Archive for August, 2004

Man fired for heckling Bush

Sunday, August 22nd, 2004

Whatever happened to the right to free speech? I’ve read quite a few news stories recently about people being turned away from rallies for wearing anti-Bush slogans or refusing to sign pledges of their support, and worse actually being arrested for daring to say they don’t agree with the things they hear.

Add to this people being arrested and imprisoned without charge, trial without jury or the right to representation, confessions gained through dubious means, private communications being monitored without a warrant, removal of the right to vote from large sections of the population, and suppression of negative stories in the media and you have to start wondering…

Smaller countries get invaded for less. Any bets if Bush wins in November he’ll declare a premptive war on himself?

The guy in this story should sue. To be sacked for voicing your opinion stinks. That’s what rallies are for for crying out loud, and it’s made even worse when you find out who the client was – what on earth is a county school district doing sending advertising people to a partisan rally and then getting a father sacked because they felt their hospitality was being abused? How does this help kids get a better education? How much did it cost? Who now picks up the tab for supporting this guy’s family while he retrains as a nurse?

The guy isn’t going to sue and says he sees his boss’s problem. I can’t believe that. If I were his boss I would firstly have not put my staff in a situation where they felt duty bound to attend a political rally and support the sponsor’s political views. failing that I would have told the client where to stick their business if they were so extreme as to deny a fundamental democratic right to one of my staff. I would then have spread the word around the industry that this client was not someone to do business with.


CNN.com – Man fired for heckling Bush – Aug 21, 2004: “CHARLESTON, West Virginia (AP) — A man who heckled President Bush at a political rally was fired from his job at an advertising and design company for offending a client who provided tickets to the event.

The fired graphic designer said Saturday he won’t try to get his job back.

‘I’m mad less about losing the job — I’m more mad about the reasons,’ said Glen Hiller, 35, of Berkeley Springs. ‘All I did was show up and voice my opinion.’

Hiller was ushered out of Hedgesville High School on Tuesday after shouting his disagreement with Bush’s comments about the war in Iraq and the search for weapons of mass destruction. The crowd had easily drowned out Hiller with its chant: ‘Four more years.’

‘He surrounds himself with people who support him,’ Hiller said of Bush. ‘Your opinion … is viewed as right or wrong.’

When he showed up for work at Octavo Designs of Frederick, Maryland, the following morning, he said he was told he’d embarrassed and offended a client who provided tickets to the event — and that he was fired.

The client was a public relations worker who represents the Berkeley County school district, he said. ‘It’s just bizarre that you disagree with them and it all turns evil,’ Hiller said.

Messages left with Octavo Designs were not immediately returned Saturday.

The father of two young girls had worked at the design firm for five months, doesn’t plan to appeal the firing, and holds no grudge against his boss.

‘To some degree I can see her point of view,’ Hiller said. ‘Advertising is all about having the perfect tan and driving a cool car. It’s all about image.’

Hiller said he now plans to pursue work as a registered nurse, a field in which he worked for 10 years before landing the design job.

Last month, Charleston City Council apologized to two protesters arrested for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts to the president’s July 4 rally. The pair were taken from the event in restraints after revealing T-shirts with Bush’s name crossed out on the front and the words ‘Love America, Hate Bush’ on the back. Trespassing charges were ultimately dismissed.”

Fame!

Saturday, August 21st, 2004

Fame at last! As the Apple Turns is one of my favourite sites – you don’t need to be an Apple fan to get the humour. I strongly recommend tuning in regularly or subscribing to its well-hidden RSS feed. They get their leads from tips sent in by readers and I have just had an hon mensh (as Private Eye puts it) which is an honour indeed! The story I spotted was about Microsoft giving their employees basic geography lessons after several serious diplomatic incidents – serious but laughable…

“faithful viewer Jonathan Baldwin pointed us toward a silicon.com article which reveals that Windows 95 had been banned outright from the entire country of India– not because the product is supremely awful (which, frankly, would have made us want to emigrate), but because ‘when coloring in 800,000 pixels on a map of India, Microsoft colored eight of them a different shade of green,’ implying that Kashmir wasn’t part of India, which is actually against Indian law.

But wait, there’s more! According to The Guardian, Microsoft employees were actually arrested in Turkey when officials discovered that ‘Kurdistan had been shown as a separate entity on maps of the country.’ Microsoft software has also shown the Korean flag in reverse, and Microsoft employees were ‘questioned by police in China, where it is an offense to refer to Taiwan as a country or as the Republic of China.’ Tom Edwards, Microsoft’s ‘senior geopolitical strategist’ (see, they are trying to take over the world!), blames the ‘lack of basic geography’ among his company’s employees.

Actually, though, it’s not only geography, but also a lack of cultural knowledge that’s tripped up the company on occasion. The game Age of Empires 2 ticked off Saudi Arabia ‘because it showed victorious Muslim armies turning churches into mosques.’ Another game, Kakuto Chojin, included rhythmic chanting in the background that just happened to be an Arabic excerpt from the Koran, and again the Saudis protested, leading to the game’s withdrawal worldwide. And due to what is described as an ‘unfortunate error in translation,’ the Spanish version of Windows XP ‘gave users an option to select their gender from not specified, male, or ‘bitch.” Uh, whoops.

Not that we wouldn’t make any or all of these mistakes and more ourselves; heck, we can hardly get through an episode without offending either the Australians or all of Canada or both. (‘Curling is a sport for the aged and infirm!!’ See?) Then again, we make no claim to be able to make and sell products to a global market, so maybe we shouldn’t let Microsoft off the hook so easily. In any case, here’s hoping that Microsoft’s new ‘geography classes for its staff’ aren’t too effective, because some of these blunders are far too entertaining not to be repeated.”

Athens Olympics

Friday, August 20th, 2004

I’m quite enjoying the Olympics this time round. First time I’ve really paid attention to them and much too late to be wishing I’d worked on my badminton when I was a kid. I think these days you need to start planning to be in the Olympics when you’re in the womb, judging from the average age of the competitors.

It helps that they’re fairly close to us this time – the Sydney Olympics passed me by because of the time difference (as did England’s Rugby World Cup victory last year).

London is of course bidding for the 2012 games and is one of the favourites. Although it costs a lot to host them, I think we need to burst of regeneration that the games will bring. Sadly, the thing that puts our bid above all others is our expertise with security issues – what a commentary on the modern world…

Something that occurred to me recently as I was watching the games was “what happens to the expertise?” Each games has a different organising committee, reinventing the wheel each time. Seems odd to me.

It’s undoubtedly one of the reasons why a US swimmer was disqualified yesterday and lost his gold medal (moving the Brit up to Bronze) but was then reinstated not because there was no problem but because the lane judge didn’t speak the “official language of FINA” the international swimming body. How bizarre.

Turns out others have wondered why the Olympics aren’t held in the same place each time, and there’s an interesting article by Christina Larson over at Washington Monthly Here’s an extract but take a look at the whole thing:

In these games, as in all previous modern Olympics, the vast majority of the staff who work the events–the bus drivers, the food vendors, the traffic cops, the military officers manning the security command centers–have never done this before. It is this lack of previous experience that has caused or contributed to the most famous problems that have befallen modern Olympic games, from lost bus drivers in Sydney to the failure to prevent a terrorist bombing in Atlanta.

The heart of the problem is that the Olympics–for no unassailable reason–alters its location every four years. With every change of venue, millions of staff-hours of know-how are lost. That’s not how most other major sporting events are organized. Professional golf tournaments return to the same courses year after year, allowing the staffs there to learn from their mistakes. Same with tennis: The groundskeepers at Wimbledon have had decades to practice pulling out the rain tarps and emptying out the parking lots. Yet the Olympics tries to reinvent the wheel every time, fielding a new team of planners, contractors, accountants, technicians, security personnel, and volunteers every four years, and expecting them to execute myriad complex logistical tasks perfectly the first time out. As Atlanta’s Olympic finance chief Pat Glisson explained to CFO magazine, her job was to ‘create a Fortune 500 company from scratch, then take it apart at the end.’

Virgin sacrifices

The ancient Greeks who invented the Olympics would have shaken their heads at the traveling-circus style of the modern games. After all, they didn’t hold the Olympics one year in Sparta, the next in Corinth, then in Delphi. For over a thousand years, the games took place in the same wooded sanctuary of Olympia, on the Peloponnesian peninsula. This set-up seemed to work fine. The extant classical texts contain no complaints of faulty Olympic crowd control, misplaced victory wreaths, or insufficient supplies of lamb kabobs. The Roman Emperor Theodosius put an end to the games in the 4th century A.D. not because he’d tired of traffic congestion or ill-behaving drunken helots, but because, as a Christian, he couldn’t abide the thought of celebrated athletes parading in the buff and offering sacrifices to pagan gods.

Current Electoral Vote Predictor 2004

Thursday, August 19th, 2004

The Current Electoral Vote Predictor 2004 is a site I look at daily now, thanks to its RSS feed. It’s interesting as a foreigner to see that an election that appears to be being declared a tie in the US media isgoing a little more decisively than that: “Electoral Vote Predictor 2004:   Kerry 301   Bush 213”

The site is run by a Democrat supporter, but his reporting of the polls is non-partisan. I’d pay a visit if I were you.

I’ve resisted making too many posts on the US election as my thinking was it doesn’t really concern me, and I know most readers of the site are American and I don’t want to offend.

However, over the past few weeks I’ve begun to realise it actually does concern me – the result will have a real effect on me, my friends and my country.

Though this isn’t a political blog at the moment I may start voicing my views a bit more as November draws near. I don’t know much about Kerry (although ironically I think more Britons know more about him than many Americans, judging from polls I’ve seen!) but I do know enough about Bush to know I’ll be staying up late that night in the hope of waving goodbye to him.

The farce of the 2000 election was watched with bemusement and outrage over here, and the electoral college system seems an odd way to decide something in a democracy – even with the discounted votes in Florida set aside, Gore still won a majority of votes. (We’ve had similar results in the UK, by the way, so I won’t preach too much!)

I’ve never known a US president be so unpopular abroad – does it matter to Americans that this is the case? Maybe not, and maybe it shouldn’t. But as Bush is making such a big thing about being the leader of the free world, it is more important than ever that he is seen to be in such a role with the consent of that free world. At the moment, and for the past four years, that has been far from the case.

Whatever the result, it needs to be decisive. Please.

Lost in Translation

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004

If this weren’t so serious it’d be funny. We’ve got to be careful of stories like this, though. The UK is still awash with myths about the European Union introducing laws banning curved bananas and the like, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the rise in the number of people who’ve been “bangalored” (i.e. their jobs have been outsourced to India) provokes some sort of long-distance racism. The UK press is full of stories about immigrants/asylum seekers/benefit tourists – the titles are interchangeable and while immigrants are legal, and asylum seekers are running away from something worth giving everything up for, the terms have become ones of fear and abuse here.

But stories of blood tests being flown to India overnight and this one from the Press Association, spotted in the UK Guradian, about doctors’ letters being emailed to be transcribed before being emailed back make you wonder. From a commercial point of view, if it’s cheap and it’s quick (or quicker than doing it here) then it makes sense. But excusing my liberal left stance here, there’s a social responsibility inherent in how we spend our money. Not only does the fuel used to send blood and tissue samples abroad have an environmental cost, but when people lose their jobs they tend to become more suseptible to illness. It only takes one former transcriber to become depressed after losing her job to India before the savings made in doing so are spent on treating her, surely?

Indian transcription service ‘putting lives at risk’

Press Association

Wednesday August 18, 2004

Patients’ lives are being put at risk because letters from hospital doctors are being sent to secretaries in India to be typed and returned to GPs with mistakes, it was claimed today.

In one example, the drug Lansoprazole, used to treat stomach ulcers, was transcribed as the popular holiday resort Lanzarote, in another case, a ‘below knee amputation’ became ‘baloney amputation’.

Eight hospitals in London are using the services of the medical transcribing company Omnimedical to clear a backlog of hospital doctors’ letters due to a UK shortage of medical secretaries and to free up admininstration staff to help with patient care.

But the Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Managers, Administrators and Receptionists (AMSPAR) warns that the use of Indian secretaries increases the risk of mistakes in medical letters, which could have potentially fatal consequences.

Omnimedical contracts a pool of secretaries in India to transcribe the letters sent from hospitals to GPs about the treatment of their patients. The service is being used by St George’s hospital in Tooting, south-west London, and seven others around the capital to type around 7,000 letters a month.

Hospital consultants dictate their letters on to voice recorders as usual, and the sound files are then sent via email to Omnimedical, which removes all the information that could identify a patient and replaces it with a number.

After the letter is typed up by the staff in India it is returned to Omnimedical, which replaces the patient information before it is returned to secretaries at the hospital for checking.

St George’s said that there were rigorous safeguards in place to ensure that letters were accurate.

But Michael Fiennes, of AMSPAR, said he was aware of many examples of mistakes creeping into letters, some so serious that they could lead to patients being given the wrong dose of medication.

‘Medical secretaries should be properly trained, but they are appallingly badly paid for the work they do and that is why the work is being sent abroad,’ he said.

‘This increases the chances of mistakes creeping in that could put patients’ lives at risk.’

In one example, ‘phlebitis (vein inflammation) left leg’ was changed to ‘flea bite his left leg’, said Mr Fiennes.

He added that, while these might seem amusing, mistakes could also occur by changing the dosage of a drug given, for example from 5mg to 50mg.

Mr Fiennes said that GPs were generally picking up the errors, but because of their workload the potential for mistakes not being spotted was ‘very worrying’.

‘We would always recommend that medical secretaries are properly trained and rewarded for the work they do, because it is not just typing letters,’ he said.

A medical secretary is paid an average of £14,000 a year in the NHS after undergoing training lasting, in some cases, two years.

A spokesman for St George’s, which has been using the service for about two months, said: ‘The bottom line is that the transcription service is better for patients, better for GPs and better for medical secretaries.

‘GPs now receive timely information about the care given to their patients, while medical secretaries have been freed up to provide better support to consultants and the patients they see.

‘The transcription service is secure and confidential, and there are rigorous safeguards in place to ensure the accuracy of letters before they are sent.’

An Omnimedical spokesman disputed the claims made by AMSPAR. He said that overseas transcribers provided a much higher standard of service than the large number of temporary administration staff which the NHS relied on due to a shortage of medical secretaries.

He added that all letters were signed by the relevant consultant before they became legal medical documents, so the chance of any errors not being picked up was remote.

The spokesman said he could not comment on the contents of any particular letter, as he was not in a position to verify whether they were transcribed by secretaries contracted by Omnimedical.

Lebanese Graphic Design Article

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004

I met a design teacher from the Lebanon last year and always meant to pursue our conversation further – his description of how design is taught over there, and the design profession, fascinated me. It’s an area that never really comes up on the radar (at least not here – in the UK we annoint ourselves the “world leaders” and tend to ignore what goes on elsewhere, which if anything surely disqualifies us from the title?).

So it was interesting to read an article from June’s Lebanon Daily Star about a graduate show at the Lebanese American University. What’s particularly interesting is it’s a lot different from the usual puff-pieces you tend to get around graduate shows (our show was featured in The Guardian, but only a photograph with no context or analysis which seeemed to relegate the show to just a load of eye candy).

I like the sound of the American University of Beitrut’s Design in the Community program – it sounds similar to a module I tried to introduce on the last degree I ran, much to the derision of the rest of the staff. Personally I think all design courses should attempt some form of contextualisation in their projects and teaching, but I think that’s not going to be popular in the current climate. Papanek was saying this thirty-five years ago of course in “Design For The Real World” where he suggests design should be about changing people’s lives – not just decorating their walls and filling coffee-table books as I think it is in danger of becoming.

Some courses do this Papanekian stuff quite well – I know of a couple in London for example that run isolated modules often because of a single committed teacher in each case who perseveres against the odds – and there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the idea in a workshop on integrating “employability” on courses I ran last year for teachers from different institutions, particularly as we came up with some really good ideas for developing students’ research skills while having an impact on the community. If I remember correctly, it was something to do with interviewing pensioners about their personal treasures and mementoes and developing visual responses to them which would be shown as an exhibition in the town centre – quite simple really, but as we developed it the idea grew and it was clear that in tackling it students would experience far more than the old project which really expected them to do nothing more than stare into space and be “creative”. As the delegates dispersed there was great excitement but also an acceptance that, when they got back to their place of work the idea would be crushed at its first mention. Ah well – I suppose it’s like turtle eggs. You have to lay thousands and hope that just one survives…

Anyway, here’s the article. Interesting from all sorts of angles:

Graphic design in a blind market

By Paul Cochrane

Daily Star staff

Friday, June 25, 2004

BEIRUT: A typographic collage of cut-out words by a student at the Lebanese American University (LAU) in many ways sums up the predicaments that graphic designers face: “The hardest thing to see is in front of your eyes.”

These words refer to critical image analysis – a central aspect of the discipline of graphic design – and also to the challenges designers face regarding their role in society, job aspirations, unappreciative clients, and too many students graduating in the field.

The demand for professional graphic designers, who specialize in designing visual information for print or digital media used for advertizing, publications or websites, has increased in importance in the past decade.

Accompanying this demand has been an upsurge in the popularity of the subject throughout the world, including here in Lebanon, with the American University of Beirut (AUB), LAU, Universite Saint-Esprit de Kaslik (USEK), Notre Dame University, the American University of Science and Technology, and Hawaii University, among others, all offering courses. At LAU there are 400 graphic design students, 200 at USEK, and around 25 graduating every year from AUB. With so many students studying the subject, employment opportunities for quality graphic designers are increasingly scarce, according to professors and students at LAU, AUB and USEK.

“There are too many students graduating in graphic design, which means many of the less qualified and skilled designers will work for less … this affects the designers who are wanting to work on original projects that require more time and effort,” said Hanna Abi Hanna, 22, an LAU graduate. Consequently, the “best way out,” to do genuinely creative work, Hanna said, is to do freelance work or advertizing.

The problem is not just an over-abundance of graduates, but also the relatively small demand for graphic designers in Lebanon. The country may be “the graphic design leader in the Middle East,” as Yasmine Taan, the coordinator of the graphic design program at LAU says, but many graduates end up traveling to the Gulf and other Arab countries for a chance to apply the creative skills acquired at university.

“I worked here for about a year and a half and was doing OK,” said Rami Haje Obeid, 25, a graphic design graduate from the University of Kentucky, “but basically, you work for the day and not for the future.”

Obeid is leaving Beirut next month to work in the United Arab Emirates, as here “you stay on the same (creative) level, unless you work for a major firm. The job market in Dubai is much better, the city is young, there is a lot of work, and you’re guaranteed more money and professionalism,” he said.

The difference that good graphic designers provide is in their approach and understanding of the subject. Talking of the plethora of graphic design graduates, Zeina Maasri, assistant professor of graphic design at AUB, said: “There will be a crisis at some point. I have a problem with new colleges and programs – not with competition, but regarding (the teaching of) critical awareness. We are really part of social and cultural production, so graphic designers have a large responsibility” to prevent a decline in the quality of images that make a daily impact on our visual life.

AUB, LAU and USEK are attempting to counter this problem by requiring students to have as broad an education as possible, with a strong emphasis on the liberal arts and business to aid in the transition to the workplace.

One of AUB’s courses, Design in the Community, aims at stimulating students’ theoretical and critical awareness of the subject and of their role in society.

“It calls the students to be more engaged politically,” said Maasri, “and to address and rethink their own concerns. It is trying to say that graphic design is not just market related … it is about ethics. This is something the advertizing agencies have lost, choosing to beautify myths” at the expense of more realistic images and portrayals of society.

Being critically aware, Maasri says, prevents such artificial thinking and discourages students from working in fields in which they do not believe: “We teach students to look at images as a loaded one, not just aesthetically” and at face value, she added.

This approach to studying graphic design, corroborates Nathalie Fallaha, an instructor at LAU, enables designers to aim for original work in the industry.

“A lot of firms can’t see the difference between an original logo and a copied logo, so we talk a lot about how to educate the client. We stress the whole research period before the design – market research, the firm’s image, competition etc.,” she said.

If taught well, graphic design is a multidisciplinary subject, within and outside the discipline, which aids student’s employment prospects.

“It is a wide field that crosses many boundaries and fields, such as in design, television, animation, interactivity (web design), printing and publishing,” said Taan.

She said LAU attempts to go beyond teaching techniques by working with companies on projects, and offering specialized courses. In the past year, students have been working on a packaging design for a new brand of arak. The winner of the project will have their design produced and the opportunity to work with the company through the final production phase of the product, Taan said.

Fallaha said the program is “trying to respond to saturation in the market with graphics by transcending traditional approaches and pushing for multimedia, web design and packaging. There is a very high need for that in industry. For instance, web designers are not as creative as graphic designers – there is not a bridge between graphics and technology, or information architecture in the market.”

Adding to the market focus of the program, the LAU administration encourages instructors to interact and work in the graphic design industry. Fallaha runs her own studio outside of the university, hiring AUB and LAU graduates to work with her on projects. Fallaha says this helps her to keep a modern edge in teaching graphic design, and to avoid professional redundancy in the industry.

AUB is aiming for professional recognition by registering the program as a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design in New York. Such professional accreditation enables graduates to be accepted into higher education programs in the US and Europe, said Zeina Maasri.

Typography, the technique of printing with moveable type, is another aspect of LAU and AUB programs that deal with a contemporary market need. LAU’s 2004 graphic design exhibition, entitled “Closer,” is a compilation of typography and visual design concepts.

The importance of developing Arabic typography into digital type is its application to digital typefaces for computer and visual-media use, an area of graphic design offering a wealth of possibilities in the region.

“Latin digital type designers are well aware of the necessity of making this variety available for graphic artists,” writes Zeina al-Abed in the “Closer” catalogue. “Arabic digital types currently present in the market lack this variety and are mostly imprisoned by classical construction principles set by Arabic calligraphy,” she adds.

LAU students have designed more than 80 typefaces, stemming from abstract shapes and conceptual ideas such as human veins, music-bar lines, and the famous moustache of Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali.

“It is hard to adapt Arabic to digital typefaces,” said Abi Hanna, “as the letters are all attached, unlike Latin script. It is also difficult to find a font that is interchangeable between Latin and Arabic script.”

With such an abundance of quality work on display at the LAU exhibition, as there has been at other universities over the past few months, the competition among future graduates will be fierce. A wealth of creativity in coming years is assured – that is, as long as designers are able to express themselves and clients appreciate what is in front of their eyes.

What’s useful anyway?

Saturday, August 7th, 2004


Point . Design: Another Disgruntled Student: “The biggest problem I have with my current design education is I am not an artist. I do not want to paint pretty pictures, draw real looking figures, or be an art historian. These are three areas that seem to

have a lot of time dedicated to them instead of something useful like type, layout or graphic design history.”

Another thought crops up here. Justin says art history isn’t useful to him, but type, layout or graphic design history would be.

I think graphic designers need to be polymaths, and the idea of turning up my nose at something I didn’t think was immediately relevant or “useful” is anathema to me.

I’m sorry to use Justin as my example as I’m really quoting him out of context but it does remind me of a popular educational theory about deep and surface learning. Deep learners are often interested in learning for the sake of it and make connections between seemingly different and disparate areas.

Surface learners learn for the test, so to speak. They like to know who is marking them and then produce a piece that fits that person’s tastes. They only attend the lessons they think they need to, and they don’t pay much attention to theory classes because “all you have to do is pass”.

It has often struck me that graphic design, more than other subjects, is one where there is no set “body of knowledge” that allows us to define what is worth knowing and what isn’t. I feel a better designer from having studied maths, for example, than type.

Even the most esoteric knowledge, if taught well and studied well, can be made relevant to graphic design.

Point . Design: Another Disgruntled Student

Saturday, August 7th, 2004

Take a look at this post over at the ever-interesting “Point”. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with Justin’s comments – but at the same time, about the same thing. It’s made me think about some of the issues I highlighted a few weeks ago in my list of myths about teaching graphic design.


Point . Design: Another Disgruntled Student: “The biggest problem I have with my current design education is I am not an artist. I do not want to paint pretty pictures, draw real looking figures, or be an art historian. These are three areas that seem to

have a lot of time dedicated to them instead of something useful like type, layout or graphic design history.”

I want to expand on my thoughts and may do later today, but briefly while I sympathise with Justin I would say this: all courses need to have a philosophy. With so many graphic design courses on offer, what differentiates them? Very little it seems. Many are very lazy in what they offer and subscribe to the view that you should do a bit of typograhpy, a few weeks in QuarkXpress, lots and lots of projects for your portfolio, and some art history.

Now while I don’t think art history would have much of a place on a course I would run, I would defend other courses’ right to give it a place, or make it a strong focus if that was part of the course’s philosophy

My course would major on cultural theory and social history, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea but would at least make it stand out.

I would then make damn well sure that it was clear from the start to anyone thinking of apllying for the course what approach it took to the subject. I think Justin’s comments are similar to many students who find themselves on a course that was basically misrepresented to them. Often a course will trade on its alumni (from decades before), or the “fame” of its staff (who may never teach you), or the number of awards it has won (which tells you very little, really).

It sounds like Justin had an idea of the sort of course he wanted to do, but signed up for the wrong one and either he is guilty of not thinking hard enough (I doubt that) or he is a victim of a bad sales pitch or worse.

There is a sense in what Justin says that suggests he favours some sort of “national curriculum” in graphic design – I probably have that wrong but it’s not an uncommon view. The AIGA has a basic curriculum for graphic design courses, for example, and in the UK there is a frequent discussion of “things they need to teach in college”. (In the UK more and more students are choosing to study in their home town, or nearby, for financial reasons and one of the most persuasive arguments in favour of having an identical curriculum is that students can’t afford to choose beyond a certain geographical limit, so in the interests of fairness, we need to offer homogenous – though top quality – courses).

But a lot of this discussion of the core graphic design curriculum is ideological, and will never please everyone. It is useful to have, though, as I am somewhat worried at the number of graphic design courses that teach illustration, photographty, animation, 3D modelling, film and video production and music, but seem rarely to look at actual graphic design. That is a worry.

But I’d be loathe to impose a curriculum, even a basic one, on any graphic design course. I think what a course needs is a visionary leader and a core of full-time staff who all subscribe (while not necessarily agreeing) with that vision. It needs a constant programme of refreshment with at least 25% of the course being re-evaluated or replaced each year. And the approach of the course needs to be shouted from the rooftops: go to college X if you want to study design as a cultural phenomenon, go to college Y if you want to study design as a commercial enterprise, go to college Z if you want to focus on the mechanics of design production.

given a menu like this, I suspect that Justin, and many others like him, would make a more informed choice.