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I challenge my students to research design history and to place themselves in that history to understand the connections between culture and design in order to have a deeper understanding of the thinking behind visual solutions. This engagement with the past also clarifies for the student what has already been accomplished and provides insight for future innovation. This understanding of historical context assists students with identifying social, physical, environmental, and cultural questions to be answered for a contemporary audience.
If we as a profession are to evolve we must move away from being message stylists and move toward a profession that identifies and provides design-based solutions for the challenges of the 21st century. The students’ engagement with tools must move from “tools as a means of production” to “tools as design solutions.” Designers have historically designed objects as solutions to visual communication problems. In order for today’s design students to succeed they must understand systems and the tools that facilitate interaction within those systems. The designer who recognizes the complexities of user experience will be able to take advantage of the inherent flexibility of the digital space to design tools that are customizable, usable, and accessible.
Contemporary students must learn to communicate to an audience and bring them into the design conversation. We must encourage our students to incorporate user feedback into the design process and even allow the end user to control the design of the message and/or experience that best suits them. In this paradigm the designer creates multiple solutions, not a singular one.
For students to make design, as well as speak and write about design they must have an understanding of the contemporary languages, attitudes and culture of the creative economy. Programmers, printers, photographers, illustrators, writers, researchers are all part of that world and constitute different design teams. The designer should be able to communicate effectively with this team of diverse people, as well as with the client. In the academic setting this acculturation begins with the critique discussion. Students must move beyond the “I like it” comment to a discussion about appropriate design solutions.
In order to assist the students in meeting these goals I challenge myself as an educator to: develop project and course outcomes that fit within the curricular sequence of pre-requisites and subsequent courses at all levels of instruction; assign research and writing components as part of the design projects to provide context for content and audience; outline clearly articulated design processes and schedules to provide organization and structure; give technical instruction to support the execution of ideas; and create critique groups to establish community where the students deliver the majority of the critique so that they may learn to articulate their own thoughts about design.
I’ve achieved success when a community is formed in the classroom. In that community there is healthy supportive competition, the uninitiated design critique, the transfer of design and technical knowledge from one student to another, the design principles are inherently understood, the student becomes their own best critic, and there is laughter. The ultimate success is that this community sustains itself beyond the classroom and into the professional world.
It is witnessing the transformative moment, when my students look at the world around them and see it as a designer sees it, that inspires me as an educator and fellow designer.