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Design School Part 3 - getadesigneducationonlinerightnow.com

As illustrated in parts 1 and 2 of “Design School,” so much of my design education was a result of interaction. The professors, the students and the city all played their appropriate role. If I was stuck, a professor could help lead me in the right direction. Fellow students could brainstorm and collaborate. We could take turns at a drafting table moving type around an empty square. We could have dialogue. We could also go out together after a long class to McGillin’s for wings and beer. Mmmmmm, beer. We could explore the city together. Professors could lead real-life discussions, mid-class, about issues having nothing at all to do with design. At three in the morning, any morning, you could go to the studio and not be alone.

What if no one was there? What if you never collaborated? What if you never saw a professor draw a single line? What if you were never able to look over, in the computer lab, to see a fellow student sound asleep but still clicking his mouse? What if you never met a single professor or classmate in person?

Online Universities are gaining in popularity every day. According to MBA alliance, almost two-thirds of all MBAs are now earned online. What about a completely online design school?

Sessions.edu is the first online University for Design and New Media. Students from across the globe can earn Standard, Advanced and Masters certificates in Graphic Design, Web Design, Multimedia, Digital Arts and Business Marketing Design. The courses are instructor led, and have lesson plans, assigned work and critiques.

“Instructors review your assignments and return a critique within 1-2 business days — faster than 95% of traditional schools. Instructors focus on improving the quality of your design and answering any technical questions you may have. It’s like having an art director on your shoulder, without the attitude!”

Students do have access, via online forums, to other students. We know that it is possible to critique work online, have conversations and develop relationships. Can you learn to design online?

Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe it’s a generation thing. I know there is a huge discrepancy on how technology is viewed by designers that learned to design before the computer became an important tool and designers that learned to design using the computer as an important tool. We’ve covered that before. Is it possible that I’m just not understanding something here? Maybe this is the new way. I have done work for clients whom I have never met in person. Maybe everything is virtual.

But how do you teach drawing over the internet? How do you paint letterforms over the internet? Is it possible to learn the “Fundamentals of Typography” in only three lessons? Granted, there are plenty of actual design programs at actual schools where you can’t really learn to design either. But it seems to me, that in the presence of others, you at least have a fighting chance. Perhaps this is better suited for established designers who just want to learn something new or study with a professor they are separated from geographically?

“Courses are created by professionals carefully selected for their design skills, industry or teaching experience, and publishing track record. Our Faculty includes accomplished artists and award-winning designers who have taught at prestigious art schools worldwide, worked at design firms and studios in New York, Milan, Oslo, Paris, or Turin, and authored books for leading design and technology publishers such as New Riders, Peachpit Press, Cybex, and Sam’s.”

So this is a slam-dunk, right? I’m putting this up for all of you to bash, right? There is no way you can learn to design online. And none of you would ever, ever consider taking online design classes. Right? Well let’s just say, hypothetically, that you looked into it and Milton Glaser was teaching a class. And so were Michael Bierut and Erik Spiekerman. Would that change your opinion? I bet it would. So if you don’t like the school currently, that’s fine. Things change. Staff, curriculum and reputation are bound to evolve.

Can it work?

Need direction? You too can getadesigneducationonlinerightnow.com!

Click here for Part 1 of Design School

Click here for Part 2 of Design School

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ARCHIVE ID 2261 FILED UNDER Design Academics
PUBLISHED ON Mar.31.2005 BY David Weinberger
Chris Rugen’s comment is:

Can it work? Yes.

Will it compare to the real, live thing? No. No way.

On Mar.31.2005 at 11:28 AM
szkat’s comment is:

entirely digital relationships have been successful for me professionally; i have two clients right now who i have never met but have worked with for almost a year each. i have developed friendships entirely online - a few from this site - that are people that i never really intend to meet face to face (although it would be nice, should the chance arise).

but as for learning design, the ONLY thing that i find to be universal is the need for life experience to drive what we do. we can argue the merits of drawing, of computer programs, of anything at all - but i think we all appreciate the merit of going outside and experiencing a little life for a while.

i can't imagine having a design education free of outside opinions, and i don't want to. yes, there are people that can be that talented that they innately will be good enough. but how far can you really take it on your own?

On Mar.31.2005 at 12:07 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:


Many of the most important things about undergraduate education are, as you say, as much or more about socialization as they are about education in the narrowest sense. BTW, that’s why I will always have doubts about art or design schools as opposed to actual colleges and universities. One doesn’t need to look beyond the design blogs to see examples of the sort of insularity that results from always being around people with similar views and interests. (I could make the same argument about sending an eighteen year old to MIT. Come to think of it, my brother in law started Cal Tech at fifteen. Oh, sorry; what were we talking about? Yes. Online design schools.)

I’m hardly alone in having been mainly self-educated as a designer. (Just yesterday my fellow design autodidact Steve Heller and I were discussing how “self-educated” is full of false implications. Of course we learned from what others had done but we didn’t go to a series of classes where someone else was responsible for making sure we learned stuff we were supposed to know.) I never had whatever advantage one gets from an undergrad cohort. After more than ten years of working as a designer I returned to school to get an MFA. I’m afraid I didn’t get much of that wonderful interaction I hear about.

So I don't think it’s likely as good for personal development if an eighteen year old sits in front of a computer and learns over the web as it would be to have the same hypothetical person go meet a bunch of other young people struggling to grow up (and it would be better yet if our hypothetical teenager went somewhere that had people who thought art and design was a joke.) But can the web deliver the “education” part of design education?

I assume that, in the long run, we’ll find out that online classes are better at some things and worse at others. When I was an undergraduate student I took art history classes with eight people in a classroom and I took art history classes in a lecture hall with 400 students. Each worked well in its own way.

As a teacher I have found that some aspects of teaching scale well and others don’t. There are some things that can happen in a group crit and others that only seem to work one-on-one, some things that work well in a seminar and others that work best in a large lecture. . . In the best of worlds an education would be tailored to take advantage of scale issues. In the world I’ve seen, scale is used for economic reasons more than for pedagogical ones.

Online teaching does not mean that everything is automated nor does it mean that there is no class interaction. It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve met any of the Speak Up crew and we had plenty of interaction before actually seeing each other.

Would an on-line design education be like your design school experience? Of course not. Could it accomplish as much in many areas and more in some? I suspect so. Am I starting to sound like Rummy asking and answering my own questions? Disturbingly, yes.

On Mar.31.2005 at 01:38 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Gunnar said the things I wanted to say & more & much more effectively than I would have.

I will add just a couple things from my experience. I was home schooled for most of my primary & all of my secondary education. My only formal design & art education came from the slightly dodgy & terribly outdated Art Instruction Schools.

1. This type of learning is great if it suits your personality.

2. The fact that you can work at your own speed is fantastic, especially if you are very motivated.

3. The Sense of Superiority over fellow students that many wrote about in Design Education part 1 can grow in your mind completely unchallenged until you go jump into the commercial world.

On Mar.31.2005 at 03:17 PM
Jennifer’s comment is:

Not that I'm saying this merits online education, but if one is taking a class online, that, in no way, means he's left out of the influence of the outside world. The classes, granted, are inside and taken alone (unless you have wireless internet and are sitting in a Starbucks somewhere) but the student will still have his/her own friends or co-workers to talk to and bounce ideas off of. Even if the other influence isn't from other designers, it can still influence. Some of my best ideas were help from my non-design college roommate because she was so far from the realm of graphic design and could see beyond what I was seeing. Anyway, perhaps for some, the curriculum and assignments are better learned online and then carried out in the students' day-to-day lives. Although I don't know how seriously I could take the other students' critiques as they also would be taking an online design class... and, well, I have a very specific stereotype of online classes and education. Perhaps in the future that stereotype will disappear.

On Mar.31.2005 at 04:44 PM
David Weinberger’s comment is:

Bryony, what about your "long-distance Design Thinking class?" Is it similar? How did that go? Was it web-based?

On Mar.31.2005 at 04:53 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

Bryony, what about your "long-distance Design Thinking class?" Is it similar? How did that go? Was it web-based?

Not web-based, more like e-mail/phone based. We started with a general conference call, a detailed syllabus and a day-to-day schedule. The way in which we made it work was by having Hank Richardson touch on a few key aspects during his class, that way students could share ideas and give/receive feedback from everybody else (and not just me). Example, they had to present 5 essay ideas to the whole group in take it from there (by then sending me abstracts of what was judged to be the best 3). Students also met with members of the writing program who have them a hand (mostly towards the end). During the quarter we exchanged emails and phone calls with ideas, process, contacts, all sorts of things. One thing I was/am very strict on is schedule, and that kept the pace going and did not allow for much procrastinating.

In the middle of the quarter, I paid them a visit and met with each student for an hour or so to talk about all the details, questions, comments, concerns and have a better dialogue about all and anything. That meeting was invaluable in that it really got things moving, as confidence was instilled by our discussions. This also allowed me to see who needed pushing, probing, constant emailing and who could be left to their own devices and who should be left alone.

A second deliverable to this project, was not so successful. In the interest of showcasing this essay in their portfolios, a design was to be developed. The purpose was to design/package the final essay for distribution (conferences, schools, direct mail, etc.). With other projects and deadlines this was pushed aside by all and in the end had a skimpy delivery (personally I have seen only one final design).

So in the end, I have to say it was successful but there are things that I need to work out better. Not sure yet what or where those areas are as we are just wrapping up and I need time to really download and analyze. Probably more conference calls, or have one call in call a week where students can chime in or ask for guidance. Probably a sort of blog where they can share and communicate.

On Mar.31.2005 at 05:14 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

My only formal design & art education came from the slightly dodgy & terribly outdated Art Instruction Schools.

I’m curious whether you think it was of any value. I drew the pirate or the clown or the bunny or whatever it was for the correspondence school in Minneapolis once, just to see what sort of promotional literature they’d send. A sales guy called me. Telling him that I was an art professor at the University of Minnesota didn’t stop the mail or the calls but I never saw anything specific enough to get an idea of what they actually do.

On Mar.31.2005 at 09:47 PM
ps’s comment is:

as long as you don't look at it as replacing classroom learning, but rather adding another dimension - why not.

i noticed that aiga is offering an all-online course the digital information design camp organized by john maeda.

i think online learning is possible to some extent. i don't see the need to be in a classroom to learn a software for example. an online class might get you what you need just as well, or even better as you can pause, replay etc.

On Mar.31.2005 at 11:31 PM
Isaac B2’s comment is:

Chip Kidd's novel The Cheese Monkeys. Read it, enjoy it, laugh out loud at art and design education. One of my favorites.

On Apr.01.2005 at 12:51 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Me: My only formal design & art education came from the slightly dodgy & terribly outdated Art Instruction Schools.

Gunnar: I’m curious whether you think it was of any value.

I was 15 & 16 when I did the course 15 years ago. For me it was brilliant for learning how to draw. Grid, basic shapes, negative space, shading, perspective, foreshortening, pencil, pen & ink, brush & ink, etc. The course makes you draw & draw & draw. There was also a little bit of lettering practice in which I leared about kerning by another name. And a bit about colour (Gouache, anyone?). Beyond that, it doesn't have much to offer, but that foundation has served me well.

Now I have a question.

What have I missed by not getting a proper design education?

- The craft aspect & the history can be easily learned by other means.

- The interaction with peers--I've had plenty of that in other contexts & I've never been too impressed by peers.

- The ability to think is not necessarily taught in a design program, and if you've got decent parents you already know how to think.

- The inspiration & mentorship of a great teacher? That seems like some something really worthwhile.

What else did I miss?

On Apr.01.2005 at 05:12 AM
raquel’s comment is:

i am 30-something & currently in a GD undergrad program. i daily find myself questioning the value of my academic experience. i think i might have been happier finding some kind of intership and learning from the inside (perhaps paired with an online program?). the program at my school is not callibrated to accomidate the non-traditional student and i often feel like some kind of alien. i still have one more year to go, and i am commited to finishing what i started, but it feels like i'm just buying a piece of paper. it is hard for me to see (yet) the value of this experience, other than the piece of paper and the reputation of my particular institution.

On Apr.01.2005 at 09:47 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

30-something & currently in a GD undergrad program

That’s got to be even more strange and alienating at times than my late thirties/early forties MFA experience. I hope you’re learning enough to make up for it not having the social function it would have if you were fifteen years younger. Make sure that you ask for anything you’re not getting. Don’t just let the time slip past.

I hear that people read The Cheese Monkeys and are charmed or nostalgic. Abusive, screwed up people teaching na�ve, sometimes abusive, screwed up people. Wow. I’m charmed.

On Apr.01.2005 at 10:28 AM
raquel’s comment is:

Make sure that you ask for anything you’re not getting.

if only i knew what it was that i wasn't getting...

i'm still a novice when it comes to design, and while i almost alway feel understimulated and unsatisfied i'm not sure i know what exactly it is that i want from "them", and on the occasions that i do look for straight answers/directions/feedback all i get is cryptic double talk where i walk away wondering "what did they just say???"

On Apr.01.2005 at 11:49 AM
Ryan’s comment is:

I remember as a Freshmen I had an instructor tell me my piece looked like "The Motherboard." Not "A" motherboard. "THE MOTHERBOARD."

Now of course, being new to design and wanting to be validated by the professor I just nodded and agreed and quietly made my way back to my seat.

But I'm still confused by this. Is she an alien? Was that some sort of glitch in the matrix? If I ever pursue being an educator in design, I might throw that at some young impressionable kid for fun.

On Apr.01.2005 at 02:15 PM
jacobe’s comment is:

I am doing my MFA in Graphic Design @ the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and they are readying themselves to completely offer the whole degree online.

Which is a good thing, because SF can be cost prohibitive for people to be here for 3 years to get a degree.

I am taking a Typography course online and other classes in person this semester. I would say that the online course works just as well as the inperson course. Granted there are a few things, such as the interaction, that are lacking, but the school has a great system for uploading work and students and the professor being able to critique each other.

I have had some urges to find the teacher and ask her questions in person, but for the most part, it could all be done online.

I think an online education can be valid, but there is definitely a piece missing from the ability to interact with the instructors.

On Apr.01.2005 at 03:42 PM
Miki’s comment is:

As an online design student I can only say this:

Yes, you can learn design online. It doesn't compare or replace traditional design education at design schools or universities, but I have learned a lot.

On Apr.01.2005 at 04:52 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

and on the occasions that i do look for straight answers/directions/feedback all i get is cryptic double talk where i walk away wondering "what did they just say???"

1) Keep trying to understand.

2) Keep saying “Sorry, I don’t understand; will you tell me more?”

3) Make it clear, if possible, precisely what you don’t understand.

4) If you are worried that everyone else understands and you don’t and that you are disrupting class, say “If everyone else gets this should we talk about it later?” (And look around for signs of whether everyone else does, indeed, get it.)

5) Make sure you schedule that “later” and follow up on it.

6) Express your willingness to take a leap of faith. If you are told “try this” then try it. If you are told “look very hard at this” then look very hard at it. If you are told to think about a subject then think about it. But if the person teaching a class cannot articulate what you need to do then she should not be teaching a class.

On Apr.01.2005 at 06:45 PM
Jonathan Rundle’s comment is:

I'm going to enroll in an online marketing degree this summer; I think its a win win for me since I can continue to gain experience designing in various jobs and then be earning a masters in marketing on the side. I think I'm going to like online learning.

I had some online courses (an illustrator course comes to mind) in undergrad, and they were very rewarding. My pirated copy of Illustrator allowed me to work on my own time when the labs wouldve been locked.

Another thing; take a look at the students' work on sessions.edu. I'm not impressed. If thats what they're learning, it doesnt speak well for the program.

On Apr.03.2005 at 01:22 PM
Josh ’s comment is:

Raquel- What approach does the school have that differentiates the Old Ones from the New Ones? You all are there to gain knowledge and skill in design to apply it later, whether your "student" age or not.

I have a good friend who was an "non-traditional" student in industrial design at the age of 40. Yet I never really saw her for her age because she was constantly learning,interacting and embracing her field with an open mind the way we think the young ones should. While traditional students changed majors, dropped out or plainly did not do work, she made the most of it all. She definitely was well-liked and respected by her peers and professors, because of her work ethic, dedication and skills. She also had insights because of her age and experience that the other students could not. She even sold her house to study in Germany for a year with myself and others.

As far as getting feedback/critique it is definitely a two-way street. I believe the professor of any class has the obligation to help you discover your strengths and weaknesses, but it is also a student's responsibility to keep up and understand the skills you gain progressively through each class that brings you and your professor closer to an equal playing field. Your skills are also heightened by your willingness to research or obtain inspirations that challenge your skills and thinking.

but it feels like i'm just buying a piece of paper. it is hard for me to see (yet) the value of this experience, other than the piece of paper

Do you think that you are embracing this experience fully?

I have friends who are still at the school I went to who are beyond frustrated by the students who do not see the value of eating/sleeping/breathing graphic design. It's not that the other students don't understand, it's that they don't care.

I have sat through too many critiques where a student with rather go to work at McDonalds and go out after than stay and try to gain knowledge or improve their project. Many want tangible skills and a degree without effort. This does not happen.

If ones heart is not in it they are cheating their professors, themselves and the design profession.

Sorry for speaking a bit bluntly, but at this point straight from the horses mouth is the only way thoughts are going to be provoked.

On Apr.03.2005 at 07:29 PM
Frank McClung’s comment is:

Do you need design school to learn graphic design? I think not. Schooling is a Greek concept that was created for rich kids who didn't have anything better to do (read no real apprenticeship or craft). The father's of the industrial revolution promoted schooling as way to create masses of people that could work the machinery and follow orders in large corporations. Check out the The Underground History of Education by John Gatto. It's eye opening.

I wonder what the motivating influences behind design schools really are? To feed ad agencies? Corporations? Any thoughts or books on this that might be helpful?

On Apr.05.2005 at 12:40 PM