Intimidation, Criticism, Comfort

DesignED welcomes student comments and hopes to include students’ perspectives on a regular basis. Thanks Parke.

Hi boys and girls seeking to be graphic designers; you are studying at an internationally known, large-scale university. You are competing with approximately one hundred students for one of twelve openings in your major. After your freshman year of taking foundation courses, your sophomore year consists of two classes. In those two classes you will create the high quality work that you hope will land you one of the coveted twelve spots.

Do not worry about your GPA or extracurricular activities for they do not care and do not look at them. They do not want to get to know you. They do not want to know about your commitment to your classes as a student. They do not care to know anything about the people they select. And just who are the ‘they’? Two people you have never met before who will look at your portfolio and subjectively pick which twelve they like best. ‘They’ are the heads of the graphic design department, one an internationally known poster artist. So what do you do when you get rejected at the end of your sophomore year? You are certainly welcome to change your major and stay at the university where you’ve made all your friends and have gone through many life learning experiences in the past two years. Or you can transfer to another school to try to continue to study the art you love. Most change their major to marketing—YIKES!

All right, so you chose to stick to your guns and transfer to continue studying graphic design. Now you are at a tiny university in comparison to the very large university. Some of your credits do not transfer, so you are behind and the atmosphere is totally different. You have to start over. You are older now and most people in your classes already have their friends established from when they were freshmen. To try to catch up so you can graduate in two years, you are taking 18 and 21 credits a semester. You now have no social life and when you are not doing school work you are earning money working about twenty hours a week. Sounds like a fun transition.

At the large internationally known university, fear and intimidation ruled the classroom. Everyone was hardcore and it was a cutthroat environment. Everyone wanted everyone else to fail. Few people talked to each other and there was often a tension in the air. In regular college classes you are expected to spend two or three hours outside of class working for every one hour spent in class. Well, for the two design classes this was doubled and sometimes tripled. Critique days were the best (sarcasm). On those days if your work was not up to par, you could count on being verbally trashed and put down, which was followed by the flow of tears in front of the whole class.

My, how things have changed. At the new university most students work twenty or more hours a week at their jobs. It is difficult to tell who the design students are because almost anyone can take the design classes. No one is really committed to his or her design classes and expectations are very low. Contemporary design is not discussed because no takes the time to learn about design outside the classroom. Craft and concept are generally poor and classes are almost devoid of criticism. Critiques are two and a half hours worth of useless babble of “I like this” and “I do not like that” statements which are completely unfounded. The level of work, thought, and speech improves very, very slightly in the upper level classes. What is interesting is that you still have the cutthroat mindset. You are reluctant to share your ideas because you feel you do not receive good comments on your work, so why should you educate the class. Eventually you will all be competing for jobs in the field, so why should you help to raise everyone else’s level when they do not raise yours.

You have a general disdain for the environment because you are not learning anything and you find the other students to be completely unmotivated and uninspiring. The cutthroat mentality has stayed with you for a year and a half. You are only now starting to talk to others in classes. You are only now starting to be less defensive about your work, which you had to defend with your life and at all costs at the old university.

Having lived through these situations, these two vastly different universities, these incredibly different classroom atmospheres, you now ask yourself, how would I teach a class? What teaching methodologies would I use? How do I be firm enough to get students to do their best work but not create an atmosphere of intimidation? Is an atmosphere of intimidation the best teaching methodology to use? The quality of work goes up so why should I not use that method? How could teachers have made my education better? What did I miss out on, why did I miss out on it, and what could I do to improve the higher educational experience?

posted by Parke Shissler on October 29, 2004 | comments: 3 | post a comment

I am dealing with these issues right now. I was the guy rejected and then I became the guy that wasnt supposed to be in your class. I too was very frustrated by the lack of motivation for the students that did actually get in.
Now I am helping teach a class and considering how to motivate them where I control the variables. It seems to me that intimidation did work but I hated that route and rebelled against it. I think motivation comes from love for the medium, curiosity about its potential and a feeling of basic mastery on the student's part. If I as a teacher can't inspire some or all of these feelings, I dont't think I am doing my job and I can't blame them for not being interested.

Posted by David Millsaps on December 31, 2004 10:07 AM

At one point I was the guy rejected and then later I became the guy that "isn't in design" why is he here? One of the things that frustrated me most was the lack of motivation in my peers as well as myself at different points.
Now I am helping to teach a class and I am very focused on inspiring motivated hard work from my students. I always thought that if the student liked the medium, and had knowledge of its fundamentals then hard work woudl follow. But this isn't the case always. SOmetimes it seems the bounds of assignments are so constraining that students squander their creativity on figuring out the loopholes or just avoiding the actual work altogether. On the other hand I have witnessed stagnation often when the choices are wide open for the student. Maybe the first lesson should be "constraints are your friend?"

Posted by David Millsaps on December 31, 2004 10:14 AM

regarding motivation

I am not a professor. I just graduated. But I would like to think I have had an effect on my peers. During my last critique at COD, a peer, much older than myself, approached me on break and told me she thought she learned more from listening to me than she had listening to her professors. I say this not to discount our professors, especially as I know what it is like to resent their opinion because I knew they were sometimes(!) right. But I share a passion with faculty for seeing others excitement about design.

When I decided to transfer from aerospace engineering to design I had a few months to design a portfolio and I too was rejected. And I tried and tried with all my might and low and behold I was accepted my second try. So warm. I got my acceptance letter over spring a lobby of a dorm and I think (if I recall correctly) I sat there and cried. Maybe that was just for dramas sake. But I struggled with transfering to another school and saying (is there profanity on this site Tony) to NCSU COD. I stayed but I wonder if I had gone to another school if there would have been a class of people just like myself. Not to toot my own horn, so I will toot others' look at some of the talented and MOTIVATED students and you see the Will Hall's, Kyle Chalk's and Ryan Cook's. Designers with significant side projects and kids who are always doing something. I would like to consider myself the same and I believe it is not a professor (though Tony, Sean Donahue and Jon Sueda were spectacular) but a maturity level. Will, Kyle and Ryan were never 18 year old freshman designers.
The two years I spent waiting to transfer from aerospace engineering allowed me to experience a large university and appreciate the other disciplines...and likewise what they lacked when compared to design. I felt like an elder in my first studio and I had something to say...not only to the people who called me morbid my first try, but to everything I loved and hated. Leading to my next point. I never felt like very many of my classmates said anything with their work. There was no point of view, no attitude. I became a designer because I could only say so much through an airplane. And again, a professor can only do or say so much to motivate students. If it is not in their personality to say much, their design won't say much. There is a difference between being a design student and living a life of design.

A side note, I visited Art Center when I was considering my graduate education and an interesting stat popped up...the average freshman is it any wonder the school has such a reputation? Its a campus of motivated people with experience...perhaps what COD sometimes lacks?

Posted by Joshua Gajownik on March 13, 2005 08:31 PM