Social Us: Graphic Design Education Futures

Leveraging and further defining ‘socially constructed education’ both online and face-to-face is the step beyond the step we find ourselves considering currently in graphic design education. This is where we begin to use what we make and practice what we preach. It may also have us begin to follow the social and collaborative aspects of design that we profess as the future of all design disciplines.

We are in need of both acknowledging how our students are learning online and integrating it in more meaningful ways in our face-to-face learning. The craft of presentation, unfiltered fluid dialog, and the act and meaning of lecturing, engaging in seminar, and conducting studio must be unpacked with a mind to understanding just how we better leverage virtual environs and digital communication. This would have us move from curricular discussions of “what” to the pedagogical dynamics of “how” that will allow us to possibly do it all or engage in meaningful scale shifts.

Scale shifts, editing curriculum, and calling the question of professional practice could have us be holistic and properly consider the necessary repositioning of what undergrad, grad, and future PhD studies will mean as a full trajectory of university design studies. Can the 4-year undergrad degree be considered a professional degree? Is it a survey and nothing more—no matter how good a survey it is?

I am one that believes that most of our answers are sitting in front of us if we have the courage to practice what we preach. Unfortunately we design types are obsessed with being “right” and with holding our precious instincts toward form as unique and personal. Both of these messy bits invade us to our core and have us deny what we profess. We force modes of teaching on our students that deny the power of interpersonal communication, collegial dialog, and the precious power of form.

If we truly believed in form as we profess—all form as viable, meaningful language—how would teaching change? Would we have the courage to remove ourselves from teaching because our very form denies teaching and more importantly collaborative, multi-/inter-disciplinary teaching—slash that, mentorship? Would it be too much of an affront to our special language and our individual talents to allow others in? What happens when notions of meritocracy, collaboration, and the deep need to be “right” collide? [this sentence is meaningless—maybe it should read: what happens when we recognize the love of maps and the lack of long walks is a big proplem?]

Within all of this, graphic design education will have a future, but possibly not the one that sprung out of art and commerce. More likely one that recognizes that we are about language and the full breadth of it—its full form and the need/drive to better things through meaningful communication. I think we are in a very interesting position as graphic design faculty that have tried to mediate and teach it all. We have become the stewards of visual language and its mutating structures. We have tried to collapse 2, 3, 4-D languages and draw meaningful connections between disparate media. This puts us in a very strong position to teach what Computer Science, Engineering, Communications, Business/Management, English, etc., are keen on learning and teaching.

We are actually in position to deliver the equivalent of English 101/102 where the general population actually makes/designs things with the full range of language/form. This is different from informing the masses which occurs in purely lecture-based courses. I recall studying the craft of writing as composition wherein I was engaged in the act of making—not just talking about making and its results on communication, culture, etc., [note: this is not to move toward DIY as AIGA or us professional designers may be concerned and I will be glad to define why—lets talk].

Hmmm, now, do we want to be in this business—the teaching of VisLang 101/102? Some might and most will not, but what does it mean for our role in the university where folks see this as integral to their individual and collective contemporary studies? Do we want to be involved or continue to isolate ourselves? Everyone will be teaching design in some way with their own language and we can’t just say we have the best and only truth, remain insular, polish our magical talents, and continue to preach collaboration and dialog among disciplines. It does not make sense.

Having competing programs within a university is not efficient nor does it support what we profess. Added new media to any previously defined program happens willy-nilly and without much question. This is no small issue and we are just as guilty in graphic design as we play our own land-grab presuming UX design, interface design, database systems design, Information [note cap I] design, THE narrative, and motion both at the UG and grad levels. Yikes, but hey, we are good so...

Yes, we are good—we are good generalists. We may actually be the ones who can make the biggest difference as universities recognize they must teach the full range of language (not just word). How can we facilitate this? How does it reposition our approach to what an UG 4-year degree in graphic design could be to the full range of design collaborators/designers? I can make a good case that graphic design should be delivering design fundamentals to all design disciplines. Is this where we find a solid purchase for what we have become or do we redefine ourselves as a specialization that fits human, professional, and educational scales? Both?

I love teaching visual language and translations of 2, 3, and 4-D media within each other—I love teaching it to architects. It simply allows me to land somewhere and use a lens in which to see all others. Through the lens of Architecture, the scales of visual language/Graphic Design as I know it, are far more meaningful. I also love teaching aesthetics and information design to multidisciplinary groups which simply validate the range of perspectives and collaborative communication that must be a part of the discussion. Between these two examples—one with a specialized design focus and professional intent and the other without the demands of being the professional designer and intent on the range of visual communication—I find greater meaning for what graphic design education can be and should be.

Graphic Design has absorbed all media, contexts, dimensions, environments, surfaces, and audiences. We have gone meta-level and are both suffering for it as we tend to our own defined discipline and in position to benefit from it as we consider a different role within education. If Graphic Design becomes all things to all people and we can argue that it already has, then it ceases to exist as a discipline of any definable sort and it certainly ceases to exist as a 4-year professional degree. What can Graphic Design become as a specialization if the professional founding is now gone—if the act of being that thing is now spread to all disciplines?

We need far more definition in our hopes, abilities, and motives—we need to consider what socially constructed education/learning/communication means within design education and education design.

posted by Tony Brock on January 21, 2007 | comments: 1 | post a comment

Graphic Design is the New Art and Design.
Meaning, Digital/Photography is common knowledge to entering Freshies where Handrawn/Construction is common to everyone entering COD who is older. These new norms are directly representative of the direction of curriculum, tools, and media involved in the core constructs of becoming a Major. It is time to step it up notch. Graphic Design Majors should study, letterpress, printing on fabric, typeface design. Classes like typography and imaging should be incorporated into fundamentals! Along with lots of new media art history and history of graphic design. That's right I'm saying it! Based on our desire for a cohesive understanding of good design, everyone in COD needs to take these Graphic courses. In fact, in art history, once the fundamentals are taught, the Internet is the only thing left. No wonder our department was so eager to grow with new media. A magical special world with all the pretty colors we can imagine and 3D text! Plus, if we teach our students about time and space they will undoubtedly learn a skill, voilą! Interactive tutorials and branding! Anybody listening?

Posted by ANNAW on February 28, 2007 02:22 PM