Dmitri Siegel | Essays

Please CARE

One of graphic design's strengths in its relatively short history has been its flexibility. The field has adapted to technological and economic changes over the last half century by absorbing elements of computer science, animation, cognitive psychology, architecture and filmmaking. Much of the credit for this agility goes to graphic design teachers who have (with varying degrees of enthusiasm and success) embraced the kind of change that their colleagues in other departments fight tooth and nail to resist. Despite periodic discussions, there is no consensus about how to integrate the teaching of this evolving set of media and skills, or what constitutes the core of a design education.

A department head recently told me that next year, for the first time, graphic design majors will out-number fine art majors at his institution, and this is consistent with a trend across the country. At the same time, multimedia programs are thriving and graduate programs like Bruce Mau's Institute Without Boundaries, Fabrica and Stanford Institute of Design are expanding the definition of design training. With so much growth occurring, this is a critical time to reconsider what exactly a graphic design education should look like.

I propose a simple four-step process for learning graphic design. It is called CARE: Conceptualization, Articulation, Research and Execution.

In order to conceive of the twenty-first century design education we must recognize that graphic design is an interdisciplinary field. In practice, a single project may involve illustration, typography, video-editing, animation, photo manipulation, web design, copy writing and sound design. Importantly, the same set of skills are at play in all of these diverse activities. This fact has not been overlooked by fine art deparments. Columbia moved to an interdiscipinary model several years ago, effectively eliminating distinctions between media. And yet, most design courses are separted off into their own department and then further segmented according to media: typography, magazine design, web design, etc. Foundation courses tend to be in the Bauhaus tradition: practicing a series of visual skills like composition and color relationships in isolation. Media and technique are indispensable but they aren't necessarily the best organizing principles. I propose instead to put a clearly defined process at the core of design programs. An education that builds a strong process is the best way to prepare students for the complex, collaborative work of the designer and it institutionalizes the tradition of flexibility that has been so beneficial to the field.

Conceptualization is the first and most important step in the creative process. Analysis, sketching and experimentation all go into conceptualization. The more time that students spend on this phase of a project, the better the end result. But it is difficult to master the art of conceptualization when projects may take weeks or months to complete. It is important to give students the opportunity to practice starting projects before they wrestle with the intricacies of finishing them. Therefore, courses should begin with a variety of small projects, whether in seminar or studio courses. The end result of these assignments is less important (although speed and lack of pressure often yield great results) than building up the ability to envision a desirable outcome.

Articulation involves crafting the language that surrounds, supports and guides the execution of a project. Written and verbal communication skills are critical to a successful design practice, and should be developed in every course through writing assignments and critiques. These exercises in verbalization help students learn to refine and edit a concept. They help improve their copywriting. Students practice interrogating their work with questions like: What can be taken away from this idea?; Is this solution timely?; What type of execution would best suit the concept? Articulating their responses to their peers' work is a crucial way of learning how to approach their own. Equally important is learning to hear criticism: this may mean asking for clarification or even rejecting some comments. In these ways, students learn how to put effective communication at the heart of their practice.

Research should be a continuous part of the creative process. Everyone agrees that students aren't getting enough design history, but no one can explain why. There is often the implication that students just aren't interested, but I think that is partly because history courses focus on images to the exclusion of stories. Students should know that learning history requires reading. In fact, reading is fundamental. The truth is that there are staggeringly few experts when it comes to design history. Because of this we can not expect design history to be taught in the same way as art history. There simply is not currently the infrastructure to train, nor the market to employ, design historians of the same caliber. Instead, the study of design history should be presented as a lifelong pursuit that faculty and students engage in together. History can be an invaluable swatch-book of design ideas, but we have to look beyond the artifacts. It is the stories that will help students situate their practice in a dynamic social, cultural and economic context. So tell your stories. Honesty trumps expertise. It may be more important to read a single biography than to look at a hundred slides.

Execution involves assessing resources and finishing a project with discipline and attention to detail. Discipline and craft can be difficult to teach in a tight academic calendar. That is why it is important that every course include projects with long timelines, where students are held to the highest standards of execution and finish. The ability to revise, refine and edit (without getting stuck) is critical to the success of studio and written projects alike. In an interdisciplinary environment, execution may require learning a new skill or collaborating with a peer who has a specific expertise. It is critical in professional practice that students are able to identify opportunities for collaboration and that they have the communication skills to collaborate effectively. The success of execution largely rests on how well-articulated the concept is. A strong concept that has been thoroughly vetted, and that is well explained, makes it easier to efficiently use time and resources. An exciting concept makes it easier to enlist collaborators. However, even with the best concept and articulation, the execution phase can be brutal. It is important to let projects play themselves out: student learn as much from failures in the execution phase as from other parts of the process.

Putting this concept-driven approach at the center of design education is not an end in itself. The most difficult thing about being a creative professional is finding a way to stay engaged in your work. There is a myth that art, design and music are inherently interesting and exciting. The website for Cranbrook's graduate level 2-D Design program reads in part, "We adhere to the advice of Joseph Campbell: 'Follow your bliss.'" But creative endeavors can become just as rote and monotonous as any other job. The only way to prevent this is to develop a strategy for keeping a practice engaging. CARE is one such strategy.

Posted in: Education , Graphic Design

Comments [59]

Thanks for a great article.

I would like to stress the importance of letting the design student become aware of the designer's role. Put simple, the designer should be able to answer the question: why do we need design?

I know a lot of people from my former design class who don't know their role in a design project. I have noticed that many graphic designers often has the attitude that their role is to creatively express themselves. This behavior manifests itself in a designer who tries to project themselves into the design solution and neglecting the real goal. Graphic design is today unfortunately bloated with semantically irrelevant (but trendy!) graphical gestalts. To generalize a bit: throw in some Avant Garde with the ligature pack, and your are (were) in the frontline of graphic design.

A great designer is a designer who is empathic and thus can remove herself and get into the mind of the ones who will experience the end result.

I think the C as in conceptualization is very important. I also think, as you writes, writing should be seen as a powerful tool for the designer. There's this misconception that writing and visual design is mutually exclusive. This misconception can have something to do with the old model of the left and right brain hemisphere - where you are either verbal or creative. A designer can be both verbal and creative - it's just a matter of learning how to do it.
Daniel Emanuelsson

I don't think these ideas are all that exceptional nor original, as they don't describe an experience much different from that of my own design education. Maybe i've had a unique design education experience...

Something that would better help me to understand your meanings would be project descriptions that illustrate the 4 aspects of CARE. I'm also curious as to how the 4 areas of CARE are applied to introductory students vs advanced students.

We are in agreement about slides; it does very little for the students except lull them to sleep. I constantly have to remind myself that my students aren't yet as interested in our field as I am. In my experience they respond better to a book or books.

Pedagogy is really important to other disciplines, but it has often been forgotten about in design. Each program school to school seem to have forged completely different paths. And the student hoping to study graphic design -- understanding the differences or that these differences even exist is extremely difficult. Graphic design programs do not often market their philosophy. Instead they market the work of their graduated students: creating a very superficial system. "Come here and design like this!"

I had wanted to study graphic design. I entered school 3000 miles away from where I was currently. Thinking that just like the way I had looked at architecture programs: the programs weren't going to vary a lot, so it was important to pick the right feeling campus and location. When I was looking for architecture schools I had a big book published by the AIA of all the programs in the country. With explanations about what they were good at, what they were known for, and how the curriculum worked. There is nothing comparable when looking at schools of design.

I and all but 1 one of my GD1 section classmates didn't stick with graphic design. That's a horrible outcome. I blame the both the size of the program (over half the students at that private art school) and the superficiality of the GD1 assignments: design a CD, make a poster about where you live, etc. etc. All within the span of days. No honest discussions about conceptualization, no understand of the history of design or discussions about what is beauty. These types of things are regularly covered by architecture programs in their first years.

Actually, that was another concern of mine. Architecture moves from the highly conceptual. From exploring space and design in the abstract before layering that with practical understandings of what makes a building stand up. The graphic design program that I saw worked in reverse: starting with inanely specific work and moving toward the playful.

After all of that, I switched to studying film/video: it was an art-based interdisciplinary program with a heavy component of theory and history.

I still regret not studying graphic design. As it's what I do every day, now. But I also regret that the state of design education was not what I needed at the time. And that I did not have the tools to make an informed decision about schools.

Don't forget the man --- Rob Roy Kelly.
Joe Moran

This is a very good topic, and given all the complaints professionals have about recent graduates (and graduates about design programs not preparing them for the 'real' world), one I would think should be much more topical than it ever seems to be. This also is something that is of personal interest to me, and something I have started exploring on my own. Since 1999, I have taught as an adjunct at three different schools. Now 35, I decided a couple of years ago that I wanted to teach design full-time, which, of course, requires an MFA (which apparently trumps 15 years experience).

After I had a truly disastrous experience last fall at a major school in southern california, I am now enrolled in an online program to get my MFA. With all my experiences, I became interested in design education itself... what is it, how it it start and evolve, and why does it never seem to be right for what companies and firms want?

Interested in finding out why the current accredited design curriculum is the way it. Since most design programs seemingly have their foundation heavily vested from fine arts programs, I started looking into how teaching fine art evolved from early times. But the only book I have found that has any detail at all (and even then it is less than a chapter) is Stuart Macdonald's "The History and Philosophy of Art Education", written over twenty-five years ago. If anyone knows any others, I would love to know about them!

But my additional thoughts so far, from a pseudo-outsider's point-of-view:
I think, among other things, two HUGE things are missing from the current state of design education. First is the fact that no one ever seems to think it is important to teach professors how to teach. We seem to think that having a MFA (MBA/PhD/MD/DDS/etc) will somehow magically make someone a great teacher...? We spend all this time teaching everything we can think of about design, but no one polices the policemen (and policewomen). Where is the logic in that? Second is that while we define graphic design as an applied art, which generically means it exists in the business world, we put no importance on art students learning even the basics of business. This is especially staggering considering how many designers end up starting their own studios, and how many of those end up being miserable failures (which is usually linked not to bad work, but bad business sense). The clients (internal and external) that we work with everyday should be viewed as another aspect of applied design that we should attempt to understand and embrace. Instead, many designers have an 'us' against 'them' attitude, rather than trying to embrace and integrate.
Greg Hay

To Mr. Hay's query concerning the history of art education: Howard Singerman's Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University (The University of California Press, 1999) is an indispensible study of the evolution of theories and methodologies (�focused primarily on the teaching of "fine" art� but completely relevant to evolution of design teaching as well).
Lorraine Wild

I have two comments on Dmitri's post: First, the CARE acronym sounds like the name of a charity or advocacy group. I think my students would run the other way (or at least I would). Second, what about form? With so much emphasis on planning, talking, writing, and reading, where do you explore formal structures and possibilities? Is form just part of execution?
Ellen Lupton

"Articulation involves crafting the language that surrounds, supports and guides the execution of a project." no?
Nicolas Borel

I don't find there to be a sufficient definition of what constitutes research. I feel that the word research has been quickly dropped once mentioned and supplanted with the words reading and history. Sure that is part of it, but I feel that research is much more complex. Research in design education carries different meanings for different individuals. I believe making the design artifact is "research." Case studies, history, philosophy, and other influences that affect the design are also part of that research. But ultimately design research is the processes and methods we craft, as well as the objects we make. We as designers gain and create knowledge through making.

I also take issue with this statement:
History can be an invaluable swatch-book of design ideas, but we have to look beyond the artifacts.
I agree to some extent but it is also important that we study the artifacts as well. As the artifacts are a manifestation of ideas. If we can so easily discard the design artifact then why do we continue to produce them. We should be critical of both the ideas and the artifacts.
Ryan Molloy

As a newly minted teacher fresh off the grad-school theoretic bandwagon, nothing sCAREs me more than watching my students stumble and trip or shrug off and glaze over as they talk about their design projects during critiques. Mutterings of "I don't have anything to say" and "I just did the assignment" spill forth from their slack, abject lips.

One way to combat this careless reality is to ignite an artist statement competition somewhat to the ego-maniacal tune of M. Night Shamalayan. I find that requiring some sort of back-story performance helps break the steely ice of a cold classroom critique and usually creates entry points for evaluating the work and pushing it farther. Then, as the project progress, the statement gets refined and the students learn to stand behind their initial concept and care about the outcome.
Jessica Gladstone


Great point about the name. I originally called it ACHE: Articulation, Conceptualization, History, and Execution. Perhaps that's better, but I suppose selling either one to students would require a great deal of irony. The whole idea of giving it an acronym was inspired by the RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) campaign. I hope people have taken a minute to watch the Ed Asner clip I linked to.

As for your question about form. This is a sticky subject and I'm glad you raised it. First of all I would say that form fits into all the stages of CARE, particularly in the execution phase as you note. The reason for emphasizing the conceptual process is to try to ensure that the use of form is intentional and appropriate.
Dmitri Siegel

What a scary suggestion this is! Thank you Ellen Lupton for mentioning form.
Having just returned from the Bauhaus Archive and after reading many of the books which discuss the specific methods, thoughts, and various curriculum objectives associated with this institution, not to mention all others which carried or still carry the weight of its influence, I had honestly thought that the bar was officially raised.
You can conceptualize until the moon turns blue, but if you can only produce Raggedy Ann products/results then it's all lost in translation, formal translation. There is no way that one can conceptualize an idea which leads to a final solution without possessing intimate knowledge of how this may or may not be executed.
Ryan Pescatore Frisk

I really hate to knock on this door repeatedly, but do hope that some readers remember the post discussing a student who ignorantly appropriated Barbara Krueger. I'm sorry, but I have very, very, very strong feelings that history and form must precede conceptualization.
Ryan Pescatore Frisk

How's about adding "T" for Translation (as in Ryan's comment regarding formal Translation)? That way you can change it to "REACT". Or even "TRACE".
amy papaelias


How can form precede concept? A concept is an idea. An idea is highly abstract. To communicate to other people you have to transform the abstract idea into something concrete. A human can only understand what our senses, in combination, with our cognitive ability tell us - real stuff. Form is what we use to translate an idea into something comprehensible to other people.

What ever form you create inevitable has a concept, or several concepts, backing it up. To conceptualize means taking control over what idea the form may manifest.

The concept always comes before the form.
Daniel Emanuelsson

A lot of graduates flow into the workforce who fundamentally do not understand what conceptualization is, how it should solve a problem, or how to infuse the solution with meaning. Instead of being taught the core foundations of design, they are products of the latest gee-whiz-will-you-look-at-that technology. Such individuals may be great at coding an interface or creating a 3-dimensional object in Illustrator, but are relatively useless when you need a solution that requires research and thought.

Luckily, there are programs that deliberately avoid such scenarios. A great example of excellent design teaching is the Visual Communication Design program at the University of Washington. Lead by Douglas Wadden, a fixture in the design community for well over 20 years and Karen Cheng, whose ability and intelligence is only matched by her obsession with typography. The program teaches relatively little technology, instead focusing on the fundamental principals and core values of good design.

An in-depth appreciation for design history is also at the heart of the program, as it requires all potential candidates to take an in-depth design history course that focuses on the background of the work as well as it aesthetic qualities and breakthroughs. In addition, the program only accepts 20-22 students from a pool of 200+ each year, selecting only those who demonstrate a strong proficiency in both conceptualization and implementation.

My only critique is that, although several prominent, local designers are guest lecturers/professors during the three-year program, not enough emphasis is given to employment opportunities after the program. This final step must be added to Mr. Siegel's CARE process to ensure we the best and brightest have the opportunity to grow and become holistic, progressive practitioners in the future.
James D. Nesbitt

Of course conceptualization, articulation, research, and execution, i.e CARE. We all CARE!!! However, does anyone really believe that when CARE is implemented in a logical and linear way that it somehow leads magically to design curriculum excellence? Is this what happened at Yale in the 60's, Cranbrook in the 80's, Cal Arts in the 90s or the Bauhaus in the 20s, or any of the other schools that reached pinnacles of excellence? We need some CAREful research into design education history here by the proponent of this curicular concept.

A more mature way to descirbe my dilemna with this post is its timid pedagogical essensialism; or another way of stating it is that academic pedagogy seemingly trumps the subject. Let's face it, a lot of great designers are great designers because they are passionate about the visual and visual culture and only care about the stories because they are attached to the visual first and foremost. While this is admittedly an absurd example from architecture, reading about Frank Lloyd Wright without looking, and I mean looking in a serious way at his work would be silly (and intentionally produce a lot of ego-manialcal nut cases).

A curriculum which emphasizes articulation in the sense described here would just bore many students. Other students are incredible craftman, i.e have amazing hands, or technical abilities. A program that discounts these skills for research will just turn these indiviuals off to design. Execution sounds like you are going to get hurt. Conceptualization is great, but unlike my freind Mr. Emanualson who seems to really believe the egg comes before the chicken, any program which does not emphasize form, does not wrestle with a definition of graphic design as distinct from art (what design do those Columbia students produce???), and insists upon taking students through a rigorous course of design classes but is afraid to celebrate the power of form and ignores mentoring - well, I'd advise my kids to go into the liberal arts first, and if they are still passioate about design after a good liberal arts program, then and only then would I let them enroll in a design course. Hopefully at this point they would be able to discern for themselves the programs where the teachers are pale shadows of their liberal arts collegues. Hopefull they would seek out true and passionate practitioners who actualy belive in something and that something is their work and practice.

I think if you actually implemented the CARE program, the students that would be designers would quickly be as bored as the teachers and all soon head off to study design medai art-making which pedagogically typically embraces exactly the format Mr. Siegal describes, precsiely because it's greatest social purpose is comment, not works.
Bernard Pez

The debate here confirms my belief that it is important for design educators to consider the following: 1. the diverse array of strengths/learning styles exhibited among students, 2. that students should be encouraged to understand their own comfort zones--conceptualizers will linger in the concept stage of a project, visualizers may jump too quickly to the formal stage--and 3. that students be encouraged to explore different strategies. CARE is a great strategy (it certainly speaks to MY comfort zone) but there are, as this debate reveals, many other fantastic approaches to design education.

As Xanthe comments above, a diversity of approaches is necessary to practically teach real people. Dmitri's process is succinct and smart, and with some of the elaborations mentioned above, a fine structure to work off of. But, as Bernard points out, get ready for the resistance-to-hostility that will come from students. If you're okay with low student evaluations, go to it. (Of course, some of this must be attributed to my personality irrespective of content.) Meanwhile, I struggle with lapsing into the curriculum-as-medicine impulse: forcing stuff down students throats because it's "good for them." While core principles are important, the ability to improvise seems vital. This doesn't mean abandoning those principles, or conning the students, but feeding responses back into the system.

Lastly, I'm bemused by (though not necessarily in disagreement with) Ellen's reaction to the CARE acronym, and the suggested student reaction. Is all public idealism gone? Or only its conversion into a program? What acronym might be better? Something "darker"? Something with an X in it?
Kenneth FitzGerald

Another thing that might be getting lost here is how most classes are often building blocks for other classes. And if teachers do not follow the curriculum in their class, then the students might not be taught something that later teachers are expecting them to know.

I clearly remember teaching class of (mostly) graduating seniors, and virtually none of them had been taught the grid system. I was absolutely shocked that something so fundamental, something that virtually all of us use on a daily basis, in the real world even, had not been imparted to them.

PS A *huge* thank you to Ms. Lorraine Wild for the suggestion about "Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University"! I will most definitely look into getting it, and I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know about it.
Greg Hay

Well this topic and the subsequent comments have really set some people off.

As Dmitri said above he wants his "appalling" acronym to be a clearly defined process at the core of design programs. That doesn't sound like a dismissive tone toward moving squares, circles and type around the page.

He isn't advocating for the riddance of form, but suggesting that the basis for solving complex communications problems is not at the root of every student.

True talent tends to stand out. Serviceable talents need other skill sets to make up for a lack of aesthetic ability. You professionals reading know what i mean.

You don't always hire the extraordinary talent with the clever, hip book. Nor do you not hire the thoughtful, fits your niche/mentality designer that is not flashy.

You either hire people to create solutions or solve problems.

The advocating for form seems irrelevant. Its what we do. We know the client doesn't want a thesis paper, but the purple swooshes mixed with a system font.

How many people could raise there hand and honestly say they had the perfect education and never use anything Dmitri outlined in his fantastic opinion.

Most of my students, when they enter the design program, have little to no vocabulary for expressing visual or typographical ideas. While I agree that research and conceptualization are critical, it must be remembered that one cannot compose a poem before one learns to read and write. Emphasizing formal issues in early classes such as typography gives students a language that can later be used to express ideas.
Jandos Rothstein

I'd like to pick up on one example that Bernard mentioned because it demonstrates precisely what I'm talking about. Cranbrook in the 80s was a concept-driven program. If you have any doubt read Katherine McCoy's own words. The McCoy's asked their students to wrestle with very difficult, often opaque literary theory. The form was informed by those texts and that led to innovation.

There is nothing anti-formal about trying to make students better communicators.
dmitri Siegel

one cannot compose a poem before one learns to read and write.

Oral tradition?

What we have here is an ancient argument about language, form being the language of graphic designers. Neil Postman opens his book Technopoly with an excerpt from Plato's Phaedrus in which
the Egyptian king, Thamus, is critiquing the invention
(or articulating his fear of the affect) of written language

...they students will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.

Here lies the danger in teaching form in isolation.

Ahsooo, but the McCoys had and still have a passion for the visual and the three dimensional and were constantly tinkering with their formulas over the years. The criticality, in essence, was geared towards the pursuit of form (didn't they start off as Swissies???)
Bernard Pez

While I applaud the thread of this post, I think it prudent to disagree on two points.

1. "There simply is not currently the infrastructure to train, nor the market to employ, design historians of the same caliber [as art historians]." There are plenty of opportunities for all sorts of scholars to research and write on design history topics. (The next Society of the History of Technology conference will have several papers on design history.) Perhaps the design profession needs to reevaluate what it considers viable histories of design?

2. Biographies are not necessarily histories. Art history, material culture studies, and visual culture studies, to name a few academic disciplines that are closely allied with design history, have long dispensed with the biography as a method of historical research and writing.
Michael J. Golec

Siegel suggestion is certainly an interesting one, it conveys different teaching modules together, it gives a wider perspective on training in graphic design, it focuses on literature.

While I think it would be interesting to develop Siegel's method and attempt to employ it in schools, I'm also aware of students own learning process. Normally teachers laid out courses based only on their own field of interest, it is no secret how not neutral are design schools, a group of modernist teachers will create a design course based or focused on modernism, a british typographer teaching at ulm started his foundation course teaching how to create and draw (great effort in technicalities) grids and lattices. he was interested in math and modules. While maldonado focuses on semiotics and philosophy. all under the spell of modern infrastructures. I'm not praising neutraility here, it is just not possible, it's like studying the physics of bodies whitout physical friction. Nor I'm praising the other side, whish to teach traditionalism.

What I'm trying to suggest is that even students don't absorb neutrally, one cannot expect an unconditional love from students, and I feel when a teacher complaint that his/her students are not attentive, it's certainly not the students fault, they criticize and comment, naively, they interact with history, especially they mirror themselves in it.

What I found is an interesting activity to propose is a basic (bare) discovery of formal complexities, preceded by a theorical, historic, evaluation of the subject you are going to study, and followed by critiques and comments. Creating a challenging everionment where they can interact between each other, not expecting a deus ex machina decision from the professor in charge, help cognitive abilities and improve vocabulary. In a way they rediscover history and formalize it in their own way.

(sorry for my english, I'm neither brithis nor american)

Bernard, I believe that Wolfgang Weingart is one of the Swiss (Cranbrook) catalysts you may be thinking of. As I was searching for a proper place to link him to I stumbled upon an interesting writing that briefly discusses form on Ellen Lupton's site:


Ryan Pescatore Frisk

This has been an interesting thread for me -- I'm currently a graphic design student and formerly a teacher and school administrator.

In my teaching experience, the nature of one's plan for the year was not as important as the rationale behind the plan. History can be taught as a march of decades or as chronologies of separate subjects (such as art or design). Some things can be emphasized, depending on the instructor's expertise and enthusiasms, others de-emphasized.

Students will react better to a method that has the confidence of the instructor, and it's good for the instructor to explain the underlying rationale to the students.

On the first day of class, I always told my U.S. History students that if I uttered the words "Millard Fillmore" I would be wasting both their time and mine. I told them I'd rather that they understood societal principles than recite trivia, and that the Quiz Bowl coach was not happy with this approach.

Whichever way it's taught, the human stories that lead to historical events (and flow from them) bring the past to life and help put it in the perspective of today's students.

I'm quite pleased with my graphic design instruction thus far. The instructors have had backgrounds in design careers, and have been able to bring that experience to bear in the classroom. They've explained why they've designed their courses as they have, and described what they want students to achieve.

I know that they can hand me a flashlight and a map, but eventually I have to explore on my own. (Which is essentially how I came to find Design Observer!)
Charles H. Bryan

I realize that a web blog has a certain desire to be provocative in order to foster discussion posting and traffic, but I am troubled, no, amused, at the writing of a manifesto in 2006. In fact, God bless him, I think the irony that someone young like Dimitri is advocating a manifesto should not go unnoticed. This is not meant as a slight, to have accomplished so much at such a young age, and in such a short time after Yale, should be recognized. But I am wondering where the need to implement a codified learning process is coming from?

Elsewhere on DO (specifically, Michael Bierut's post on Paul Rand, "The Sins of St. Paul" May 12, 2004; and Lorraine Wild's post on Beatrice Warde, "Wassup, Beatrice" July 5, 2006 *sorry, the method for posting href tags are unclear to me*), critics have noted the problems and anachronism associated with the dubious positivism of manifestoes or codified learning processes (as opposed to learning experiences, which is what Bernard Pez notes so succinctly above about Yale, Cranbrook, CalArts, et al.)

Is this a sign of a emerging neo-conservatism among a younger generation of theorists? (And I have to admit that Dimitri is younger than I am).
David Cabianca

I think I'm not far from true if I say that there is a small group of young designers, to contextualize them between 30 and 40 years old, who believe thinking is prior to designing, mental processes are prior to physical artifacts, literature is prior to design, constraints are prior to freedom, historical and geographical context is prior to individual talent, why is prior to how, finally, knowing comes before doing.

The act of thinking in advance of making (cf. Jandos Rothstein and db) is symptomatic of inductive reasoning; and its corollary, to make first and then interpret the results (cf. Ryan Pescatore Frisk) is symptomatic of deductive reasoning. Neither form of thought process is better than the other, they are just different--but they can have different outcomes.

Problems arise, however, when a student (or anyone, for that matter) who is a deductive reasoner is forced to work inductively, and vice versa.
David Cabianca

thinking is prior to designing, mental processes are prior to physical artifacts, literature is prior to design, constraints are prior to freedom, historical and geographical context is prior to individual talent, why is prior to how, finally, knowing comes before doing

I agreee with the jist of this comment and further feel that it is soo post modern, soo not post-critical...which may be why some on this thread think it oh so conservative.
Bernard Pez

Can you clarify Bernard? db was saying that there are others who think this way. Do you agree with "them" or agree with her assessment of them? Are you saying that "they" are conservative or that db (and you?) are being called conservative?


I'd also like to respond to the political tone of David's post. I know that "everything is political" (clever use of that phrase could almost get you a BA when I was an undergrad) but using words like neo-conservative, and manifesto seems like a bit of a stretch for a piece about design education. However, since you cast it in those terms: I take almost as much issue with being likened to William Kristol as I do with the false choice between relativism and neo-conservatism that you present. From what I understand there was a time when progressive people (even liberal people) were known to present ideas in a declarative way rather than earnestly equivocating on behalf of everyone's precious individuality. Design education should be responsive to the individual and help students to find their own voice but that doesn't mean setting them adrift with nothing but platitudes like, "We're all just different." to guide them. As soon as it becomes "conservative" to state something clearly, the left is dead. Or should I say, until it is once again considered progressive to advocate for progress the left will remain marginalized. Two great books on the topic of the Left and language: Talking Right... by Geoffrey Nunberg and Afflicted Powers by Retort.

btw: I wish I felt as young as you make me sound!
dmitri siegel

Jus' being a bit cheeky. But in all earnestness, the use of an acronym to convey a concept is a tool employed all too often in marketing and business to create an easily digestible form. Perhaps its use here--where I was not expecting it--is what made me smile (after all, someone has to take the conservative position or life would be dull). Still, I was not sure if its use here was one of appropriation or not.

In the case of this blog, I think that the concepts that are being conveyed require greater subtlety than an acronym allows, which is not to imply that the writer is not capable of such writing. The posting is certainly provocative. I don't advocate a relativist position. I do think that balance and a contextual understanding are important.
David Cabianca

I must apologize for my harsh statement about young designer previously posted. If not only for the quickness and the feeling one cannot help to avoid of a narrow-minded person exploiting the circumstances of an anonymous blog to exercise his/her own right to speak, or better to type. As I confusingly tried to explain in my first post, I applaud Siegel attempt to shape a teaching program that focuses on a critical approach to design and have its starting point, to say it crudely, in literature, even though one can be skeptical of words like concept, conceptualizing, conceptualization. What I've tried to add instead, was latent to his proposal, it is somehow related to the rhetoric of neutrality, which is a common figure in several intellectual essays and modern forms of design, but, as we all know, an impossible achievement. To further it, not neutral teaching is followed, or equals, not neutral learning. This, in the light of a critical approach to graphic design is all but wished for. Therefore, and this concluded my short comment of before, a need for basic exercises to discover formal complexities instead of long term projects that usually imply a sacred feeling, and often lost themselves in the journey. One might not see the connection between neutrality and basic exercises, to explain it I shall quote calvino: 'we have been offered the chance to say everything, in every possible way; and we have to end up saying one particular thing in a particular way.' Six memos for the next millennium.

What might be confusing, especially related to the following comment/statement about young designers, is the meaning of neutrality and the impossibility of it. One might say it is a post modern approach, related to the american new wave of deconstructionism, figures like lupton and mccoy. It is the very opposite indeed. I'm not selling neutrality for relativism, more I tried to switch from a general idea of neutrality to critical contextualism, to a common sense marvelously explained by kinross in his essay 'fellow readers'. The statement I expressed is to be viewed under this light, it is not a circle of sophisticated people who are not interested in the real world, more a group who want to see where they are and why, to attend real issues.

Very eloquent comments db. I think the issue of neutrality is a fascinating, rich topic that deserves its own thread.

For the record I am not an academic isolated in a sophisticated circle. I teach a little but I work every day (when I am not blogging). I make things for a living. My feelings about design education are based on my limited but all too real experience working as a designer and art director. What I see is that creative decisions are made in conversation, not in isolation. Form is almost always the result of discussions between client, creative director, junior designer, etc. Students have to learn to be effective in these exchanges if they want to have any success in this decision-making nexus. From what I have seen, clear articulation is incredibly effective in these conversations--but this is not exclusively verbal articulation, a clear visual presentation is essential.

Most clients come to a designer with some content or message they are trying to communicate. The client-facing designer has to be able to understand and digest that message and then they have to communicate it to junior designers. Those designers have figure out how to give that message a form that matches the client's goal. The lead designer has to communicate and guide the junior designers. When this communication is good the design process can be very efficient. When there is bad communication, it is bad for business. So how do we bring that communication into design education without sacrificing formal training? This is the question that led me to write CARE.
dmitr siegel

These posts get long. They get hard to follow in their subtleties and nuances and shadings of language and need for common definitions. Dimitri asked me to explain my comment about the post-critical or as it is sometimes described, the "projective", and clarify my position, i.e whether I agree with it or not. I of course agree with everything that is smart and/or challenging and disagree with everything that is ill formed or boring.

Somol and Whiting write in "Notes Around the Doppler Effect and Other Moods of Modernism" in Perspecta 33, "Mining Autonomy" that, "...disciplinarity has been absorbed and exhausted by the project of criticality." They further state that "...it may be neccessary to provide an alternative to the now dominant paradigm of criticality, an alternative that will be characterized...as projective." They go on to further state that..."(a) projective architecture does not shy away fom reinstating architectural definition, but that definition stems from design (the act?, again my italics) and its effects rather than a language of means and materials." They also state that, "(d)esign encompases object qualities (form, proportion, materiality, composition, etc.) but it also includes qualities of sensibility, such as effect, ambiance, and atmosphere." Now when they wrote this they were probably in their 30s. Now they are probably in their 40s. Most of the people who project this position are in their 30s and 40s. It is a generational thing.

My sense is that this is an approach that many young designers do follow, both explicitly or subconsciously (this is another topic probably far more interesting than this one), and it prioritizes form and effect as a first basis for the design act before process and certainly before criticality in the post-modern Jamsonian sense. Indeed criticallity for these writers and designers may not have any rich purpose at all. My sense is that in a continuum of positions, Dimitri has based his method on an older tradfition of criticality and while I would not dispute its usefulness I do wonder if it short shrifts contemporary potentials for the role of form in pedogogy and opportunities of talking effectively to younger designers, who are inclined to have this inclination, without boring them. Times have changed whether we like it or not. This is why I describe this position, i.e. CARE, as conservative, as it seems to be hatched to stabilize a recognized pedagogical position that is ill formed in many graphic design programs.

I would not make the claim as some others have that believing in criticality is a socially conservative or politically conservative position. On the other hand I would be embarresed to claim it as progressive or liberal.

On another note, I went back and reread McCoy's piece as linked by Dimitri to this thread. This piece mainly is an argument for design certification and accredidation of graphic design programs and further a call for recognizing the role of a liberal education in the development of a designer. Hard to disagreee with the latter though I do wonder about the former. I can just imagine how valuable that design certificate is whn you go to hatch a global brand strategy. I do not think McCoy ever mentions Cranbrook per se in the piece or the curriculum there or the way it transformed from the 70's to the 80's to the 90's while the McCoy's were there. For sure they read texts but why?

I would still argue that love of form underlay all the mutations of this program and that it is the love of form, as amply "projected" by the McCoys, that needs to be conveyed first and foremost in any design curricullum, if students are to remain engaged.
Bernard Pez

"Dimitri has based his method on an older tradition of criticality and while I would not dispute its usefulness I do wonder if it short shrifts contemporary potentials for the role of form in pedagogy and opportunities of talking effectively to younger designers, who are inclined to have this inclination, without boring them. Times have changed whether we like it or not."

Mr.Pez said times have changed, did they change for better or worse? In italy there is and association called Ministero della Grafica, they put forward a manifesto of their beliefs. The first point, which semantically gives the structure to the rest, reads: 'in the society of image, image is important', it is almost a loss. To look up in the italian dictionary Devoto-Oli one find 4 different groups of significance for immagine: the external shape of corporeal objects perceived through sight; the figure or appearance that can be reproduced or compared with; visible manifestation, even partial or incomplete, of an immaterial and abstract entity in itself; configuration carried out inside mnemonic, fantastic or affective field. Latent aspects of the word image can be identify with the ideas of an immaterial copy of a physical object; of a more or less adequate description of a greater concept. It is muddling indeed, what it is quite clear reading these definitions instead is that they all refer to unreality as an indispensable and essential condition to come to fully understand the word image. Thus, the MdG cultural manifesto first point can be read as: in an unreal society, unreality is important.

Should we accept it or try different hypothesis, at least attempt a rearrangement, especially in schools where students are usually more open to ideas? I believe Pez idea of doing is far more related to a talentuos idea of the designer figure, a person who, through his/her skills, can give a valuable aura to a designed matter. It is a fashinating position for designers, it brings on individualism, and, more importantly, it gives the designer a position that might look necessary to the world. I think this is the main point, if we liberate ourselves from illusions then we may be available to be challenged with real issues. Critics is all about it.

If I am understanding the translation, Mr. DB feels that criticality matters - to him at least. I would never dispute anyone's right to be critical, especially on a blog. However, criticality with regard to the creative act can be before, can be after, can be iterative, but I at least would claim can not be simultaneous to making - in one small sense this is part of what post-criticality addresses - the difference between criticism as a form unto itself and that sometime parallel activity, the production of effects/the act of design.

Clearly you need both; I just don't think they occur at the same moment in time and designing a curricullum based with an undue emphasis (perhaps even this generalization is a bit unfair to CARE) on criticality may lead to the unfortunate killing of the golden design goose - or at least the terminal boredom of present students who are wary of criticallity as just one more strategy that positions the teacher in a dominant role over the student. Perhaps, and I mean this gently, CARE too easily plays into this dynamic by packaging intellectual process in an easy to consume package; i.e buy it you'll like it but like many things you buy, once the wrapping paper comes off you may get quickly bored. That is why there needs to be some aspect of love. I at least never get bored with love somewhere in the mix, or the McCoys.

As to my opinion; as I said, whether I agree or not with the post-critical is besides the point; it's a fact of the times. I feel the page has turned forever on the post-modern-critical moment and we have entered a new era that demands evolved methodologies.
Bernard Pez

dear Mr. Pez, could you give us exaples of new methologies? I'm really interested in this. I understand your point. Perhaps your rejection on critical work it's because so many intellectuals have worked in a sterile way on it. Pompous theories with no connection to reality, or to actual printed matters. Which I'm not denying them, they exist, we have to deal with them. And of course they are a vital part of the process. But more now, since we explained our different point of view and hardly we'll change them on a blog basis, I would like to read about new methodolgies. Thank you

Mr. db,

I am just a lonely blogger. To my limited knowledge, not much has been formally methodologized (sic). For now it is best to consider it as "post-criticalnesss".

Post-critically yours,

Bernard Pez

I find it ironic that this "post-criticality" requires such a laborious and jargon-filled explanation. If you really want to be post-critical you have to give up the obfuscating, dialectical writing style of critical theory. Otherwise "Post-criticality" is just the latest trend in the academy. That's why I tried to write CARE so that a 12 year old could understand it. If you want to read a critique of critical theory that does not adopt its means check out Bruno Latour's article "Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?"
Dmitri Siegel

Dimitri is correct about falling into the trap of obfuscating language but likewise the smoothness and digestability of CARE is also a trap - if not a brand or comfort food - promising education as a packaged processed product to be consumed in the pages and halls - if there are any - of the "Learning Annex".
Bernard Pez

If you can't explain it to a five-year-old, give it up.

Joe Moran

I've come late to this subject, but I wanted to add a few points.

First, I'm totally unconvinced by the need for designers to develop research skills - or, for that matter, to learn design history. Going back to the cooking metaphor I brought in elsewhere (in relation to MB's post), would it be a benefit for student chefs to learn how to use primary and secondary sources, or to write a dissertation? Does knowing what Escoffier believed a good sauce was help you produce a tastier meal? I think the whole issue of research in design education exists because of the integration of design teaching into academic institutions (and the interests of design programmes in achieving academic 'respectability') and has precious little to do with what practitioners actually need. At best, a knowledge of design history seems to make designers more sophisticated plagiarists.

Second, there doesn't seem to be enough linkage between graphic design and communication in general. Contextual studies programmes that focus on semiotics, or on communication theory, don't seem to help designers understand how human communication really works - they are too abstract, too academic, and the ideas are too difficult to integrate into practice. Graphic designers need to learn to recognise what works - why we like to listen to some people, but not others, why one poster catches our attention but we can't even remember another, why one web page hooks us in yet another leaves us skimming. The models need to be simpler, more rooted in everyday experience, more immediately transferable. I believe if a designer understands what makes someone a good conversationalist, they know pretty much everything about communication that is going to be useful to them (furthermore, they are unlikely ever to be a bore, which must be a further plus ;-).

Thirdly, although we know that creativity consists in large part in the ability to detach from categories and conventions and reconceive things in new ways, the structure of design education tends to do exactly the opposite - to reinforce existing categories, distinctions, ways of thinking. This is particularly so because of the power relations between students and staff. In the old atelier system, where an apprentice learned by contact with a master, the relationship was based on respect for ability and experience and on the value to the master of bringing out the talent of the apprentice. In modern design education, tutors don't expose their work to their students for judgment - they have the power to judge without the corresponding openness to judgment. They don't have to prove that what they are teaching is effective, in demand, or economically viable. Instead, their 'authority' comes from the fact they have the power to award grades, not because of any respect for their abilities. Furthermore there is a vested interest in preserving this distance - they aren't looking to the student to marry their daughter, take over their business and look after them in their old age. In other words, there is no requirement for love - which, to my mind at least, is the indispensible element in all real teaching and learning.
James Souttar

If you combine the last two remarks of Joe Moran and James Souttar, what you get is a reductive and infantilized notion of design education and designers themselves. It seems to me that the idea that design history is unnecessary is based either on a completely opportunistic analysis (which is evident in Dmitri's post, which sort of says that if a school can't find, or won't pay for, someone to teach design history, then it must not be important) or the idea that design history is just a bunch of names and dates irrelevant to the needs of everyday practice. Clearly those are attitudes one could bring to wipe design history off of the curriculum, but what a loss. How can it be unimportant to use design history to illuminate the ideas and methodologies that have motivated designers and their patrons or clients, and connect that to the larger historical context? The importance of this collective memory seems so obvious: why should young designers be made to feel as if they are operating in a vacuum? To whose advantage is it to keep them ignorant of the past? The same goes for the issue of research. Only a designer who is hell-bent on retaining the position of the hired hand would think that knowing how to use research, for ones' own work or that of commissioned projects is superfluous. Or if we really want to stick to work that only 5 year olds can understand, then I guess that old intuition is more than enough!
Another shibboleth is the issue of the working faculty and power relationships between faculty and students; I may not hang my professional work up for student critique, but do I think for one minute that students don't track (and critique remorselessly) the work that I and any other of their faculty produces out in the world? If you think students are that dim, then either you are teaching at a place with pretty low acceptance standards, or you have not been teaching in a while. But also, to insist that a teacher legitimacy is soley based on their outside work (a) says that teaching design is of only secondary importance, and design education isnt important enough to devote real time and energy to, and (b )denies the fact that design practice is has enlarged to contain many more types of activities and approaches and specialities that go beyond conventional definitions of commision-based professional practice. I've been a design educator long enough that I can still remember the constant whining—or boasting— by older designers who had not gone to design school (because they did not really exist), claiming that it was somehow not necessary for anyone. I guess that makes the opinions of the posters I cite above (who I admit I am assuming are young enough to have gone to design school) very "old school" but in ways that are depressing and pretty dismissive of the potential of younger designers.
lorraine wild

My CARE-fully worded Retort,

Let me explain the comment I made about making something so simple a five-year-old could understand it ... so that a five-year-old could understand it ... I hope.

Should I have to stop someone in mid-conversation and go look up "methodologized" or "postmodern" just so I can follow their idea or the conversation? Has anyone else been in this situation? Unknown acronyms, job-specific phrases, "new speak?"

If teaching someone a new idea is the goal, shouldn't it be related in the most understandable language in the first place?

If I CARE to -- I can explain to a youth or anyone that cares -- that Mr. Siegel's idea "CARE" is: thinking about, speaking about, looking ( about ) at stuff that has been done in the past and then doing stuff based on the three previous notions. ( At least as I humbly understand it.)

So, I completely agree that CARE the acronym/idea is a great idea for educating young ( and old ) designers.

I think that if someone has to use hard to understand words to explain their point of view that its "bad" or at least counterproductive.

Also, I think people learn better if ideas are told to them in terms they already know.

And hey, I'm not a licensed educator or accredited teacher. I just know how I learn things. I'm pretty dense -- like a five-year-old. But who CAREs about me?

Joe Moran

Dear Mr. Moran,

Humility (honest simplicity) is a virtue (a type of truth) but, am I really supposed to think that you do not know what "postmodern" means? Some forty years after the fact is this really "new speak"? If this is indeed the case for you, and I trust it is, I hope you will make the time to attend or design for yourself a CARE-fully constructed program, or perhaps, if you are already through with design education, at least an enrichment course at your local university, or, as a last resort watch one of those late night programs like the Daily Show or the Colbert Report, or even read your local newspaper.

I have found that ideas like "postmodernism" have become ubiquitous (present everywhere) in society, and are discussed as an organic (natural) part of daily life. If all else fails, choose some new design friends who are passionate (really care) about talking about design. By osmosis (the natural process by which things are absorbed) I anticipate (have an expectation that something will occur) that you will be an even more acute (sharp) participant the next time you contribute your august (lofty) thoughts to this blog (an internet based journal) — you'll be able to describe not only your ruminations (thoughts) but the context (as in world of ideas and facts and noting of your relationship to those ideas and facts in terms of your own background and predjudices (biases) that shaped your thoughts.

Post-modernly yours,
John Kaliski

Mr. Kaliski,

Good one.

Joe Moran

Lorraine, if I had wanted to show up some of the limitations of academia, I could hardly have done better than to provoke a distinguished academic to begin her response with what is effectively an insult.

Be this as it may, perhaps I can extend my 'reductive' and 'infantile' notions by touching a bit more on what I see as some of the issues about teaching design history (and academic research skills) to designers.

First, I have no problem with design history per se - it seems to be a perfectly valid subject for historians, and something that might be of interest to many others as well. I do have a problem, however, with the fact that design - as we conceive of it in our narrow North American/Northern European way - has hardly any history to speak of, and that what little it does have tends to be taught in a highly selective and ideological way. In fact Design History turns out to be mainly the history of one culturally chauvinistic design ideology: modernism (along with its late-modern, 'postmodern', elaborators). It also selectively emphasizes aspects of this history, to perpetuate the myth of the 'modern' designer, in a way that would hardly be acceptable in other branches of historical enquiry.

Why do we want designers to learn this stuff? Is it because there is a lobby within design education that wants to own the personal development of designers, cramming it full of critical theory, obscure French philosophy and 'Material Culture'? Ideas that are utterly tired almost everywhere else - and of about as much relevance to everyday life as Trigonometry and Latin declensions - live on in BA Graphic Design courses the world over.

Instead of filling up the 'contextual' parts of design programmes with these kinds of things, why don't we give graduates something they are going to thank us for (especially since many are paying dearly for their education)? Useful knowledge like how client organisations work, what marketeers are talking about, the cognitive bases of communication or a foundation of social psychology? Is it really a disaster if a graphic designer doesn't know who Barthes or Walter Benjamin were, or hasn't been browbeaten with the (hystrionically propagandist) Russian Constructivists?

And why are designers singled out for this treatment, seemingly alone amonst professions? Do we need attorneys who can lecture us on 18th century torts, or accountants who can 'deconstruct' double entry bookkeeping with reference to Derrida? We have distinguished Business Schools that don't offer a single course in the History of Management, and Science Departments whose graduates have never heard of Thomas Kuhn. But poor designers, who will be lucky if they ever manage to earn even half of any of these others, come out of Colleges weighed down with a load of useless, pointless intellectual baggage.
james souttar

Oh, please, Mr. Souttar. I was going to ask you to name names of actual members of this lobby you describe, but instead, I'll settle for this: show me one graphic design undergraduate that you can prove is actually weighed down by too much intellectual baggage, and I'll eat my own...syllabus.
lorraine wild

Ms. Wild,

Please don't try to eat your syllabuses. It will cause great gastrointestinal ( belly ) problems.

Joe Moran

design - as we conceive of it in our narrow North American/Northern European way - has hardly any history to speak of

This statement is particularly true if you do not know history nor have studied it.

Is it really a disaster if a graphic designer doesn't know who Barthes or Walter Benjamin were, or hasn't been browbeaten with the (hystrionically propagandist) Russian Constructivists?

The only thing sadder than someone who has not studied history is someone who has been taught history but does not understand it nor it's limitations, nor uses. History is memory, history makes us human, its non-presence in a design curricullum would suggest that design is not a completely human activity, and those that would argue against history, much less design history, would seem to be arguing for a position that is less than human. This is indeed an infantile position to maintain and thank you Ms. Wild for dishing it out so that the rest of us could eat it up.
Bernard Pez

Mr. Souttar,

your post is completely wrong, not only by generalizing history as one blob of unuseful informations that will not raise your salary, but also by picking names and theories here and there (do you want to show you know what you're talking about?) and try to apply them in a coffee table fashion canversation over design matters as to prove they wont work. well, it is not this simple.

Forgive me for coming to this late, but I wish to add a writing excerpt from the Princeton Weekly when I was a graduate student in 1995. I kept it and have (all too) frequently referred to it when I encounter an anti-intellectual attitude in graphic design education. It was a one-page editorial to which I find myself still in agreement. Princeton President Shapiro wrote on the definition of and need for a liberal arts education. He identifies 3 particular educational needs that illustrate why a liberal arts education is pertinent:

i) The need—in order to better understand ourselves and contemporary times—to discover and understand the great traditions of thought that have informed the minds, hearts and deeds of those who came before us. After all, despite the distinctiveness of ourselves and our own times we are a part of a larger and deeper stream of human experience. Whatever the shortcomings of our predecessors—and there were many—and however limited the surviving remnants of their efforts, they remain a great source of inspiration and understanding as long as we do not deify any particular aspect of this valuable inheritance.

ii) The need to free our minds and hearts from unexamined commitments to received notions (authority of all types) in order to consider new possibilities (including new "authorities") that might enhance both our own lives and—more broadly—the human condition and build our sympathetic understanding of others quite different from us.

iii) The need to prepare all thoughtful citizens for an independent life of choice that appreciates the connectedness of things and peoples. This involves not only the capacity to make moral and/or political choices that will give our individual and joint lives greater and more complete meaning but an understanding of how the world works and the capacity to distinguish between logical and illogical arguments.

—Harold Shapiro, "Liberal Education—What is it? What is it for?" Princeton Alumni Weekly, Mar 1, 1995.
David Cabianca

Hello All!

I've been a casual reader of Design Observer for some time now and have never had a reason to repond to postings until now. I think that the rantings posed here are quite a bit over the top - ludicrous, in fact. This is the exact kind of design snobbery that has permeated our area of expertise for many years now and has resulted in the defection of many clients for all of us. They simply don't want to hear this type of garbage - they want the results that they cannot create for themselves. In the absence of a design studio that can talk at their level rather than down to them, many clients will bring the work "in house" and settle for whatever lousy work can be squeezed out of system fonts and Microsoft Office. Your flowery, snobby rhetoric is turning off the people who pay for your Bruce Mau books.

When you place design on a pedestal too high for most to reach, it receives nary a glance. While today's consumer is becoming more design aware due to the efforts of companies like Apple, Target, MINI and Motorola, the efficiency of the product has overshadowed the design to the average person, rendering the design aspects invisible to all but the awards judges.

If you want to improve the quality of all types of design that are out there, you guys need to cut the crap and get off the pedestal. The problems inherent with designers and clients alike are much simpler than you think.

Let me explain further. I spent ten years as the Senior Art Director for the NBA - not exactly the place where you'd find High Design, but a place to create fun projects that people could use and enjoy - not a bad way to make a living.

Now, I run my own graphic design program at the high school level - yes, the high school level. Not some hotsy-totsy design school, not Yale or RISD or The School of Visual Arts (my alma mater). You want to talk about a rough ride - at least at the college level the students have chosen to go to design school and are somewhat willing participants. At high school, you have to take some of them kicking and screaming at first. But it only takes me a couple of weeks to soothe their feathers and get them productive. Want to know how? Some of it references the original CARE posting that Mr. Siegel wrote.

I was asked to take over the traditional graphic arts program at the local high school and bring it into the 21st century. I took this charge very seriously and saw that there might be a way to get us out of this design trough that I think is so pervasive today. I rewrote the curriculum(s) to reflect what I observed was the most lacking feature of the program - that students had lost the ability and opportunity to "make". These kids are so used to downloading everything - music, photographs, videos, games - that by the time they reach high school, most of them have lost the ability to make anything on their own. We have an excellent fine arts program, but most of the benefits of that program have no parallel in the real world of business that many of these students will be thrust into within the decade.

So, I use the program to educate students on all sorts of design subjects - typography, product design, package design, posters, logos, etc. - so that they have a well-rounded introduction to what is involved in the creative process. I'm not trying to churn out designers, I'm trying to give these guys an education into what it is like on the other side of the table so that when they are doctors, lawyers, CEOs, they will have a greater appreciation for what is involved in the process of "making".

Most of my students can't draw more than a stick figure (which makes them as highly qualified as most Creative Directors). But even though I have the additional hurdle of teaching them how to use Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, I still make them take pencil to paper and sketch me out their ideas on templates I provide. I can tip my hat to Richard Wilde at SVA for providing us with countless templates to sketch on. I think that taking pencil to paper is a valuable lesson for the students and most of them get over their fears quite easiy when they find out that I am not grading them on their artistic talents but rather on their ideas and concepts.

The students work on project-based assignments, just as if they were in a design studio. They have soft and hard deadlines, they need to create thumbnail sketches for some projects and they need to produce a final product. In May of last year, I hosted the school's first annual Design Show, which proved to be a huge hit and for which I am doubling the size of this year. My advanced students will get a crash course in environmental design when I ask them to design the show. I suppose I'll need to break out the Bruce Mau books and show them samples of the Yale show...

You may stick up your nose at what I'm trying to do, but the fact of the matter is that some of these kids are doing truly great work and while Paula Scher may not ever hire them, she might have an easier time working with them as clients when that time comes in their chosen careers.

Design is big business and the smart companies are lining up on the design bandwagon. But I'm still seeing alot of crap. I'm trying to give my students a jump on the crowd by introducing them to design at an early stage. This means teaching them about design history and even the possible future. If they ever choose to go to Yale, RISD or SVA, I hope that the design academia will have fallen off their high horse and remember that what we do is supposed to be for the people, not the judges. In 20 years as a designer, I've never entered a design competition for the sole reason that I would never accept a design award from anyone who would give it to me. You've gotta love Groucho. He had fun. Money, too.
Joe Schwartz

Mr. Kaliski,

Tonight I remembered your caustic comment directed at me from this thread.

I forgot to ask you for your definition of Post Modern.

Could you please keep it to one or two sentences? And keep in mind I may want to read it to a five-year-old?

Very Respectfully,
Joe Moran

Folow up:

Funny comment (I laughed my butt off), but caustic.


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