Reconstructing a BA Graphic Design Program: Scalpel or Sledgehammer?

Nancy Wynn
Associate Professor
Merrimack College

In the fall of 2015, as the new faculty member at Merrimack College, I was thrust into this position. A cold dose of reality hit—my senior students’ work was, sadly, a mess. It was clear the design program needed to be rebuilt and renamed. Acting fast became necessary, because moving slowly would continue the problem. Both scalpel and sledgehammer were required (along with lots of coffee) delivering a newly redesigned BA Graphic Design program for approval and implementation by fall 2016. The program bridged both design thinking and making with the skill set of a Liberal Arts education.

The analysis started with the NASAD/AIGA analytical and consultative briefing papers. They were a good starting point, but they did not answer the question of how to build an expanded BA model responsibly? How elastic is the BA model? What beneficial Liberal Arts skills could be integrated into a graphic design student’s education? How could avenues be created for various types of students to be successful? And, where and how should professional engagement enter into the program?

This story begins by sharing methods for responsibly creating a “hybrid” BA model, keeping students’ best interests in mind, and honoring the industry’s professional standards. Topics to be shared include evaluating existing majors and minors; partnering with other majors and departments; which courses to keep vs. which should be thrown out; setting sizable goals for a 4-year BA graphic design program; ideas on future learning spaces and technology; and, understanding what is valuable in a 21st century graphic design education as the industry continues to evolve.

Drawing Type, Drawing Connections

Joel Mason
Professor Emeritus
Department of Communication Design
New York City College of Technology, CUNY

In 1979, as a full-time member of the Communication Design department at NYC College of Technology, I was assigned Lettering and Typography, a first semester course teaching students to draw three basic alphabets: Caslon, Bodoni and Helvetica using the “built-up” method with broad sketching pencils. Reviewing the course outline and required textbook, David Gates’ Lettering for Reproduction I realized there were gaps in my education.

When I was a student, classes in graphic design history/theory didn’t exist. Gates briefly covered design history and theory but also explained the role of geometry, visual perception, printing technology, history and
aesthetics in the design and evolution of letterforms. Now, I understood that while demonstrating lettering techniques, I would also need to relate them to these other disciplines. As a result, my thinking about teaching typography changed, seeing its potential as a multidisciplinary subject with links to the liberal arts and sciences.

Lectures included the role of geometry in shaping the proportional systems underlying Old Style and Modern Style typefaces, along with discussions and demonstrations of the role of visual perception and illusion in adjusting shapes to create harmonious optical relationships among letterforms. Examples of how Caslon and Bodoni appeared when first printed in the 18th century and how paper, ink and presswork affected their appearance were integrated into the narrative. History could also be introduced in surprising ways, by explaining for example, that the first copies of the American Declaration of Independence were printed using Caslon, which was imported from England prior to the Revolution. Drawing and constructing letterforms also demonstrated how fundamental design principles (also being taught in other first year design classes) such as contrast, balance, proportion and rhythm contributed to an aesthetically pleasing result. The class was also showed thow organic forms in nature served as a source of inspiration.

Taken together, students not only learned to draw letterforms, but saw how the broad web of connections with other disciplines could enrich their learning experience. I taught the course for five years, but by the early 90’s digital technology replaced hand-lettering. Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in calligraphy and hand-lettering. Regardless of the technology used, teaching typography, particularly at the introductory level, can be transformed by the multidisciplinary approach.

A Start Up Simulator: Collaborative Design Studio

Efecem Kutuk
Program Coordinator Industrial Design, University Lecturer
Robert Busch School of Design
Michael Graves College
Kean University

In recent years collaboration has become a fundamental of the design industry. In the start-up business environment, the corporate structure has been replaced by a passionate, skilled and capable 24/7 work force of risk-taking design entrepreneurs.

Everyday we witness independent design collaborations that capture recognition by launching their products through powerful tools such as social media and crowd funding, the innovate nature of which are several steps ahead of their market majority corporate competitors. What if we can simulate these collaborations at an earlier stage, during undergraduate education? What if we can mimic the experience of a start-up in the classroom?

I have been teaching “Collaborative Design Studio” the past three years, utilizing team-building and problem solving techniques to produce imaginary start-ups, which incorporate the full spectrum of the start-up model- user experience, branding and packaging by Graphic Designers, design development, prototyping by Industrial Designers, and exhibition of the product by Interior Designers. At certain points in the process, the team divides and conquers by their specialization within the design field. At other points, they work as a team to make common decisions. They follow a road that intermittently splits and merges throughout the journey. The course offered a window on how start-ups run, and gave students the ability to practice before graduating, rather than figuring out design entrepreneurism on the job.

My presentation will include examples of student work, from initial ideations to a finalized solution, by focusing on team members’ key decisions throughout the project. I will also substantiate my argument by highlighting the success of collaborative creative teams by other researchers findings. Finally, the importance of having a collaborative course in the design curricula, especially for institutions that have various design programs, will be open to discussion.

Look Closer: Interaction, Interpretation, Environmental Storytelling

John Delacruz
Professor of Advertising
School of Journalism and Mass Communications
San Jose State University

The creative industries rely on interdisciplinary practices. They require team working skills and the ability to learn, support and help others in an increasingly inter-disciplinary environment.

Students at San Jose State University who aim to enter the creative industries have been working on a project with Santa Clara County Parks creating interactive and interpretive story tree installations on the Coyote Creek Parkway Trail at Hellyer County Park. This is the Coyote Creek Fables, part of a bigger project of artworks to be sited in Hellyer Park.

Our presentation will explore how the student team has evolved and produced a body of work that will exist in a real space, enhancing the trail and the Ranger-led talk, and online, supplementing the Coyote Creek fables with information and interactive elements shaping the user experience. How did the design process unfold? How did the experiential and improvisational pedagogical approaches help shape the outcomes? What are the Coyote Creek fables?

The concept, inspired by the Ohlone tribes of California and their associations with totem poles, is intended to enhance existing interpretive programs, while encouraging trail users to take a closer look at the wildlife found along the multi-use Coyote Creek Parkway Trail.

Our design team is a diverse mix group of undergraduate and graduate students with backgrounds in graphic design, journalism, photography, advertising, and mass communications. The project has enabled them to engage in collaborative, experiential practices where different skill sets have allowed peer mentoring to drive them to their final products.

The student team has engaged in peer to peer collaboration, and found ways to work remotely at times. They have developed awareness of natural history and environmental stewardship as they flex their creative muscles. The overall learning experience has provided them with a skill set that will help them navigate their future careers in the creative industries successfully.

Making Places: Design Methods And Practices In Interdisciplinary Scholarship Labs

Amy Papaelias
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
Art Department
SUNY New Paltz

Interdisciplinarity is the ability to combine, cross or think through multiple disciplines in order to create new bodies of knowledge. Environments that foster interdisciplinary scholarship and critical making explore innovative pedagogical and research approaches in the liberal arts, sciences, and humanities. Although these interdisciplinary scholarship labs (and related environments including makerspaces and digital humanities centers) exist at many institutions, few have explicitly brought design thinking and visual design strategies into their practices and research. By definition, design includes the collaborative creation of experiences, processes, systems, services, through the study of human behavior, social research methods, and critical thinking. Across a variety of disciplines, these design activities can benefit and enhance research and scholarship as integral to the dissemination and communication of new knowledge.

What is design’s role in these spaces? How are design methods and practices being implemented, engaged with, and applied to the liberal arts and sciences? In what ways can design help communicate complex visual messages, ideate physical artifacts, and build digital tools within these contexts? What are some of the challenges of integrating design methods or practitioners in cross-disciplinary projects and how might we encourage more collaboration between design and other disciplines within our institutions?

This presentation will discuss the role designers and design methods can play in interdisciplinary scholarship labs, centers, and spaces. I will share some of my current research that seeks to understand how design is integrated into these environments at colleges and universities. By examining design’s role in research and pedagogy outside of our own field, we can expand the possibilities for future emergent scholarly practices within design and beyond.