the collective studio and where we are at any point in time/development.

This takes pulling the curtain back and exposing the messiness of communication, design, and learning with our students. And, yes, it means we recognize that we are often the one who is lacking the skills to stitch meaning together. It means we explore the analogies of design and education beyond simply thinking if we are good at one, we are good at the other. It means we get down with collaboration, open-source, user, audience, and collective intelligence in the classroom and not just the textbook. It is about dialog which first finds the underlying motivations of the individual (us and them) and builds on those within the context of the studio/curriculum.

If we don’t know what a student is trying to say—if they can’t communicate their ideas—then it takes good old discussion time with them to discover if they are lost, uninterested, or simply do not have essential interpersonal or group communication skills necessary to engage as a student or a designer (yet). This is the messy stuff that takes time and mounds of it. The answer is not to speed up and do more info design, motion design, interaction design, etc. as we have been doing since the mid 90s. It is to slow down and spend more time in meaningful dialog so we may recognize the subtleties in a student’s design, use of language, points of reference, learning style, and motivation.

In all the questions and complexity of teaching graphic design to a room full of moving targets, what we need to question has more to do with how we simply talk with a student without the top-down mindset that we are right or must be right within our singular perspective. It is not our role to be reacted against nor deploy some reverse psych. We need to be real in positioning the full range of contexts in which to assess/position any work. This is more about contemporary design and where we can start making some differentiation with sister disciplines.

Can we see this range and live happily in the dualities? What is our personal scope in advocating multiple points-of-view? By the nature of our charge to understand audience and context, we need to be down with all the dualities, get busy fleshing-out more gradients of difference, and begin celebrating them. This doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t be purveyors of personal taste/perspective, but it means we do that and the other thing.

The question need not be about us recognizing what’s new, but recognizing what’s new for an individual student designer as they progress. Teaching graphic design is increasingly becoming more about those things essential to simply learning and not particularly learning graphic design or even design. This is where we shift focus from the graphic design curriculum that has grown exponentially to gobble up all contexts, audiences, dimensions, media, and content and focus on individual students and how they can best develop clear communication and modes of invention within any of it—it is about where they can locate themselves within a process and study with the motivations that will allow them to move forward (exponentially...).

I don’t buy that very much meaningful learning happens beyond the rote stuff when we teach to the group. Teaching an individual takes far more time and exchange—far more than most faculty allot and most design programs can afford. Many students need to be trendsetters or contentious or silent. Whatever the case, we need to leverage these dispositions, assumptions, and needs. If a student needs to inscribe banana leaves on a desert isle for 20 years to experience their creative epiphany or their ‘new,’ get them on a plane ASAP—that’s their field trip, as well as ours.

David Cabianca

Ah, because one can never have enough guilt.

I wonder about the burden that is being placed here on the shoulders of students and their instructors. Is “originality” a tenet that can be taught, or a goal that is best aspired to?

The above essay "fits" in this context of SoT3/“What's so graphic about graphic design” because it emphasizes sight. To paraphrase, Kenneth asks "whether he will know originality when he sees it." But there is also a recognition that the question of originality is a quandary because it relies on a familiarity with history (better still, a studied knowledge of history) to be able to make the distinction. Gotta love those quandaries. So does is originality a condition of the formal or the conceptual possibilities of graphic design? I think it is both, a designer can have an original idea but produce a derivative work; or have a derivative idea but produce a derivative formal piece.

Ultimately, I think I would rather focus on fostering a desire to strive for originality rather than focus on whether it has been achieved.

I think that the question has already somewhat answered. The fact that one's comfort level has been exceeded probably means that the student has achieved something—after all, to borrow a cliché, familiarity breeds comfort.

Kenneth FitzGerald

My thanks to Tony and David for their comments.
To Tony, there's a lot in there to digest and all the points are well taken. However, many of them are rather abstract. Especially for this forum, I'd appreciate some specifics; some anecdotes of how any of these concerns have played themselves out in class (either as faculty or student). For one, I'm not sure how to "leverage [a] disposition." I absolutely agree that students should be listened to and many factors impede that. But, if listened to, is there something specific you believe faculty would hear that they're ignorant of now?

To David, my eight years of nun-taught Catholic grammar school makes guilt par for the course. However, what I’m going after here is actually wariness (at most) of intellectual hubris. I won’t accuse anyone beyond myself of having to watch out for this.

How I interpret David’s ultimate suggestion is to emphasize process over product in teaching (and I may be misinterpreting). This is my teaching emphasis, though it’s a tough sell in an intensely product-driven field like design. But no matter our emphasis, we come down to a product that must be evaluated. And I'm back asking the same question...

Christopher Simmons


To address one of your initial questions, "how do we know new when we see it?" I'm reminded of a book I read several years ago titled "Copy Proof." In it, a number of design exercises are outlined which specifically address this concern, though from a slightly different vantage point. That is, rather than have students solve familiar problems (the poster, the logo, the way-finding system), students are instead asked to create solutions to the problems of identity, promotion, navigation, etc. using materials and processes not commonly associated with those disciplines.

For example, students may address the notion of communicating identity not via the medium of a 1/2-inch logo, but in a 36-square-foot self portrait of found objects. The same principles of symbolic representation, cultural interpretation, etc. are examined, absent the requirement to draw (in my courses I have adapted this assignment so that the latter is also an essential requirement). In this way authenticity and originality are more or less guaranteed — the students have no visual precedent for the medium or format. As such, it requires them to create something "new" based on original thinking.

In the sense that I believe you are posing the question of newness, I too have faced similar challenges. When faced with an inability to successfully understand a student's work, does my not "getting it" represent achievement or failure, and on whose part? Is the solution potentially so avant garde or my perception so constrained that the breakthrough goes unrecognized (or worse)? To address this (and to emphasize our focus on process rather than product (I teach a level two design course within a 4 level +thesis curriculum), I have begun to incorporate a new method of project evaluation into my course. For a recent poster assignment, students were post their final assignments on the wall, but keep them covered with butcher paper for the duration of the final critique. Instead, they were asked to present their process books only (a detailed process book chronicling all research, reference, inspiration, exploration, time, costs and materials is a required component of each major assignment). The resulting critique is perhaps one of the most interesting and meaningful you will experience. On completion of that round of critique, the posters were then unveiled and other faculty were invited to evaluate (and grade) the final projects solely on the basis of their success as a final (formal) solution. Absent an explanation of process or any articulation of intended subtleties, the work is evaluated with fresh eyes. Aggregating diverse reaction and opinion mitigates the risk that brilliance will go unnoticed simply because it operates on a frequency outside my own visual spectrum.

Of course newness, its definition and its value are all relative. These then are my own recent and anecdotal experiences with the reagrd to the concept.

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