As an educator, I believe it is my fundamental duty to help students become capable writers, speakers and critical thinkers—as well as designers. Not only do I want to prepare them for careers in design (be it working for a firm, starting their own freelance business, or going on to graduate school), but I also want to instill in them a passion and enthusiasm for the discipline as a whole. I believe exposing students to many different voices, methods, techniques, design examples and relevant historical context is a critical part of their education. Through this plurality students can find their unique process, critical perspective, and voice.
I approach the classroom as a collaborative expert—engaging and challenging my students to frame their own opinions about their work, the work of their peers, and the work of professionals. Acting as a guide, I ask my students to form these opinions and ideas about design: and then I push them to actively question and critically assess those ideas. I strive to facilitate and foster an open studio atmosphere to help students share with and learn from each other—creating the conditions for collaborative creative work, and active discourse. And, while my expertise in graphic design is significant, I understand that being an expert in this field is something one must continuously work toward—my design education and professional development will never really be finished. I hope my work and ideas will inspire my students, and that in turn, their work and ideas will inspire me, creating a feedback loop. The connections and insights that occur in such a collaborative studio atmosphere can be both meaningful and powerful—and can help lay the foundations for collaborative work far beyond the classroom.
Empathy and context are two of the most important tools in a designer’s box—and while these elements can take a lifetime to understand and master, I believe even beginning design students benefit from a thorough discussion of how both relate to each of their projects. Grasping and actively defining (and refining) empathy and context help students think about issues and elements that go much deeper than mere aesthetics. These concepts can also be used as creative brainstorming techniques through the use of metaphors, extreme users, mash-ups, personas, and subversion. Assessment of design students’ work can be tricky (the perceived subjectivity of aesthetics is always an issue)—but I believe the use of engaging project briefs, reflective writing assignments, rigorous critiques and critical assessment, and open discussions about content and technique can create an environment in which students are set up for success. I endeavor to present clear rubrics for the expectations of the course at the beginning of each semester, giving the students a clear and articulated road map to follow. Furthermore, I work to facilitate an open, flexible and positive relationship with my students, encouraging them to discuss any problems with me early on. I believe consistent and frequent feedback supports students in an essential way in the beginning stages of their design education.
Technology is an obvious and trusted companion for the graphic design educator—not only is it necessary for the students to master (along with fundamental hand skills, an understanding of where our craft has come from, and core theoretical concepts)—but it is a ubiquitous part of young peoples’ lives. The savvy educator will harness the power of the internet, online class components like blogs and forums, and the affordances of chat software to not only engage students but to also speak their high-tech language. As an enthusiast of new technology and software, I hope to use current tools in experimental and innovative ways in the studio classroom, continually pushing my expertise to evolve as modes and mediums evolve.
Experimentation and thinking through making can be a valuable part of a student’s process—by encouraging students to try on different methods of working, I try to help them find a process that allows them to both think through the problem at hand and effectively make in an iterative and consistent way. Asking students to be aware of how they work, as much as what they have produced, is a crucial part of helping them determine best practices for themselves.
Finally, I am a firm believer in the power of interdisciplinarity. Design can be connected to everything else in the world in many different ways—content is not just a meaningless and malleable element to be contained within a striking design. I encourage my students to find connections to design within their other courses, other interests and hobbies outside of school. By promoting the importance of comprehending context and audience, I help my students understand that great design generally starts with the content and finds a way to effectively (efficiently, delightfully, powerfully) communicate that content to someone else. I believe that today’s designers are often just one expert on a panel of many experts. Part of this changing role is to know how to work with others from very different backgrounds and disciplines. I like to present students with projects that ask them to alternatively create their own content (based on a main idea or premise), and receive or extract content from an “outside” source. I believe this method equips students with the ability to work with clients and companies, and to successfully create self-initiated work—whether they are working one-on-one, or are part of a large interdisciplinary team.