Archive for May 30th, 2004

S:Team

Sunday, May 30th, 2004

A couple of years ago I started teaching myself computer programming. But not being the sort of person who can go step by step through the usual “Hello World!” routines I decided instead to create a couple of applications that I thought would be useful.

The first, Daydreamer XMLwas a rudimentary content management system for Dreamweaver that predated “Contribute” and was designed to solve a particular problem I was having in my job at the time. If you use Dreamweaver, give it a go. Version 2 is nearly complete but after Macromedia brought out contribute I gave up. MacUser, a UK magazine actually featured DayDreamer as a “Top 10 Web Utility” on their cover CD so maybe I was on to something!

My current project is something called “S:Team” (i.e. “esteem” – geddit?)

“S:Team is an online tool to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses when working and studying as part of a team. S:Team will help you identify your teamwork tendencies, and to identify the roles that others can play too.”

It’s a tool initially designed for students after i got fed up with colleagues sticking them into groups and expecting them to get on with each other for team-based projects. I created a version in Javascript and, simultaneously, in REALbasic, and it works quite well. I even sold a copy!

Last Christmas I decided to improve it and started on version 2, this time in Flash using Actionscript 2. Again, it’s just about finished but the last six months have been quite hectic. I’m hoping to sort it out over the summer. But last week S:Team was “announced” to the art and design academic community in a publication my department produces, so the past few days I’ve been busy making the site a bit more user-friendly. Feel free to give it a go – the online version works and is free for individual use. If you want to use it with staff or students you need to buy a site license. Version 2, which will be free to owners of version 1, should be out in September and it’s looking much better.

When I used S:Team with students back in 2002 it worked a treat – none of the teams had any problems that couldn’t be sorted out. Teamwork is something that should be taught properly, not just used as a quick fix to staffing problems. S:Team helps that process, I hope.

Welcome, Icelanders!

Sunday, May 30th, 2004

The ability of information to spread virus-like never ceases to amaze me.

I’ve noticed quite a few hits to this site coming from a link over on the Icelandic National Team site to my “Graphic Design Education is Failing Students” story, which is still the most visited post on this site. I can’t read Icelandic so am not sure whether the link is along the lines of “you must read this, it’s great” or “you must read this, it’s laughable!” Whatever, I’m grateful for the reference.

I’m guessing the site is about Graphic Design from the few recognisable words I can see. I wonder what the nature of the debate is over there? So far this has been dominated mainly by US contributors (in fact I appear to be the only Brit that I can find and the only non-North American writing on the subject). It’d be nice to hear from someone from other countries, either privately or using the comments link (you can post anonymously incidentally!). If you do email me privately (using the link under my profile) let me know if you’re happy to be quoted here.

Danielle Foushee’s Rant

Sunday, May 30th, 2004

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.