Thursday, July 3, 2008

Design Education Criticism

My father recently bought me a book, Looking Closer Five: Critical writings on graphic design, to help with my critical thining on design, especially since I've decided I want to do my MA in graphic design.

While I'm nowhere near finished the book, I came across an article by Jessica Helfand entitled "Method Designing: The paradox of modern design education", and it really stuck home, especially since I've just completed my Degree and have been looking at my contemporaries and I, and analysing how we each dealt with our "design education" at DUT (Durban). The Article draws lines of similarity between the technique of acting introduced by Stanislavsky called "Method Acting" and graphic design. The quotes below particualarly stuck home.

"The good news is that in an effort to produce designers who can think for themselves, we ask our students to identify a method which becomes evident through the work that they produce. Such an emphasis on authorship is, by and large, a way to train young designers as thinkers — and not merely as service providers. (So far, so good.) At the same time, we encourage them to seek references beyond the obvious: the richness of their sources testifies to an ability to engage a larger universe, and their work benefits from locating itself along a trajectory they've chosen and defined for themselves.
The bad news is that as a consequence of seeking validation elsewhere, there is an unusual bias toward false identity: so the design student, after looking at so much art, believes that s/he is making art. The design student, after considering so deeply the intangible forces framing the interpretation of visual form, comes to believe that the very act of interpretation is itself the form. This is where the method backfires so paradoxically: in being true to ourselves, we distance ourselves from a more universal truth, the kind that designers, in making messages clear, are so naturally predisposed to understand."
Though I'm not really affiliated with the university that I studied at, beyond being a student, I wish I could pin this article up on the notice boards, but I know (havning only too recently been a student) that most of the people that would most bennifit from it, will mostly likely not read past the first paragraph. Its a Shame,really.

The article, although from the book Looking Closer Five, can also be found in it's entirety at DesignObserver where the author is an Editor. The site is in my opinion one of the leading Critical Design blogs, and well worth being read often.
I'm hoping (counting on the fact) that I'll find more articles like the one above that with influence me, no end, and hopefully help me flesh out my Masters proposal.


SECOND YEAR Graphic Design Department DUT said...

Interesting debate Chris. Thanks! I'm sure one that would make a few squirm in their seats. But having read quite a bit of the reflections on Design Observer...I liked what was said here...
'To charge oneself with the duties of director and playwright is an infinitely more difficult path, and one more prone to failure. It also makes the educator's job that much more difficult. But to discourage students from taking such a path out of hand is, I feel, selling students short by limiting the scope of their ambition and by barring them a rare opportunity afforded by the academic setting.'
I guess we could all argue this one. Looking forward to seeing you soon!!

SECOND YEAR Graphic Design Department DUT said...

Hi again Chris
Have since our last chat, invested in 'Looking Closer Five:',and have not finished reading yet. But I have been thinking about what was discussed in your previous post.(Because it worried me!) And I think that as an educator in design today, the best you can do is equip your student to cope with 'design' as it might be in the future. And no one really knows what that is going to be like...This means that they need to understand that design is becoming more collaborative, teach them to think critically about what they do and why they do it. And also teach them to adapt.

I would like to know what you think!

Christopher de Beer said...

Well i think thats cool,
and while i said that the people that would bennifit most from reading it, would in all likelyhood not read it, I was meaning the students (and not nessisarily those lecturers that i did really appreciated at tech).

Yeah design is most definitely changing, for the better i think, or more specifically splitting into two camps, those that are self analysing/critical, and those that possibly fall into the "default systems" mould, and dont consider/re-consider what it is that they are actually doing, and why.

That said, the fact that design criticism as a whole is as yet not fully developed (as possibly litrature/art) makes it all the more exciting to be taking part in.

Thanks for reading my post, I hope some of it makes sense in terms of your students. :)

gg said...