• Opinion-lead

    This week’s piece looks at how we teach design

Opinion: A new role for design schools in the digital age?

Posted by It's Nice That,

This week Andrew Campbell, course leader graphics at Norwich University of the Arts, makes the case for what university design courses could and should be pushing. As ever you can join the debate below…

My toilet roll packaging is asking me whether I scrunch or fold. I can link to Facebook, get sent a Valentine, and post a caption on a picture of a puppy. It’s a fully integrated campaign. I can just imagine that one being sold in.

As the design industry embraces constant technological change, it follows that we grapple with the relation between print and screen-based communication and the opportunities offered by social media… but please not like this.

As a graphics educator I ask students to consider lots of things: the future of the distributed text; the book, magazine, newspaper and poster, as well as the challenge and opportunity afforded by tablets, e-readers, smart phones, augmented reality, social media, digital displays, and new practices such as crowdsourcing, coding, data sharing, and social reading. We deliver teaching of the design fundamentals: type, image, layout, hierarchy, and expose students to experiences across subject-specific disciplines within this broad church of design. The thing we really try to push is the ability to challenge a brief, and the call for content – engaging, life-enhancing content.

In his recent blog post Dave Trott discusses teaching, learning and education. He states that: “Creativity must be about questioning the way things are and doing them differently. You can’t do that if you’ve had all questioning knocked out of you. If your brain has been turned into a receptacle for current wisdom. If all you’ve learned is to regurgitate the expected answers.”

In his summary he appears to suggest that academia doesn’t provide the same opportunities as “the real world.” I would potentially agree, however the academic environment does provide an important starting place for some really talented individuals who may not have the in-built drive and self-belief of Dave Trott’s father-in- law, (mentioned throughout his blog post). The majority of my students want to work in design. While we acknowledge the relevance of commercial activity we also challenge them to question (graphic) design as an output, a practice and a profession. We champion their creations; we encourage them to engage with practitioners from all disciplines; to learn the skills to utilise both print and digital, alternate media and environments; to consider sustainment and other globally relevant and urgent issues.

They also look to industry for inspiration and eventual employment, and yet similar critiques of education could be levied against industry — regurgitation of process, style-led solutions and unchallenging answers. In the words of my late friend and colleague Nic Hughes: “We’re not going to kern our way out of this one!”

The Cowbird symposium organised by Norwich University of the Arts will explore the relationship between print and digital, and the coexistence of media in a wider sense; how they combine, and how they provide unique opportunities. It takes place on March 7-8 2013. www.nua.ac.uk

If you are interested in writing an Opinion piece email ra@itsnicethat.com with the word Opinion in the subject field.

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