Fusing Hand and Hi-Tech for Hi-Touch

Denise Anderson
Assistant Professor
Robert Busch School of Design
Kean University

Edward Johnston
Assistant Professor
Robert Busch School of Design
Kean University

Graphic design academic programs must respond to contemporary society’s relentlessly growing need for digitally designed solutions.  According to the Creative Group’s 2017 Salary Guide, starting salaries will increase this year by more than 5% for visual designers and more than 6% for mobile and UX designers.  This poses a challenge to design educators, whose students necessarily embrace an ever-changing array of technical solutions, which can lead to distraction, stress, and loss of creativity.  Surrounded by multiple devices that inhibit their creative workflow, students are relentlessly tempted to multitask, which can decrease productivity and increase stress, according to recent studies.   “Highly physiologically arousing emotions associated with stress” rouse our instinct “to stay away from excitement and seek comfort instead,” depressing, rather than fostering, creative thinking.

Two ways to provide much-needed relief are drawing and listening to music.  As discussed by Robin Landa in a recent HOW article, “Drawing allows you to disappear into the act of creation,” and “sustained focus while drawing acts to quiet any internal noise.”  Dedicated sketching sessions can enable a designer to focus on growing a concept without the noise of multitasking.  The second, listening to music—especially beloved music—is a proven and well-documented way to relax mind and body, slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease stress hormone levels.

Student Marc Rosario has created a mobile app experience (currently at the designed prototyping phase) that aims to combine these two stress-releasing options to increase creativity.  “Sharpen” boosts creativity through drawing, sketching, and listening to music.  Brainstorming an idea within the timeframe of a song, users can take pictures of their process, upload the work to Sharpen or other social media channels, and share or solicit feedback of their work.

This presentation provides a two-pronged approach to this challenge of fostering creativity while responding to industry needs.  It focuses on the curricular value of fusing “hand” skills outside 
of the computer (focused sketching, research, user testing, surveys, written reflections, and 
brand development) with “hi-tech” digital design (brand identity, mobile design, and prototyping).

Also, it explores, through example, the “hi-touch” results of that fusion, using Marc’s app prototyping project, which celebrates hand skills and entices young people to draw and sketch more frequently.