Redesigning [Graphic] Design Education

Posted April 5, 2012

Redesigning [Graphic] Design Education

We recently held a Redesigning [Graphic] Design Education day at Derby University. We brought together practitioners, theorists, students and educators for a 7-hour design project: to reshape graphic design education for the 21st century.

Heres what Jottas Design Director, Jane Trustram thought of R[G]DE:

Subjective review is a large part of the assessment of work, in both education and industry, and it’s almost impossible to ignore the fact that one person’s beauty is another person’s beast, and vice versa. Speaker Adrian Shaughnessy’s  provocation that ‘in design, taste is more important than science’ ignited the flame for discussion around the procedures by which work is assessed and what can change to make assessment more productive.

Universities are obsessed with assessment. Why do we spend so much time measuring? Assessment, as it is, with its predefined tick-box structure, creates boundaries and hinders excellence. Students should be set free, encouraged and enable to build dialogue around their projects and allowed to fail.

In the ‘real world’, i.e. industry, there’s no pass or fail. Well there is fail, and that can have serious repercussions, but there’s no pat on the back end of project ‘pass’. It’s expected. Does that have the potential for a new model in education? Fail or nothing. Fail or learn from your experiences in the last project and apply them to the next. Fail or carry on doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway. Fail or continue doing what you love. Because that’s why we all do this, right?

Rebecca Wright, course director of graphic design at Kingston University, asserted that ‘graphic design never exists on its own, it’s always about something’.

Rather than teaching graphic design as a field, should we be teaching ‘intent.’ Self-confessed optimist Wright suggests we reconsider our intentions in design. What are we designing for? Democracy? Emergencies? Regeneration? Fun? What are we designing against? Apathy? Crime? Boredom?

All design has a purpose: students should be encouraged to seek out their orientation in relation to the rest of the world. In discussion, the subject of collaborative communities came up, not just within graphic design education and with the creative industries but students proposed the idea of placements in non-creative businesses, in service industries. How can students identify possibilities for design thinking in the wider world, with the added potential of commercial opportunities?

Frustration was vented at the chameleon-like nature of the term ‘graphic design’ and the frivolous adopting of other disciplines’ critical thinking, rehashing it into a graphic design context.

Colin Davies, head of the School Art and Design at the University of Bedfordshire, lamented the lack of acknowledgement of graphic design history, both from education and from industry and questioned ‘how can we have an identity if we have no history?’ and so, ‘how can we educate people if we have no identity? What are we teaching people?’

Defining the field is a conversation to be had, and an advancement of our position, looking to both the past and the future. It is an opportunity for students and tutors to exchange knowledge and contribute equally to the discussion. Hierarchical barriers should be dissolved and a shared learning experience should emerge.

Finally, design educator and writer John Thackara looked at ‘why things don’t change.’

The world is awash with messages but it is starved of meaning. Graphic design is a process and it is an outcome but the way we can ensure that the product of these two elements is through action.

Advertising does it well, but as a discipline should we encourage more aggravators? Should we be actively teaching how to use modern communication platforms effectively? The Kony video came up as an example of a message inciting action, whether it’s to ‘like’ it on Facebook, donate some money or meet in the dead of night and plaster your city with stickers. Or is that message bigger? Is it to fight for what you believe in? Whichever, it demands action.

The Redesigning [Graphic] Design Education conference came about because the belief in the power of a message to incite an action. The message: graphic design education is at risk of becoming stagnant and irrelevant. Let’s start interrogating it before it gets too late. The action? Fifty course leaders, tutors, students and industry professionals probing, turning established educational models on their heads and suggesting alternatives to collaboratively and effectively lead the way in how positive change can define our industry and drive it forwards by seeding it with well informed, well educated new graphic design recruits.

Jane Trustram — 
Design Director, Jotta

Thanks to conference co-funders Higher Education Academy.Thanks also to Team Leaders: Jane Trustram, Dr. Paul Wilson, Matt Edgar and Jamie Steane.
Finally, thanks to Ross Fletcher, Matt King and Karen for their help and support.
© Thoughtful Studios 2016