Danielle Foushee’s “rant” over on her site strikes a chord. Much of what she says about the state of graphic design education (this time in the USA) echoes my thoughts on the UK state of affairs.
The link above will take you to the article directly, but check out her whole site at www.daniellefoushee.com
I’m wary of quoting whole articles as I think people should visit the author’s site and support it in whatever way you can. Equally, however, I’m wary of selectively quoting for fear of skewing the argument to support my own. But Danielle’s comments are worth giving some space to here. She is a practitioner teaching in higher education, but a rarity (by UK standards) in that she sees her subject as a body of knowledge and practice. It’s more than just “the visual”, far more. But the rot has set in and will be difficult to put right.
Danielle can come on the bus. The more I think about it the more there’s a need for some sort of conference on the issue (fancy a trip to Brighton, anybody?) or a manifesto from those of us who believe in design education.
Rant : February 12, 2004
Yesterday was the first meeting of a new, weekly, extra-curricular reading and discussion group for my graphic design students at X University (a Reasearch I university). Most of the students are seniors, about to graduate. They are not yet ready to compete in our harsh world�where visual ideas are sucked up in a cultural black hole and then spit out again as waste. The ten students who participated in this inaugural meeting are good-enough students: eager and enthusiastic. They want to learn as much as they can about graphic design and the creative process. I think the reading/discussion group is a great idea for undergraduates, and I�m glad the students are so zealous. They will learn a lot, and will hopefully find some context for their practice that has more meaning than blind commercial output.
As I�m trying, on the most basic level, to give these students a theoretical and philosophical foundation for graphic design thought and practice, I read continually in Emigr� (and elsewhere) about the sorry state of affairs in the Graphic Design community. This constant pessimism among our profession�s most outspoken pundits makes me feel defeated�like I�m fighting a losing battle�even as I agree to spend hours of my free time with students.
There are too many so-called �graphic design� programs in this country, spitting out underqualified graduates at an alarming rate. Many of these students barely have the skills to discuss simple composition and hierarchy issues, much less to articulate critical or conceptual ideas. These �graphic design� programs many times are not teaching Graphic Design at all.
In my view, Graphic Designers do not simply throw their work around like candy hearts on Valentine�s Day! We disseminate ideas. The business of Graphic Design is as important (perhaps more-so) as the writing of literature or the making of music. Graphic Design grabs people at their cores. It generates desire, it makes people act, it changes our minds, it appeals to our emotions and to our intellects.
Many 4-year �graphic design� programs are merely teaching students how to become technicians, not creative thinkers. Many faculty members believe that if they can teach the students how to use the relevant computer software, they have done their jobs.
Teachers are part of the problem in other ways, too. I think many teachers refuse to collaborate with their students. They refuse to listen to their students� concerns and questions, while demanding to be the center of attention and authority in the classroom. I have seen this at all of the institutions in which I�ve taught, and have probably been guilty of this myself. Students have vast, varied, and interesting experiences that can enhance the dynamic of the classroom, and they have a lot to teach the instructors themselves. Students often act as catalysts for new lines of inquiry in relation to course material and professional/academic practices of faculty. When instructors are closed to this kind of interaction with their students, many opportunities are lost.
There is another problem. Graphic design programs in many institutions are housed under Fine Arts Departments, and are all-too-frequently the disrespected cash cows for dwindling painting and sculpture programs. Universities are receiving less and less money each year from legislatures, so art departments accept more and more graphic design students to help pay the bills�these programs often cannot or simply refuse to hire new faculty to support this rise in student population.
I will start with some thoughts of my own: I believe that design education is where the ball could get rolling again. Let�s start by creating a standard for Graphic Design educators�a barometer that can be used to evaluate instructors and professors on their abilities. Then, lets give the best of these teachers some kind of certification based on these ideals. Institutions, then, would have a measuring stick by which to judge faculty applicants as being more or less qualified to teach Graphic Design. Once this system has had time to permeate design academia, the best programs will rise to the top and others will simply fall away or become irrelevant. This will take time, but the Graphic Design profession will not simply make corrections by itself. The most logical place to start, as I see it, is with an educational system that can either perpetuate the current status quo or reinvigorate a new sense of interest in theoretical and practical dialogue among Graphic Design�s practitioners, educators, and theorists.
Hopefully, I will have some effect on the students in my weekly reading group here at X University. I want to cultivate in them a passion for learning, an ability to recognize good ideas, a desire to continually push the boundaries of their abilities and knowledge, and the confidence to eagerly discuss their endeavors with peers and collaborators. Maybe if I can reach these ten students, then they will be able raise the bar for their classmates by infecting them with a heightened sense of competition and focus.