Leveraging the Smartphone as a Teaching Tool

Heather Snyder-Quinn
Professional Lecturer
DePaul University
College of Computing and Digital Media
School of Design

Heather Snyder-Quinn 
Professional Lecturer
DePaul University 
College of Computing and Digital Media 
School of Design

Educators are often frustrated with students’ constant attachment to their smartphones. But why do we assume the smartphone isn’t a creative tool akin to a pencil or brush—a simple way of seeing and interpreting the world around us?

As the world of design vacillates forever between the digital and analog, it’s imperative that students (and educators) understand an ever-expanding array of principles. In the words of Seymour Papert: “The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.” And as classroom content grows, the best thing we can teach students is how to be adaptive and curious thinkers.

Students can best embrace uncertainty and find comfort in a process of discovery by exploring and pushing the boundaries of the familiar. This is where the phone excels as a teaching tool. Analogous to the way a drawing teacher encourages mark-making with a branch or one’s foot, we can use a smartphone’s features in unintended ways that harness its power as a creative tool by altering our own expectations.

The smartphone is a device that most students have as an extension of their hand (though we must be vigilant of our own assumptions from privilege). Once students learn to use the smartphone in unintended and perceptively novel ways, they can extend this method to both past technologies and those yet to be imagined. By having students hack, make, and create in this manner, we are teaching them to think beyond the hand and machine, to the tool that has not yet been discovered.

Lastly, by exploring/investigating the capabilities of, and ever-present reliance upon our smartphones, we can raise awareness and open the classroom conversation to discuss ethical implications in design, including privilege, accessibility, inclusion, privacy and addiction.

Empathic Typography

Michele Damato McCaffrey
Assistant Professor
Department of Design
Syracuse University

Michele Damato McCaffrey
Assistant Professor
Department of Design
Syracuse University

How are students going to become empathic designers when they live and learn in a guarded design institution for four years? Can we develop courses/projects that encourage them to interact with communities outside of their own?

My work with students has shown they want to feel invested in their learning. Millennials are the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in the U.S. and are highly committed to social change. As design educators, we can use this information to tailor classes that will challenge them socially as citizens and designers so that they may have a deeper emotional connection to their work.

In my Experimental Typography Class, students are required to photograph the typographic signage/markings of an unknown neighborhood. For many, this may have been the first time visiting a neighborhood/culture significantly different from their own. Through typography only, the students designed a double-sided poster that communicates the culture and experience of that place. They come to understand how typography alone can reflect the ethnicity, culture, and socio-economic structure of a neighborhood. Though challenging and uncomfortable to some, students enjoy this project because they have the freedom to choose communities; take their own photography; spend time outside the boundaries and solitude of the classroom; and are in a new environment.

As a result, students often felt an investment and commitment to the neighborhood they chose to present. Not only did they fall in love with this new approach of discovering typography but also how they visually represented their story. Having students move outside of the classroom and interacting in new communities allowed them to (a) utilize their own strengths to develop their voice as designers and (b) raise their awareness of other communities as a first step toward becoming empathic and socially engaged citizens.

 

Agents of Change:Inspiring the Next Generation of Art Directors

James Wojtowicz 
Associate Director of Art Direction and Industry Development
School of Advertising
Academy of Art University
San Francisco, California

Many, if not most Art Directors did not plan on being Art Directors as a kid. There are lots of reasons why. Chances are they were tacitly, if not actively discouraged by parents and guidance counselors, from pointing towards anything with the word art in the job title. This and media profiling, that in general, rank a career in advertising somewhere between becoming a politician and a used car salesperson.

That needs to change. More than ever, Art Directors today can be the driving force behind positive social impact and not just a client’s bottom line. College bound students need to know this. They need to be more exposed to the fact that creativity is a learnable and applicable skill – one that can be used on demand, to develop smart, compelling messaging that inspires meaningful change in the world.

Insights from experienced professionals have tremendous impact on young minds in search of a career path. This presentation provides a set of tools for influencers to encourage the next generation of Art Directors/Agents of Change. Perhaps actor Kevin Spacey said it best “If you’re lucky enough to have done well, then it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.”

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.

Unforeseen Structures: Chaos, Materials, and Emergent Process

Mitch Goldstein
Assistant Professor
School of Design

Rochester Institute of Technology 

My research focuses on the examination of form and methodology using darkroom photography techniques, specifically the photogram. Photograms use no cameras or lenses — instead, objects are placed on or near unexposed photographic paper and briefly exposed to light. This process results in abstract black and white compositions, which emerge unpredictably from the physical materials used in their creation. Control is relinquished, and instead intuition and chance allow form and structure to develop from the process.

This work closely parallels my visual design practice working in publication design, as well as my applied pedagogy teaching art and design students. My talk focuses on three concepts that this research explores: how to work with chaos and unpredictability, the usage and synthesis of materials and methods, and the exploitation of emergent process. My photogram work, my publication design work, and some of my classroom projects will be shown as examples of these ideas and how they manifest across different contexts.

Two Implications of Action-Centric Interaction Design

Ian Bellomy
Assistant Professor Communication Design
Myron E. Ullman, Jr. School of Design
University of Cincinnati

This presentation covers two implications for visual communication design education that stem from an action-centric view of screen-based interaction design. Brief excerpts of two student projects will be presented in support of the main theoretical argument. The premise, which will be taken for granted here, is that interaction can be accurately described in terms of action on malleable form. It follows from this that visual designers are well served by approaching screen based interaction design through the lens of information navigation, and that instructors can effectively constrain specific projects through action related variables.

The design of malleable screen form is predicated on basic human needs and entails unique but reoccurring communication design challenges. First, malleable form is not just an opportunity, it is a technical and human necessity—because digital devices can carry more information than they can display at once, their forms must be malleable. This also applies to screen-based control surfaces (e.g. a car dashboard) that have more functions than fit into a given rectangle. Second, malleable form entails the need to communicate the form’s malleability; as all screen form is malleable in some way, this communication need, or information navigation design problem, is very common. This makes it an appropriate foundation for studying interactivity in a visual design curriculum.

The action centric perspective also clarifies opportunities for defining project level constraints. An instructor can limit the kinds of forms allowed (type, photo, graphics, etc.), their capacity for transformation, and the kinds of input that affect these changes (clicks, swipes, drags, etc.). Such constraints can guide students into novel situations requiring thoughtful problem solving as opposed to interface convention regurgitation. Constraints can also be tailored to fit different prototyping technologies so that students can explore the limits of their materials while simultaneously engaging in human-centered problem solving.

Teaching Design in the Age of Convergence

Robin Landa  
Distinguished Professor
Michael Graves College, Kean University  

To help people master Canon’s capabilities, 360i in partnership with Canon “set out to create a classroom experience in the field.” With Canon Photo Coach, 360i helped photo enthusiasts take the kind of photos they hoped for. 360i “used social listening to find New York City’s most photographed areas and then placed billboards right where people were taking those photos.” They created smart billboards—digital screens and trucks equipped with giant monitors that tapped into API data such as light, weather, time, traffic, location and events—giving real-time tips to photographers right when they needed them. This solution is neither conventional advertising nor graphic design.

Interactive public screens. Mobile design. Social media design. Environmental experiences. From any consumer’s point of view, brand experiences have been converging. However some design courses remain in pre-digital era silos.

Moira Cullen, Coca-Cola’s former design director, once said our profession could no longer tolerate thinking in silos. Yet we’re still divided in departments, in the classroom, and in our own brains. Contemporary visual communication problems demand new types of pedagogy.

To effectively address dealing with this convergence, I have been abolishing graphic design and advertising categories (and some conventions) in the classroom. Getting my students to think of visual communication as value-added experiences is my approach. I do this by asking students to consider the following questions when critiquing their own concepts.

  • What benefit does your concept offer people?
  • Is there any social good you can promote while promoting a brand?
  • Can a design or advertising solution be in the form of entertainment, a product, service, or utility?

As a result, my students have secured coveted internships and jobs with New York City agencies and studios. It’s time to embrace integrated ways to teach in the age of convergence.

 

How Hard Is It To Navigate A Rectangle? Harder Than You Think

Neil Ward
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
Drake University

Wayfinding and signage are important pieces of a buildings structure and interior space, especially on college/university campuses. They provide a visual blueprint that informs students, administrators, faculty, and public visitors where they are and attempts to direct them to classrooms, galleries, labs, performance spaces, and offices. When the signage is missing, incomplete, or inconsistent, all who enter the space are left confused and quite possibly frustrated as they wander around. A missing/poor wayfinding system can intensify these feelings when an individual is mobility challenged and unable to use the stairs. Especially when the building in question is rectangular in shape.

This is a particular problem senior level graphic design students encountered during a Research and Application class in the Fall semester of 2016. Using photo ethnography, observational research, and visual anthropology, students learned and observed how and why visitors entered, moved through, and exited the Fine Arts Building (A building that is rectangular in shape). Based on their findings, students designed a wayfinding system for the building that heavily considered those who are mobility challenged.

An individual (we will call her Jane) from the Office of Student Disabilities, who is mobility challenged, volunteered to test the wayfinding systems. During the user test, dialogue ensued between both parties about what was missing, what could be done better, and what to think about for future iterations. Upon debriefing, students passionately discussed their systems and the building as a whole through Jane’s point of view. Experiencing movement through the building with Jane they unanimously decided the current systems are unacceptable for a campus deemed accessible. Furthermore, they were inspired by Jane’s encouragement and the notion of how their wayfinding could continually and positively impact a large audience.

“How hard is it to navigate a rectangle? Harder than you think” will feature project visuals, the unexpected drive to design for social good, and the issue of accessibility to inspire empathy through wayfinding.