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Design School Part 1 - Moments

I recently attended an alumni event for my university. It got me thinking about school and well, here is part 1 of 3:

What was I most influenced by in school? The easy answer is the professors. They were amazing. But there’s more to school than just the classes. Maybe it was the other students, the environment, the non-design-related experiences. Maybe it was myself. It was probably all of those and more. Intangibles. Feelings, thoughts, ideas. Moments.

College was a time of discovery and mind opening. Exploring vast new cultural vistas. I met and befriended all of the types of people whom I couldn’t while growing up in the New Jersey suburbs. The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, as the only university in the country devoted completely to the arts, became the stage on which I grew into an artist and designer. There were musicians and actors and painters and photographers and dancers and too many other classifications of artists to mention. There was no campus. Like so many other city schools, students and the public walked side by side on the way to class and to work.

There are moments from my days as an undergrad that stick out in my head like they happened yesterday. Moments that will also stay with me forever.

I remember in my first drawing class in college, we all had to hang up our first assignment on the big crit wall. The professor asked the class if anyone liked their work or thought they did a good job. Now, things were very competitive, even early on, not to mention this was an obvious setup for criticism. At least 60 seconds of silence followed. No one so much as blinked. I raised my hand to what seemed like half laughter and half horrified gasps. I can picture a fellow student, in slow-motion, silently mouthing, “nooooooo!” like we were sitting in “The Breakfast Club” and I was about to be rack up my 12th Saturday detention. “You mess with the bull, you get the horns.” Nothing bad came of it. I survived and certainly made an impression.

I remember a fellow student calling me over in the computer lab for a, “whadaya think of this?” This student was and still is a close friend of mine and I had to decide whether to tell her it was great or that it was not-so-great. It was really just OK. I said, “Lisa, you’re better than that.” And she was better than that, and she said, “You’re right, I am better than that.” I still tell her that to this day.

I remember having a drawing class for graphic designers with a slightly (extremely) eccentric teacher. She was and is an amazing and passionate artist. We really did learn to draw in that class. It was one of those, “forget everything you know about drawing and pencils and art and life” classes with a master. In between learning to draw and translate objects into graphite, we would have other creative exercises. Every day, for a short while at the beginning of our six-hour class, we would paint abstracts with tempera on newsprint to get out whatever we were feeling that day. One day, as what seemed like an experiment, she read a story, and the class drew whatever came to them. I did not love this activity but went on with it for the time it lasted. The very next class, our teacher asked us to raise our hands if we didn’t want to try this particular exercise again. Let me say, that in the context of the moment, I was sure that we were voting. Well, myself and two other students were the only ones to raise our hands for not wanting to do this exercise again. Our teacher promptly asked us to leave the room while the rest of the class completed the exercise. Excellent.

There were all-nighters, not to finish an assignment, but to make it perfect. Tough critiques leading to self-doubt. In my case, it was my closest friends who were most ruthless. There was serious but friendly competition as we all pushed each other to be better, all striving to live up to designers who came before us. I believe that without the constant critiquing at all hours, one-upsmanship and hands-on encouragement, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

I remember a professor teaching our Typography class about “Cloud Type”. I remember feeding type through the wax machine and the feeling of it as you stuck it to a clean piece of white paper. I remember a professor calling a classmate’s work, “trite.” I remember a professor looking at my first hand painted letters and telling me, “You just don’t see.” I remember being convinced that in the second week of class with one professor, that my semester-long assignment was finished. I remember having an intensive workshop with an outside expert on email interfaces at a time when just about no one in the class had ever used email. I remember a guest critic not wanting me to do my senior project on Coca-Cola because it was too “corporate.” And, I remember a classmate having to have a talk with the Dean after showing off his “Prince Albert” in the studio.

I remember professors bringing their actual work in to class so we could see it in-progress, week by week. We were their apprentices and often learned by watching. Excelling in their classes was the price of entry for gaining employment at their offices.

I remember having an internship that started as a summer but lasted over two years. I remember the day when my title went from “Intern” to “Junior Designer”. Working in that small office, there were moments when I was convinced I had made it, but more times when I was convinced that I knew nothing. I still consider them family.

I remember a professor telling our graduating design class of 22 students that we were about to go on a journey. We now had the necessary tools in our backpack to sustain us and the rest was up to us. Up to our determination and up to our will. I will remember that talk on the steps of the Great Hall forever. This man that we all looked up to and admired, said that while we began the day as students and a professor, we left as colleagues.

That was a moment.

*All names have been changed to “student” and “professor” to protect the innocent (and guilty) and to avoid the appearance of name-dropping. Please do the same with whatever stories you share with us.

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ARCHIVE ID 2246 FILED UNDER Design Academics
PUBLISHED ON Mar.15.2005 BY David Weinberger
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Darrel’s comment is:

yep.

On Mar.15.2005 at 09:48 AM
Tim C’s comment is:

My experience (I'm coming to the end of my BA) is seen (possibly through proximity) through considerably less rose-tinted glasses. while i wouldn't change a day, and it has, in the majority, been fun, and educational, the summative moment of the last term or so has been our head of department telling a student, in a crit, that their work 'needs to look more designy' - and that's all they had to say. oh dear.

On Mar.15.2005 at 10:05 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Moments in school are plenty. One thing I should mention regarding my college experience is that — because of the way the university is set up — I had the exact same classmates (with very small fluctuations) for four years. This would be great if the classmates were outstanding, unfortunately I was stuck in a class of 20 women and 2 men (one of them me) where only 3 or 4 of us actually cared about our education and being there. I literally despised and loathed 10 to 15 of them — I would make it a point to be evil to them in class crits.

In this context, one of my favorite moments was in packaging class, where we had to design a shampoo bottle (the actual bottle itself) and the graphics for it. I spent a whole weekend sanding a piece of some foamy material to create the bottle; when we got to class, one of the despisables asked, in disbelief, if I had done it myself. I said yes, she replied something like "Well, I don't see why we should even be doing 3d projects, I asked my cousin from the industrial design dept. to make me mine". It's a favorite moment, because it showed me how bad it is to be close-minded and myopic about education and about a profession where we can dip our toes in many murky waters.

Another great moment was discovering how horrible Eras is — after having used it for a few projects — when I saw another classmate use it. Great moment, because — despite the optimistic view of many — it showed me that there are bad typefaces.

And one last, defining moment: One day, I went to the restroom and there was this male teacher who I thought was gay (not that there is anything wrong with that ) finishing up. I saw him wait outside while I pee'd and got slightly nervous. When I came out, he asked me — suspiciously — if I was interested in something. Weirded out, I said "sure". He proceeded to invite me to a lecture by Stephen Dolye that only fourth-year students could attend (I was in my third year). This was back in '97, and in Mexico. Doyle's was the first design lecture I ever attended; he spoke about design in a way I had never thought could be talked about; he showed his work for the original Martha Stewart line for Kmart; he showed the work for the Benefit line of papers and how he developed the color palette; and he showed his outstanding typographic work. I was blown away and that is one of the moments when I first becamse deeply interested in graphic design.

On Mar.15.2005 at 12:04 PM
steve’s comment is:

I loved the "Fantasy Projects" like design something with no budgets, the only client was the Prof., adn you could go crazy so long as you could make a one-off. I loved all nighters, like you said - not to finish - but to make it perfect. I hated transferring files via a zip disc from the MAC lab to my 486 PC in my dorm room and loosing and corrunpting files on more than one occassion. I hated losing hundreds of hours on that behalf. I loved challenging and being challenged. I loved graduating with honors, it made it worth while that I actually did the best I could. I loved being on the Student Art Association and bringing real world design issues in to shatter the fantasy we had all been taught. The school let us all believe that being a designer is so glamorous and every project has a limitless budget and you can just hit ctrl-P and be done. I did an internship in a design shop and learned the truth, so I helped pass that along by setting up workshops with design students and production shops, paper mills, real world design shops, etc. It was very beneficial. I loved going to school just outside NYC and going to the museums a lot for inspiration. I love the smell of a fresshly painted thesis studio and art gallery. I loved having a job as the campus cable guy and getting paid $15 an hour to watch cable TV. I loved drawing naked people, escept the hot chicks for some reason - I couldnt do it. I loved waiking up in the art building and stumbling into class.

I want to go back now... thanks! :(

On Mar.15.2005 at 12:48 PM
agrayspace’s comment is:

Classmates for me proved to be the biggest challenge in school. I too despised most of my class simply because they didn't try and they hated me for trying and for being really tough on them. I worked hard on every sketch I did and when they came in with half hearted doodles done in 5 mins, I openly huffed and rolled my eyes. Not constructive but to hell with them. I was a jerk.

I remember the day in our first semester when our professor challenged us and said nobody would be receiving an A grade. The class gasped in horror. All these pampered overachievers couldn't stand having to work extra hard just to reach a B let alone the excellence required for the A. I thought it was awesome. The end of the semester came and I was the only one to receive an A. Nobody ever forgave me for it.

I also remember that I decided that I could ignore the assumed "no computers" rule in that first year cause I felt I could prove that I could master the concepts faster and more efficiently than if done by hand, and still have the craft chops to boot. I was right and again they hated me for it.

I also remember winning the poster competition for our Senior Exhibit by class vote. Then I remember being accused of plagiarism by the same class. My poster had an old phrenology chart in the background (a common graphic element repeated a million times in a million different applications). But then a student saw an ad in a magazine using a similar but specifically different phrenology chart, passed it around the class, got them all in an uproar and openly accused me in front of my professor. Only to get the smack down by the professor as a lame accusation of plagiarism. Again I never lived that down.

These are the things I remember. Oh yeah and seeing the Powers of Ten for the first time and feeling I would never look at the world the same.

Design changed everything. Good times.

On Mar.15.2005 at 12:57 PM
Tan’s comment is:

What a sappy thread — but I can't resist.

For me, my classmates and I were like a close-knit platoon trying to survive a tour of duty against all odds. You see, in my undergrad program, you had to compete to make it into the junior block — and once you're there, you eat, sleep, and breathe design with those same people until you graduate. Only 20 or so made it each year, out of about 140+ applicants. So those of us who made it developed close bonds almost immediately.

During the hardest year, I remember that I only slept on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The rest of the week became one giant work day spent in the studio, computer lab, or student center. It was the same schedule with most of my classmates. Everyone brought sleeping bags, and took naps under desks, in empty studios, or in their cars. The choicest spot was a lawn lounge chair that was set up in the stat room, where you could sleep undisturbed in the dark, but then you would reek of developing chemicals for the rest of the day.

I remember two dear design professors with completely contrasting styles. One would work with you, talk you through a design, art directing and challenge you to think. The other professor would look at the work, tell you it's not there, and to try again — no suggestions, directions, or clue. You had to figure it out for yourself, through seemingly endless trial and error. Both styles ended up benefitting me in different ways — one professor taught me how to collaborate, while the other taught me initiative, persistence, and self-discovery.

I tackled design class with the aggressiveness and determination that few others seemed to have. I couldn't understand classmates that didn't give absolutely everything to their work. As a result, I was seen as a leader to many, and loathed by those who couldn't keep up. I didn't care. I knew that out of my 20 or so classmates, only a few of us would have a chance of making a career in design past five years. I was determined to be one of those who'd make it.

I remember lots of little achievements — getting into block, winning an internship, getting student work into a design mag, and lots of small milestones that gave me confidence to forge ahead. Looking back, I was totally naive and blind to the possibility of failure. If I actually knew then the odds and how hard it would be, I don't think I would've survived. I think a little naivete protects a student's optimism and drive.

During my senior year, I worked two design internships, and interviewed in cities across the country for work. I had sorta already left school mentally, though I didn't realize it at the time. So by graduation, it was all anticlimatic. I couldn't wait to blow the joint and leave the moaners and whiners behind in my dust.

I eventually landed a job out of state, and after a couple of months working, I realized how much I dearly missed all of those moaners and whiners — they had become my family. And the closeness and camaraderie we had in school was never to be found again in my professional life. As they say, you can never go home again. That was a moment.

I run into my old classmates now and again at national conferences, but we rarely talk about those days. It's now all about business, clients, and networking.

Enjoy school if you're still there. Trust me, you'll miss it.

On Mar.15.2005 at 01:56 PM
Sonyl’s comment is:

Sappy, most definitely Tan. I think I'm too close to school still (only 6 months out) but I wanted to say, David, I got a tear in my eye from that one. Yup, I miss it already.

On Mar.15.2005 at 02:23 PM
Ron H’s comment is:

I second that thought. Every time I visit my old campus I wish was a student again.

On Mar.15.2005 at 02:30 PM
szkat’s comment is:

i miss the lifestyle but not the place or stage of my life. i miss unencumbered ideas and everyone being in the same half-zombie state and being the hero of the all nighter because you anticipated being there forerver and so armed yourself with snacks.

i miss not worrying about money, i miss hanging out with friends on the roof of my house (now i'm in a condo in downtown chicago) and i miss my entire responsibility being one of design. now my resposibilites include projects i don't like for people who sometimes make me cranky.

i don't miss the advertising kids breaking into the design lab because our lab was better, and i don't miss people thinking that drop shadows can solve anything. people are generally smarter and so am i. and now i have business cards too :)

On Mar.15.2005 at 03:15 PM
Rob’s comment is:

My personal design education was unique. Like David's, the school really had no formal campus, nestled in old row houses and other buildings around Baltimore's Penn Station neighborhood. It was a graduate program with the majority of the students either already working as designers or working on career changes. The majority of the faculty were also working or retired designers, many who had made a name for themselves in the city they now taught.

Since most of us were working and going to school, a certain sense of shared pain (or lack of sleep) generated a unique camraderie that I really hadn't experienced as much in my undergraduate experience. Here we shared our ideas, our storied and our lives even as we 'competed' to be better than each other in the eyes of our professors.

What I remember, and appreciate the most was taking a class with the toughest and best professor I've ever had. She taught me more than anyone about design and typography. And without her insight, direction and influence I would have ever gone as far as I have been able.

On Mar.15.2005 at 03:22 PM
marian’s comment is:

Yesterday I received this from a student:

I've noticed, since taking your class, that I am beginning to look at my environment with a new eye. I don't think it's very often that we have significant shifts in our perception of our world (at least for me, so far). Of course, there was this shift with my being introduced to design and its deeper meanings (of which I've only skimmed the surface of). But with the introduction of typography (an element of design [communication]), my change of perception, on a conscious level, is much more noticeable.

This is the greatest compliment. In every class there are those who are unaffected, and who will pass out of our memory almost as soon as they leave the class. And then there are those with whom we make some kind of connection—to change a person's life, even in a small way is the most thrilling thing.

I've not yet had the experience of being a student, but when I do, I hope I'll find people (teachers and fellow students) who will change the way i see and think. I hope I'm not too old for that, yet.

On Mar.15.2005 at 03:46 PM
Rob’s comment is:

Marian,

Having been on both sides of the fence, instructor and student, I agree it is the most awesome compliment to be able to change the way someone sees the world around them. One of things in school that did that for me was the Eames' film "The Powers of Ten." I now play it for every class I teach in the beginning of the semster.

And may I add, that reading your posts and the posts of the other writers here on SpeakUp, has certainly had that kind of impact on me, as both a designer and as a person.

r

On Mar.15.2005 at 04:38 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

I remember being incredibly frustrated at college because nobody every told me my work was bad.

I remember going in for crits expecting a grilling, and coming away feeling completely bewildered. Most of my fellow students would stare blankly at my output - too polite, too reserved or perhaps just too dumb to know what to say; and my tutors would usually just smile and tell me to keep up the good work.

Towards the end I started to get cocky; seeing how far I could push my luck. I produced a film which basically said that all of my classmates were hollow and braindead, clinging to 'irony' and 'style' as comfort-blanket substitutes for real thought and passion.

Everybody clapped politely, then asked me some questions about video editing.

I then filmed a puppet-show performed entirely in (terrible) German, with subtitles. Again, polite appllause.

I'm not really sure how to feel about my education. I loved having the opportunity to experiment so freely - to be angry, to be silly, to get fired up - and the practical, technical (dull?) skills I am now acquiring on the job seem to slot into this creative framework in a way that works.

But I often feel like a charlatan: I'm just the guy who used to play with puppets - what do I know about design?

On Mar.15.2005 at 07:00 PM
Tan’s comment is:

It's never too late Tom. Replace that self-doubt with a piercing ability to be self-critical of your own work. You don't really need other people to validate how good or how bad your work is — develop the instincts yourself.

marian — teaching is addicting, isn't it? And to think you were all nervous about how good you'd be. As if there was any doubt.

On Mar.15.2005 at 07:27 PM
Sal’s comment is:

I remember waking up an hour late for my final senior thesis presentation and telling everyone I got locked out of my house getting the paper.

On Mar.15.2005 at 07:44 PM
Eric Benson’s comment is:

I just re-entered the world of design academia as an MFA student. Its quite a different experience from being an undergraduate. Back then I had no idea what it meant to work as a designer or if I even would. I didn't know the little nuances which made a project better or worse. I didn't know that my future marketing director would always squash my optimistic pieces and make me turn my type from vertical to horizontal. But it was this naiveity and passion for design that I missed, so I left my fairly good paying corporate job and went back. It was, so far, the best decision I've made.

I am a TA this term and interacting with the Juniors is an amazing thing. They don't necessarily want to know what its like to "work" but want to know about how they can improve, how they can learn more and what inspires me. I give them what I can. I have a professor this term that inspires me like I hope to inspire my students. She pushes me to not settle for what I usually settle for as completed. She actually forces me to not make things "complete" but instead explore. She's a film teacher. Its great to see design from her perspective. Something that is very organized (process), methodical, yet also chaotic in the process itself. I believe this shift has made my work all the more better...

Despite all the faculty arguments about defining process versus method, I truly enjoy being back in school. More MOMENTS to look back upon when I work again. I think a moment that I will remember was when a student asked my professor what the difference between art and design was. He responded "Who cares? There really isn't a definition for either, so why argue?"

On Mar.15.2005 at 10:11 PM
marian’s comment is:

marian — teaching is addicting, isn't it?

Yep, it sure is.

On Mar.15.2005 at 11:40 PM
Héctor Mu´┐Żoz Huerta’s comment is:

I finished school not very long ago but I actually miss many things about it.

One of the things I miss the most is confronting professors, when I tought I had done the right thing I would defend my work against the professor in front of the whole class, by doing this I won the simpathy and respect of most of the professors but the antipathy of some as well.

Once in the third semester I led my classmates against a couple of nasty professors and got them out of the school, it was terrible because it could have been me and a couple of classmates the ones to be kicked out but this experience joined us as a group and gave us a new sense of commitment for our preparation.

The other thing I miss the most is hanging out with my friends, as I started to work by my own I get very lonely at times, plus I feel like if I haven’t drinked a beer in centuries.

On Mar.15.2005 at 11:47 PM
Rick Landers’s comment is:

One of the greatest moments that I love to remember was a true wake up call. It happened in one sentance and struck a cord with everyone in the room - if anyone was asleep, they woke up, if anyone was feeling cocky, they became humble in a hurry!

After a pretty rough critique, our professor gave us some news.

"In less then a year, I am going to be your competition."

I will never forget it, and will never slack off because of it.

On Mar.16.2005 at 01:28 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

One of the best moments as a student happened when Armin moved to Atlanta and stayed at my studio apartment while I was in finals. We would try to sleep with the tune of a dremmel not far from his ear, the coming and going of the epson printer and he helped place projects in the oven (for safekeeping). I have to wonder how many hours of psychotherapy that one will take...

On a more serious note, I would have to say there are two things I got out of school that I continue to practice:

1. Passion. Passion for everything. What I do, why I do it, how I do it...

2. Conversation. Talk about a problem or a project, a possible direction or a maze of solutions, about the difference between this "o" or that "o"... Discussions that lead to many more. Conversations that allow one or more people to leave with something more.

I second that thought. Every time I visit my old campus I wish was a student again.

It is very strange when you go back, to be on the other side of the classroom. When you stand in front of a group of students in the same room where your work was slashed and re-worked by your peers, or in the room where you spent many an all-nighter. And you can walk into the principals office without having to stand in line (even though you know some have been waiting there for hours).

Strange. Surreal. Fascinating.

On Mar.16.2005 at 08:55 AM
margot ’s comment is:

Tan - It's never too late Tom. Replace that self-doubt with a piercing ability to be self-critical of your own work. You don't really need other people to validate how good or how bad your work is — develop the instincts yourself.

I am a recent grad as well, and one of the things I miss most from school is the constant criticism and art direction from actual designers and professors (not from clients) even though it frustrated me to no end at the time.

Now, I am essentially my own art director and am forced to be my own biggest critic. It's very hard to look at your work that way, but it pushes me in a way that I never thought possible. Competing against ME is my creative drive these days. It's a fire in my belly. What better sense of satisfaction is there when you produce a solution so powerful, so right on, so innovative, and you know it's all from you? Maybe that's obvious, because it's what every designer strives for, but I think because I know this and I have the realization that I CAN do this, means that I can be successful in doing so.

On Mar.16.2005 at 11:47 AM
steve mcmahon-grace’s comment is:

For me, my education has really only come in the last few years and as a matter of fact, Tan was one of my teachers. I pretty much flailed around with the idea of doing something "creative" for way too many years, until really discovering that design is something that I get excited about. I've learned more in the last 2 years than I have in the preceding 10. I look forward to my classes, and wish I could go 7 days a week. I wish all of my teachers had a caulk gun of knowledge to squirt all the info into my skull because sometimes I almost get afraid I'm going to miss some "standard" design idea or concept, and look like a fool. I'm hoping that's natural.

As an older student the hardest thing to deal with at first was the critique phase of class, but now I look forward to it and consider it an invaluable tool. I like seeing and learning from the work and experiences of students both with less and more experience. One of the things I enjoy the most is having Teachers that are working designers with their insights on clients and their techniques and philosphies, especially with day to day design work.

On Mar.16.2005 at 01:25 PM
Elizabeth’s comment is:

You guys are total saps! I hardly miss anything about school! As a working designer with a job I love, I have no homework (I just don't leave the office until I'm done) I sleep on a regular basis (except when we're on deadline--I design editorial) and I get PAID instead of PAYING! Wasn't anyone else on this thread sick of being a broke-ass student??! HA!

I mean, sure, I have happy memories, but I think that learning about design in undergrad was an incredibly frustrating thing. I don't miss having such a lack of confidence, such insecurity about how my work looked hanging up next to someone else's, or not being sure of how my conceptual connections held up to my executions...

On Mar.16.2005 at 02:01 PM
steveMG’s comment is:

Well I hope to turn from sap into beautiful amber.

On Mar.16.2005 at 02:29 PM
ian’s comment is:

i miss beaux arts, the fashion show and bonfire following, whether it was “approved” or not.

i miss the art exposure, having classes with other creative individuals outside of design and getting their perspective of your work an offering your perspective of theirs.

i miss the extreme level of interaction, critique, collaboration with peers.

i don’t miss a program in a perpetual state of the unknown and change. there were 7 chairs of the design department in the 4 years i was a student there.

i don’t miss the students who didn’t try or didn’t care and didn’t get why you did. good riddance.

i miss the idea that anything is possible and their are no constraints to the ideas you can come up with and execute. thinking bigger than any client would ever let you.

”In less then a year, I am going to be your competition.” that is the best possible advice i have ever heard from a design instructor. thanks for sharing that.

now tan, i deeply respect your writing, posts and experience, that is why i was surprised by your comment: ”like a close-knit platoon trying to survive a tour of duty against all odds” really? you have no idea if your comparing school, art school at that, to the military, nevermind combat. please have some respect for the kids who are in a close-knit platoon trying to survive a tour of duty against all odds. i don’t mean to sound like an ignorant flag waving patriot but comments like that really grind against my nerves.

On Mar.18.2005 at 02:41 AM
agrayspace’s comment is:

Qualifying metaphors based on PC appropriateness grates on my nerves. If your looking to confront people who don't value those in service, look no further than the men who haphazardly put them in harms way. No disrespect intended.

On Mar.18.2005 at 10:14 AM
Steven’s comment is:

College was over 20 years ago for me, so sorta have to dig deep...

I was going to California College of Arts and Crafts (now CCA) from '80 to '83, (yes, before computers), back when a number of my professors' professional careers were really taking off. I was being taught by some of the best in the field, and this put a fair amount of pressure on doing well. Getting an A was not very easy. At the same time, the graphic design department was still pretty small; and my department, general design, was even smaller. (They actually stopped that program a few years after I graduated, sadly.) But I loved my funky little department program. I could take all the graphic design classes I wanted, but then I had the opportunity to take all sorts of other classes, which in turn helped to make me a more multifaceted and holistic designer.

Interestingly, both my sister and I were studying design at the same time; she being a year behind me and in the graphic design department. And we were roomates for the duration. So, school had a familial sense to it, which was nice.

We also had a great roomate, for the last two years of college, whose mother and father were very involved with the design community, and he's carried on the tradition. (We're not mentioning names here, but let's just say many people would know the family name.) Anyway, this roomate had the most amazing access to design books and magazines. And he was really great at helping me explore ideas and push my creative expectations to greater heights. As much as any of my teachers, he helped enlighten me to the world of design and I will always thank him for that.

I remember one of my professors saying, in my first design class, that we had to "live design" and see it in everything around us. This attitude has stuck with me to this day, although a bit modified to include many visual/experiencal stimuli.

I also remember, like many others in this post, being very annoyed with most of the other lack-luster students in my classes, as they didn't really seem to care about doing well. It was very frustrating to have to listen to crits about work that was given so little attention or interest. I always had this feeling that the dullards were holding me back.

On the flip-side, I remember the having the realization that many people around me were really gifted artists. I wasn't the only "art guy" anymore. And many people were way better than me in certain areas, like drawing. It was humbling, yet excitiing. There were all sorts of amazing things being created all over campus.

I could bring up a few more things, but I'll close with this. About 5 or so years ago, I went to a MFA open house held at the new design campus in San Francisco. (CCA[C]'s main campus is on Oakland.) I remember, as I walked into the building for the first time, getting very teary-eyed and emotional: so much desire and hope and passion resonating within the walls, the overwhelming feeling of Potential and Opportunity. With many years of professional experience, not always so happy, I had forgotten how it felt to be in school. It was sort of an epiphany, which in turn pointed to ways in which I needed to redirect the focus of my career and life.

I still want to go back for that MFA, hopefully at my alma mater (if they'll have me), but it's just not financially possible right now. In the meantime, I'm trying to do what I can to learn and grow, exploring some ideas I have.

Eventually, I'd like to be able to teach design. I think I have always done that, informally, in the various jobs I've had over the years. And many people have said I'd be good at it. So...

Okay, enough sappiness.

On Mar.18.2005 at 04:52 PM
Tan’s comment is:

It's a metaphor, ian — but I hear ya. My dad was a career naval officer, so no disrespect intended, believe me.

On Mar.18.2005 at 05:49 PM
ian’s comment is:

sorry it was late and it's just one of those things for me, kinda like scaled type…thanks tan.

On Mar.18.2005 at 08:28 PM
trf’s comment is:

ok...how about this for a moment....your MFA experience vs. your BFA experience. i am really trying to pick a school to attend. i am a pretty successful designer, and by that i mean i hold a nice job with nice pay and get to do nice work, but want to add to my arsenal. anyone have suggestions? state vs. private? any specifics would be appreciated...

On Mar.23.2005 at 01:35 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>MFA experience vs. your BFA experience.

I'm of the belief that MFAs are most useful for designers who eventually want to teach, write critically about design, or explore alternative career paths on the peripherals of design.

But if design is your core emphasis and interest — nothing is more valuable and challenging than work experience. For that, a BFA is more than adequate. If you're having problems breaking into the industry with just a BFA, then an MFA doesn't guarantee any more success or clout. On the career ladder, MFA grads often start at the exact same place as BFA grads.

If anything, in my experience, MFA grads often have a tougher time acclimating into the work environments. There's always a little more sense of entitlement because of the degree and added "arsenal" — which is often undeserved and unrecognized.

Of course, if you want to earn an MFA for the sheer challenge and love of design, that's a perfectly valid reason. Just don't expect the degree to earn you any more bucks or make you a better designer, per se.

On Mar.23.2005 at 01:57 PM