Career Guide

Inside a design school?

Design education doesn’t happen in the typical university lecture hall or laboratory. It takes place in studios (literally, places for work) and through seminars (organized discussions characterized by informality and high interaction). Learning takes place through the analysis of problems and possible solutions using composition, typography, photography, images, and space. Students use materials and processes from basic hand skills to computers to create communications.

Another difference is that design education is project-based rather than subject-based. Teachers create projects to reveal certain visual or communication principles or the nature of certain kinds of problems or media. Students learn by doing. From early to late in the curriculum, projects become more complex as students build on past experience. From the university’s perspective, design education is expensive because it requires that teachers spend time with students individually. No student is anonymous in a design program.

Another aspect of design education is the group critique. “Crits” take place at different stages in a project and provide an opportunity to step back and reflect on the project, to exchange critical or supporting ideas, to clarify intentions, and to develop the ability to discuss or even defend one’s own work–a necessary skill that will later be important with clients. The critique helps students to deal openly with criticism while it trains them in the important verbal skills of explaining the reasons behind their solutions. They must go beyond “I like it” or “That stinks.” Critiques help students to internalize standards of excellence, to develop a shared vocabulary for discussion, to learn to incorporate useful suggestions from others, and to evaluate their own and others’ performances. This process helps students to separate work from self and to acquire the maturity and perspective needed in order to benefit from intelligent criticism. The critique is a basic exercise in critical thinking.

Graphic design exists as a response to the need to organize the flow of communication in society. The designer creates the visual interpretation of the message from client to audience. The ways in which the designer chooses to present this information depend on training and on the designers’s own personality. That’s why design schools spend as much time on the student’s path to a satisfactory solution as they do on the solution itself.

Design school students are immersed in problem-solving activities. They think spatially as well as verbally; they work in teams and individually; they get things done. As a project-oriented, highly interactive process, design education fosters dialogue, resourcefulness, and a constructive direction for these creative students.

Graphic Design: A Career Guide and Education Directory
Edited by Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl
Copyright 1993
The American Institute of Graphic Arts