Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How to Adapt Your Teaching Techniques to Today's College Students

I picked up an interesting book over the holiday break: "A Brief Guide for Teaching Millennial Learners" by J. Bradley Gardner. After reading the book I worked many of the author's suggestions into my winter quarter courses. The following is my synthesis of his suggestions and how I am adapting the author's general ideas for graphic design courses.

1. Reduce the use of didactic teaching. In the second class meeting of my Print Production class I had vocabulary to introduce. Instead of showing slides and explaining the terms and how they are used in industry I made a bingo game. Using a game got the students much more engaged as they tapped their previous knowledge and tried to think out the meaning of terms instead of passively sitting back and listening. They had fun, too. As the term progresses, and through industry tours, the students will hear the terms repeated and there will be plenty of time for them to reinforce the meaning of the terms in context. The bingo game served as an introduction.

2. Give students a chance to tell their own stories. Most design assignments are necessarily geared to teaching students to professionally communicate someone else's message, a practice that requires setting aside one's own personal predilections and interests. However, as a brief interlude a more personal assignment is appropriate, especially if the students enjoy self-reflection and storytelling. So, as a kick-off assignment and a way to review pre-requisite concepts, my Advanced Image Editing students are making posters titled, "My Path as a Designer: What Brings Me Here Today.”

3. Provide ways for the students to make the world a better place. Students in this age group are often idealistic and passionate about good causes. They believe that they can make the world a better place. I was excited to find this out and have accordingly assigned a final project in my Visual Indication class that asks students to envision and devise a campaign for a good cause. This assignment is based on the creative master's degree final projects done in the School of Visual Arts Designer as Author/Entrepreneur MFA program. Of course the projects will be much smaller scale, but the project will give the students a chance to use their own passion to work up an original and visionary idea. Students will mock up the web pages, print media, garments or whatever visual design communications are part of their unique concepts.

4. Give a menu of choices within an assignment. Students in my Print Production class appreciate having a choice for their final project this term. They can choose: (1) Create a print idea sample book. In other words, find examples of print processes such as cool die-cuts, interesting folds, duotones, etc. Then imagine and sketch design layouts for imaginary client messages that would make optimal use conceptually of that process. (2) Create a series of three visually related posters about the history of printing. (3) Design and write the first page of a printing company newsletter. Then create the art both as a pre-computer "paste-up" and as an InDesign file.

5. Assign teamwork. Gardner says, "Millennials love to work in groups." He also advises that professors talk less. As part of trying to implement these kinds of ideas, I teach students to critique instead of conducting traditional whole-group critiques myself. First, I provide a critique guideline specifically written for the project at hand. This ensures that the students will focus on the key learnings and goals of the project. Then I demonstrate with sample artwork how to use the guideline. Then the students work in groups to critique one another's work. I can give one-on-one input, but overall I have found that students do a great job helping each other as long as I have given them the language, concepts and techniques they need to proceed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bauhaus Exhibit at MoMA Provided Creative Inspiration and Renewal Over the Holiday

Every designer and design teacher needs renewal time. This is when we replenish our creativity, reawaken passion and augment our knowledge base. My most recent renewal time was a trip to New York to see the exhibit, Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity at The Museum of Modern Art. I also visited the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. I returned to Kansas City ready for a new academic quarter.

The Bauhaus exhibition gathered over four hundred works that reflected the broad range of the school’s products. The works included industrial design, furniture, architecture, graphics, photography, textiles, ceramics, theater design, painting, and sculpture, many of which had never before been exhibited in the United States. It was a supreme pleasure to walk through, and study, the exhibition artifacts. Seeing the the Bauhaus exhibit was the main purpose of the jaunt to NYC.

We also saw the Tim Burton retrospective at MOMA. This exhibition explores the full range of his creative work, tracing the current of his visual imagination from early childhood drawings through his mature work in film.

We took in two exhibits at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. Design USA: Contemporary Innovation Design was marvelous. The exhibit showcases the accomplishments of the winners honored during the first ten years of the prestigious National Design Awards. It features outstanding contemporary achievements in architecture, landscape design, interior design, product design, communication design, corporate design, interaction design, and fashion. I saw so many familiar works, but many new, too.

The other exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt was Design for a Living World. This exhibit showed the results when ten leading designers were commissioned to develop new uses for sustainably grown and harvested materials. The featured designers included Maya Lin, Isaac Mizrahi, Abbott Miller, Kate Spade. Prototypes, drawings, and finished products were on view.

Friday, October 30, 2009

For Design Instructors: How To Hold Great Critiques and Maximize Learning

Design instructors often encounter students who are unable to use the language of design during critiques. Students speak up with statements such as "I like that" or "I don't like that" but they are not able to articulately describe why they hold these opinions.

This is frustrating, but fortunately there is a fix. The fix is based on the stages of learning. When a course, or unit, is planned to unfold according to these stages students gradually and competently integrate the language and concepts of design.

The stages of learning are: (1) identification of content categories, (2) understanding what the categories mean, (3) application of the categories, (4) analysis using the categories as tools, (5) synthesis of many categories, and (6) using the categories to evaluate.

Students can be taught to understand and use the vocabulary of design when a course is designed around these stages of learning.

For the first two stages, identification and understanding of the course categories, the instructor presents and explains the terms and concepts that are foundational to the course content. The terms and concepts are presented as "the course vocabulary" in a list. This is done at the first or second class meeting and serves as an overview of the course. An assignment is provided that reinforces the lesson.

For the third stage, application of the categories, students are required to use these terms day in, day out, as they progress through the course. The terms are always listed within sight during class on the white board. The list reinforces the language, defines the scope of the course and helps the students integrate the terms so that knowing the language becomes second nature. Assignments are provided that require students to apply the terms and concepts.

For the next stage, analysis using the categories as tools, students are challenged to perceive and identify the operative principles and concepts in project work during critiques. Students are also pushed to consider how use of the course concepts would develop their own projects. In a trial-and-error process students try out the concepts, analyze, edit and try again as they seek to problem solve using the course concepts as a guide.

Next, to encourage synthesis, students are asked to comment on how the many aspects of a design interact and affect one another. This stage generates a lot of interesting discussion in critique as students express and compare complex views using the course vocabulary.

It is only after mastery of all of these stages that students are allowed to evaluate. In this stage students are encouraged to articulately defend their views on how aspects of the design do or do not successfully interact for a desired effect.

This approach is based on Bloom's Taxonomy, a learning theory. Use of this approach has led to rich critiques in my classes. No student ever says a simple, "I like it." By organizing a course around this approach student thinking has developed and students have learned to identify, apply and analyze design.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Get Students Involved in a Design Class Critique by Using Social Learning Theory

Social Learning Theory is true. The following is an approach I have found for dynamic critiques with high student involvement. It is based on Social Learning Theory.

First, as a preliminary step, didactically teach the vocabulary and concepts that are key to your current lesson. Show examples. Explain each term and concept several ways. Spend time teaching the important ideas. Then assign a project.

When the students return to class with the project completed give them a check-list of the terms and concepts that you taught. Then, divide the students into two groups so that no one is in the group that is analyzing his or her own work. Tell the students to analyze the work using the list of terms and concepts on the list (the ones that you had taught). Ask the students to choose a spokesperson.

Then leave the room. Hover close by—but out of sight.

Charged with this responsibility and with check-list in hand the students energetically dive in. In overhearing the student's discussions I have been astonished at how even seemingly tonge-tied students all of a sudden become authorities with the language of design. I have heard well considered analysis and synthesis of complicated aspects of the projects. The students take their time and give each piece its due.

When the students in each group have finished (and after a break) we all come together as one large group. The appointed spokesperson in each group reports on the findings regarding each piece. Students are careful to be tactful, but do not hold back on honest assessment and suggestions either.

This approach has resulted in one type of successful critique. There are other kinds of critiques, of course, and other purposes, but in this case the students have been deeply engaged in discussing design. In some ways it can be more successful than when the instructor leads. In this approach the instructor shapes the overall learning by providing and initially explaining the concepts, but the students have learned the ideas more effectively because they have heard ideas reworded by peers. Sometimes "social learning," can the most effective learning of all.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to Kick-off a Foundation Class in 3D Design and Encourage Creativity, too

A foundation class in 3D design traditionally provides an introduction to all of the considerations in designing three-dimensional form.

When students arrive at a class like this they have usually already learned the elements and principles of design, but only as they relate to two-dimensional form. So, the first objective in the class is to teach that the same vocabulary learned in 2D Design translates to 3D Design.

The basic principles of design include repetition, rotation, gradation, reflection, balance, anomaly—and more. The Elements and Principles of Design by Wucius Wong is a good text book to consider. It thoroughly covers these and other principles of design including singular form, plural form, abstraction, intersection and use of a grid as they apply to 2D and 3D form.

One way to begin is to have students start out by creating paper and bristol board explorations. For many students this will be a first time with the tools and techniques of construction so they must be guided in how to crease, cut, fold, stretch, curl and otherwise manipulate 2, 3 and 4 ply paper. Along with this, students can be taught how to create junctions such as tabs and slots and how to glue surface to surface, edge to plane and point to plane.

The fun comes in being inventive and creative with the paper and bristol while trying to create a wide variety of forms. Demonstrations can be provided in how to apply principles such as gradation, rotation, reflection (and others) to their forms.

I have found that once students are reminded of the principles and begin to gain some confidence with the tools and techniques, they are infinitely creative in translating the principles they learned in 2D design to 3D form. As the class proceeds on to more and more complicated assignments the students gain the foundation they need. Students go on to use the skills, knowledge and vocabulary they have learned in fine art, interior design and graphic design projects.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Three Published Resources That Explain How to Work With a Graphic Designer

Recently a panicked beginning design student who had landed a freelance design job came to me full of questions about working terms, procedures and rates. This student had no prior experience in industry and no knowledge about these topics. He was concerned about coming across as professional and didn't want to betray how green he was. Yet at the same time he wanted to protect his own interests as a creative service provider. After answering the student's questions (and trying to calm him down) I directed him to three great published sources for more information:

1. The Graphic Artists Guild Pricing and Ethical Handbook (shown at right) This guide covers almost every type of design project and gives ranges for how much the service costs. Contracts for many situations are included. Best practices are explained. The "ethical" reference concerns topics like work-for-hire (considered unethical) in which a freelance designer is required to sign over copyright. This tome is a must-have for any independent graphic designer's shelf. It is regularly updated. The text is not available on the Web for free.

2. A Practical Guide to Working with Graphic Designers (by The Graphic Artists Guild of Albany) This guide provides answers for clients who have not hired creative services before. It points out many of the things that designers wish all clients knew. Some of the chapter titles are: "Just What Are Graphic Designers (and What Do They Do?)" and "How Do You Work Together" and "Sample Production Schedule." It is a great source for design students, recent graduates and clients. The writing in this booklet has a friendly style. It is available for free on the Web as a downloadable PDF.

3. Client's Guide to Design (brochure by The American Institute of Graphic Arts) If your client is a corporation, institution, advertising agency, investor or public relations firm this would be the guide to share. While guide #2 (above) seems geared to small businesses, the AIGA brochure is directed at larger businesses considering multi-phase communication projects. The text discusses the value of design in terms that are correct, but that might seem too heady for a small business owner who only needs a couple of ads or a refined logo and is not ready for a large-scale branding, PR or advertising update. The chapters include practical information about topics such as finding a designer, the design brief and budgeting. The guide is available for free on the AIGA Site.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Three of the Best Resource Books to Use When Teaching Adobe Photoshop

As a Photoshop user and teacher I am always on the hunt for teaching sources. Here is my list of outstanding books for instruction and inspiration.

1. Photoshop 7 Artistry by Barry Haynes and Wendy Crumpler has been a gem on my shelf and a wonderful source for several years. I have ordered, and can't wait to receive, their most recent book, Photoshop Artistry: For Photographers Using Photoshop CS2 and Beyond (Sean Duggan is added an author of this edition). They also have a title, Photoshop CS Artistry. These books go into depth on all of the functions and techniques that photographers need. They are chock-full of detail that is very well explained and illustrated. The content is well organized and the titled paragraphs make it very easy to find the information you seek. These books lean toward photographers and not as much toward illustrative artists. Still, every intermediate, and above, user should have these books and they are excellent resources for educators. A CD is included. For more information.

2. Adobe Systems puts out a series titled, Adobe Classroom in a Book. As with each book in the series exercise files and instructional movies are included on the CD that comes with the Photoshop text. The book provides an superb overview of each key Photoshop capability. In my view this is the best book for teaching beginning classes. There is good information for intermediates, too, especially in the last several chapters. Advanced users would find this too basic.

3. The Art of Photoshop, CS2 Edition by Daniel Giordan is a treasure. (Giordan also has authored, The Art of Photoshop for Digital Photographers.) The interesting artistic montages that Giordan creates are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. An intermediate or advanced photoshop artist would be able to follow along with the descriptions of the techniques that Giordan generously shares and then be able to apply the same techniques to one's own creations. The images are beautifully reproduced in the book. There is a CD and exercise files are available online. More information.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Network in Industry Now to Make Sure You Are Headed Toward the Right Career...And For Later Job Searching

I recently heard a presentation by Dr. Tom Krieshok, a professor in the Department of Psychology & Research in Education at The University of Kansas. Dr. Krieshok's research is designed to assist vocational counselors in helping students with their choice of career. He shared findings that I now routinely pass on to students in my vocationally oriented classes. Here are some highlights:

1. There are both rational and intuitive aspects to choosing a career. Taking tests to determine aptitude and match skills is the rational approach to choosing a career. However, students also should pay attention to their intuitive response, in other words, their gut reaction.

2. It is important to determine your gut reaction to the real-world aspects of a career before you pursue studies. This takes initiative and effort. A student should seek out many different real-world experiences in the occupation being considered before launching on a course of study. This can include "interviewing for information," shadowing people at their jobs, getting summer jobs in the industry and touring workplaces. While doing all of this the student should pay close attention to his or her gut response.

Without doing this it can be impossible to predict what you will really think and feel in a career. Krieshok gave an example of a student who loved law, tested as having the right aptitude and skills, and entered law school. He studied hard and was very successful as a student. Unfortunately after graduation at his first law job he found that this employment was not a fit for him - - on a gut level.

3. There is a second good reason to gain real-world experience as a student: making connections that can eventually help you find a job. The old paradigm was that getting a job was something to worry about after graduation and that while in school it was all about shutting oneself away to hit the books and get good grades.

This is not so anymore. Though college learning and grades are important, Krieshok explained that today's students must pair academic studies with networking during their student years.

Getting a first job often seems like an accident or lucky chance but many times a job offer is a result of a process that could be called planned happenstance. This process should begin in the student years, and networking is a key part. Krieshok recommends that students make lots of contacts while in school.

Students can do this by joining and participating in American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) events, entering design contests, taking internships and working at part-time production jobs. Students are encouraged to be extroverted and talk to established designers at industry events and to do everything they can to become known and well connected.

4. "But I am an introvert and I prefer to stick to myself while a student." Professor Krieshok explained that leaving one's comfort zone is hard for everyone, even extroverts, but that this ability can be developed.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Two Excellent Books for Beginning and Early-Career Graphic Designers

When I was 15 my father gave me a book titled, Art Career Guide by Donald Holden. The book explained how to begin a career as a designer or artist. I still keep this book on my shelf and look at it from time to time. It presents an interesting marker-in-time for reflecting on the ways the occupation had changed, and the ways it has stayed the same.

Now as a college graphic design and computer application instructor I read every new career resource for starting-out designers. Two of the books are discussed here.

1. The Savvy Designer's Guide to Success: Ideas and Tactics for a Killer Career by Jeff Fisher (2005). This book is full of information for beginning and early-career designers. Fisher shares insight based on his well established career in a friendly and personal me-to-you tone. Fisher is a well known leader in the field and often presents at national conferences. Any designer would benefit from getting to know Jeff Fisher and his work.

2. Becoming a Graphic Designer: A Guide to Careers in Design by Steven Heller and Teresa Fernandes (2006). Steven Heller is a leader in the field of design as a prolific author, designer, critic and academic. The book covers many design specialties in detail including editorial design, corporate design, motion design and environmental design, among many others. Lists of what to include in portfolios and interviews with specialists are included. All beginning designers should read this book.

These books have very different tones almost as if to reflect truisms about geographical location. Jeff Fisher is on the west coast and his book is casual and has an informative but easy-to-understand tone. Steven Heller is based in New York and the book takes itself seriously.

Fisher's book seems to say, "Be smart, work hard, make mistakes, but persevere like I did and you can succeed."

Heller's book communicates, "Graphic design is a very important field with a a high bar to entry. There is much to know about each specialization."

Both books belong on my students' shelves.

Next time I will review a great guide written by a designer from my neck of the woods, The Complete Graphic Designer by Ryan Hembree.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

AIGA Kansas City Presented Second Session in Mind Your Own Business Series Today

AIGA Kansas City presented the second in the MYOB (Mind Your Own Business) series this morning. Today's session focused on "The Client."

Three panelists discussed their experiences and answered questions: Deb Turpin, Owner and President of River City Studio, Brad Lang, President & Chief Operating Officer of Geoff Howe Marketing Communications and Mike Hauser, Director of Graphic Design at 360 Architects.

After a lively and informative presentation that included divergent viewpoints and discussion each panelist wrapped up with one final piece of advice for graphic designers in dealing with clients:

1. Deb Turpin: Listen carefully to the client's description of the project and be certain to offer a design solution that is clearly based on targeting the audience.

2. Brad Lang: Don't get caught up in politics or in second guessing which client (internal or external) to serve. Instead, make the creative brief the client and simply focus on the objectives described.

3. Mike Hauser: The relationship with the client is key. So much of design success is in monitoring and care-taking of the relationship.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Some Good Practices for Teaching Computer Training Courses

I follow a teaching plan when I teach Adobe computer classes in a computer lab classroom. It has 7 steps:

1. List the steps in the lesson. I write them on the board so that students can orient their minds to what is to come. Seeing it in writing helps it sink in.

2. Provide a hook, or preview. This gets the students interested and is motivating. I show examples of the technique that I am about to teach.

3. Provide the information that is needed to gain the knowledge or skill. This is done through lecture combined with visual explanation of the needed background concepts.

4. Model the technique through demonstration. Reinforce the new vocabulary, labels and categories while demonstrating on the classroom screen. Students watch.

5. Check for understanding. Ask questions to make sure the students understand the ideas and the key terms and labels. Clarify as needed.

6. Guided practice. This is an opportunity for students to apply the new learning by working through an exercise under the teacher's supervision. The teacher moves around the room to provide individual help as needed.

7. Closure. This cues the students that the lesson has come to an end and helps them define the content of the new knowledge as a distinct subject area that can be pulled from in the future.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision" is a Fabulous Movie for Beginning Graphic Design Students

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, a movie about Vietnam War Memorial architect Maya Lin, should be screened for graphic design students, not just architecture and interior design students.

Students in my introduction to graphic design classes are always swept up by the emotional power of Lin's story. Along the way they learn:

• There are meaningful categories and genres within design. This translates well into graphic design as the students will learn later in the semester that there have been distinct, historically rooted, eras within graphic design.

• Public design is so powerful it can evoke extreme controversy. The story of the opposition to Lin's design is captured. Lin was a student when her design was selected and the fact that she was so young, and a student, makes her story riveting to design students.

• Designers use the elements of design as well as symbolism to communicate meaning that can be comprehended by others. Lin discusses space, material and color as elements in the message she communicated in the Vietnam War Memorial. Many students in my introductory class are new to design and have not pondered the elements of design.

• Lin intentionally used her senses and her imagination to create her concept. In the movie Lin is shown as a student visiting what was to become memorial site. Students can see how she wandered carefree, apparently processing and evoking her vision. This provides a great model for the creative process for students.

5 Keys to Teaching a Great Introduction to Graphic Design Course

We teach an introduction to graphic design course as a prerequisite class at the college where I teach. While there is one studio exercise in the course, the class is not primarily a studio class. Instead it is designed to help an incoming student learn about the field and better decide if this is the right career direction before going further in the program.

After teaching this class for several semesters I have determined that there are at least 5 key parts to making this course optimal for the students:

1. Plan site visits to design offices or ad agencies. There is nothing like setting a foot inside a door to get a feel for the atmosphere, as well as specific information, about an occupation.

2. Host guest speakers from several specializations. Students get to hear about someone's career path and the challenges and joys of a job from someone working in the field.

3. Assign independent research projects on design history with reporting back to the class. With each student presenting on a different era or designer, the students come out of the class with a good beginning knowledge about design aesthetics and changing values over time.

4. Plan a small group exercise. Students learn a lot from discussions with peers. When something is said by a student in a small group discussion it often provides a rewording of a concept that has been explained by the professor. Hearing it from a peer, in a different voice, often helps students integrate new information.

5. Assign an introductory visual perception exercise. We have students find magazine pictures that match in texture, color palette, shape, or other qualities. This is a great exercise because it forces students to perceive the formal attributes of an image.