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The Siren Song of the Personal Project

In September of last year Bryony and I started teaching, together, one of the various portfolio classes offered to fourth year students at the School of Visual Arts’ undergraduate program. It was completely upon us to decide what and how many assignments we would have the students undertake for the next two semesters. Our approach was clearly and early defined: Force students into parameters of realistic projects and put them through the gauntlet of “what would your client say?” We do this mostly by asking “why?” after every single thing they say and letting them know that “I don’t know” is not an appropriate answer. After a first semester that included a 2-color poster, an identity for a law or architecture firm, making a book out of 50 photographs of 50 people, and a series of book covers we thought it would be nice to ask the students, at the start of the second (and their last) semester, if they would like to do any specific type of project to include in their portfolio. One of them responded, “What about a personal project?”

As he said that, my brain quickly accessed the files in my noggin’ to remember any “personal” projects that I may have seen over the years from students. I vaguely remembered journals with fuzzy photography, books with lack of intention, posters with pictures of parts of students’ bodies, postcards from, I’m guessing, the edge and other projects that required thirty minutes to explain. As a disclaimer I should admit that, personally, I have never responded favorably to these loosely labeled personal projects when reviewing portfolios — unless they showcase an amazing display of typographic and layout control. However, that is rare. But, before you dismiss my attitude as curmudgeonly or narrow-minded, I should also note that I find these exercises to be extremely helpful in developing a process of thinking and analysis with execution as an end goal. In the beginning. Most design undergraduates want to get a job at the end of their education and what we want to do in our class is bring a little of what that first job will be like into the classroom and direct them to build a portfolio that will reflect their personal sensibilities in the context of day-to-day design projects. Eventually I asked our student, “and what would you do?” He started his response with “I don’t know…” but realizing that this was not the way to get a personal project assigned by us, he added, “the other class is doing a 100-page book with whatever they want,” I raised my eyebrow and he concluded “their only restriction is that it has to be black and white.” As if that made it more realistic. I pretty much repeated to the class what I said in this paragraph, and thanked the student for expressing his concern.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about what makes a “personal” project such a desirable exercise not only for students but for practicing designers as well. Perhaps it’s the need to cope with the limitations of graphic design’s client-designer dynamic that trumps designers’ odd desire for self-expression. Or maybe it’s a way to straighten the constant confusion of graphic design and art. It could also be a therapeutic process to shake off all those logos and blocks of 9-over-12 typography that we’ve had to make bigger. Mostly, I think it’s a longing to break out of the parameters, rules and expectations set forth by someone other than us. Regularly, we do what other people want under the coping mechanism that we are doing what we want and just happens to be on their behalf — this is not, by all means, wrong or lame, it simply is the way graphic designers work. There comes a point, for all of us I think, when this model is just not enough and we look to ourselves for challenges that still operate within graphic design parameters… basically, that of doing something, anything.

So I am not referring to knitting, cooking, or playing frisbee on the beach to satisfy what graphic doesn’t. But to designing books, web sites, magazines, journals, posters and other paraphernalia that satisfies our own design process where we set the rules, the agenda, the schedule and even the budget. As stubbornly as I questioned my student and all those portfolios with personal projects I’m as wont to indulge in the process and the result as them. Why else spend endless hours animating a headless chicken with a fetish for Cooper Black, or rendering centuries-old type in 3d, or, heck, designing blogs like if there was no tomorrow? The answer may be painfully simple: “Why not?”

Personal projects allow us to — speaking allegorically — tap into our design unconscious by granting our talent and technical know-how permission to do as they please unraveling results that we may have otherwise never achieved. And — speaking metaphorically clinically — they also serve as a colonic of sorts by purging our system of ideas, visuals and other minutia that would otherwise be stuck in our system. Clearly, I have conflicting dual sentiments towards personal projects: I admire the tenacity and desire they represent but I also question their relevance as reflective of the day-to-day process of graphic design and how much of these exercises — specially in students’ portfolios — can translate into steady contributions in a working environment. Ultimately, and what is probably the most rewarding part of being graphic designers, is that we can choose to be lured by the siren song and apply our own personal ways of twisting words and images into new forms of meaning. Maybe, after all, we will assign a personal project to our students …

Ha! No, we won’t.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Jan.31.2007 BY Armin
Andrew Twigg’s comment is:

Isn't Speak Up a giant personal project?

On Jan.31.2007 at 10:52 AM
Pesky’s comment is:

Cruel, cruel, cruel.

When the little guppies discover the shark waters of the real design word they are - usually - totally unprepared for survival. So perhaps this particular method - rigorous discipline - is to their benefit however painful it may be to really w-o-r-k at design instead of vague personal interests.

Students, I've come to learn, seek the direction of least resistance.

On Jan.31.2007 at 11:06 AM
John’s comment is:

I've always got a personal project of some sort going on, and love it for the same reasons that you've mentioned. The process of creating things by my own rules and for myself is entertaining and fulfilling. I like to create art, and it is that much more fun to do it when I can leave a client out of the equation.

I also see your point in regards to student projects. From experience teaching college design courses (and assigning a few personal projects) I've found that only a small number of students in the class can excel at such projects. The students that do excel at these types of assignments are the ones who would already be working on a personal project without being assigned.

I completely agree, why assign a personal project? The fact that it becomes assigned sort of kills the whole purpose and allure of it.

On Jan.31.2007 at 11:06 AM
Brad’s comment is:

For portfolio purposes, I think anything that's great is worth including--and the stereotypical (but actually very true description of) personal projects you mention generally aren't great. They aren't great because they lack focus and because they don't have to communicate anything...they succeed only in being aimless. They're just usually trying (painfully) to be cool. At least, that's the case with some of my own. In my own experiences, I've had one headhunter who responded very enthusiastically to a personal project I did, and another headhunter who didn't think it'd really get me anywhere. As it turns out, not one of the jobs I've gotten relied on any of my personal work.

And to go off on a tangent here, your "commercial" work really needs to have something personal and private about it to be any good anyway. You want that point of view in there...otherwise go hire some robot that generates graphic design and doesn't whine. Much of this business requires that you sell your work to clients, and that never happens automatically.

John raises a good point about the purpose of "assigning" a personal project in the first place. I didn't think of it that way, and it makes a lot of sense.

In the end, part of the allure of this industry (for me, anyway) is being presented with a situation and creating something that answers it inventively and with some serious finesse. If you don't care for that, or see it as "selling out," try to make it as a fine artist.

On Jan.31.2007 at 12:46 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Personal work can have great value in the exploratory nature of it...in the way it assists in pushing personal boundaries. But, I agree, to assign it seems like a contradiction in terms. It seems like giving an assignment to dream.

On Jan.31.2007 at 01:05 PM
Samuel’s comment is:

About 20 years ago I entered a design program that was both very structured but at the same time very liberating. We did everything from painting, photography, illustration, typography, design, advertising, silk screen, wood cuts...

It also helped that after school and weekends I was doing graffiti pieces and tagging all over the city. It afforded me a break from the regimented thought process often found in design programs.

My design teachers sounded a lot like you Armin. Always asking the hard questions they felt we were going to face once we stepped out into the working world. I paid little attention to what my teachers were saying and focus on what it was not been said.

I am not advocating that students should never listen to their teachers/mentors. But it comes a point when you have to discover/experience it by yourself.

Personal projects often stretch you in ways given assignments don't.

A few years ago I embarked on a personal project. I didn't know what the personal project was going to be. Then one day I woke up and said; "I am going to do it." The "do it" was a solo cross country road trip from New York City to Seattle and back. And so began my personal project. The result was so unexpected... Tons of photography, journal entries, and most important personal growth.

The visual narratives, from my cross country trip, are some of the center pieces in my portfolio. The reaction from potential employers and/or clients, when they see the narratives, is always positive. And often conversations about world experiences follow.

Armin, "I don't know" is often the right answer. It drives you to find out what the "I don't know" is. And once you know you move on to the next "I don't know."

As for my next personal project, "I don't know."

Life [personal] lessons are so much more fulfilling and rewarding.

On Jan.31.2007 at 01:23 PM
Jordan’s comment is:

My portfolio project at SVA was one of those projects that took about 30 minutes to explain.

But it also gave me an opportunity to break out of the poster-cd cover-book-packaging black hole that is most graphic design education. No wonder nobody cares about graphic design besides graphic designers.

Thinking about graphic design as a form and not as a process is what keeps us bland. What if industrial designers only made chairs, dinner sets, and clocks?

I'd say, let them do it. Just make sure they have a good reason. Academia is the place to do it, and it'll keep the next generation of work from being stale.

And you know what? I bet you still remember those beards grown and beaches visited. What about the other work?

On Jan.31.2007 at 01:23 PM
Feldhouse’s comment is:

What would Debbie Millman do?
(This sounds like one of her excellent intro's on Design Matters)

On Jan.31.2007 at 01:42 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Sure, making your own designartwork is great. I do it all the time.

What is the full spectrum of possibilities between The VIT Method vs The Personal Expression Method of learning Design. I don't know.....whips and sharp objects always work....

I should lay off the generalizations...

On Jan.31.2007 at 02:33 PM
Josh B’s comment is:

Here's how I see it. If it's personal, and is prompted by no other motivation than "I don't know, I just wanted to do it for my own personal growth" (in other words if the client and audience is yourself) well then it ain't design. It's art. If you're lucky and talented it might even be Art.

Yes, Speak Up, and the Under Consideration family of blogs are a personal project, but only in the sense that no outside party approached Armin and Bryony and said "make this thing." The design of these sites was done with a larger audience in mind, and therefore they were made within certain parameters. For example, the text is black on white, not 3% gray on white. The former being legible, the latter being an experiment with legibility (i.e. illegible).

Truly personal projects (i.e. art) - whether they be made in a vacuum or in response to some outside stimuli - abide by no other edict than "because I wanted it that way." Which isn't to say personal expression/experimentation doesn't have a larger audience. Indeed, plenty of people have the same thoughts, feelings, and opinions as you, or have the capacity to take your work and interpret it as they see fit. Which is why art lives in all those museums and galleries. It has it's place.

But I'm with Armin on this one, that place certainly isn't in a design class, or a design portfolio.

On Jan.31.2007 at 04:17 PM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

Yes, Speak Up, and the Under Consideration family of blogs are a personal project, but only in the sense that no outside party approached Armin and Bryony and said "make this thing."

I see Speak Up and Under Consideration as projects where the designer is also the client, not really "personal" projects. Armin and Bryony may be doing this for their own purposes, but they are working with a clearly defined communication problem, a specific audience, a budget, etc.

Personal projects of the kind Armin describes should be considered art that employs design tropes, not design: think Barbara Kruger, Andy Warhol, Ed Rusha. It is certainly a good thing for a designer to do, just like it's a good thing for a designer to paint, or sculpt, or write poems.

I think it's a valid thing for educators to assign designer-as-client projects. They can work with students to define problems and audiences, identify constraints, and develop a suitable design approaches. I'm with Armin on personal projects, though: I would never assign them to my students.

On Jan.31.2007 at 05:11 PM
pi_skyy’s comment is:

Asking students what they want to do for a project is like a client telling you "Be creative! Have fun with it!"

Give them a 100 page price list to design. All text.

On Jan.31.2007 at 05:16 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Feldhouse asked what I would do, so I will try and answer...

I did not attend a design school. I received a liberal arts education at SUNY Albany with a concentration in English and Russian Literature. I minored in Art (which included painting, art history, design and a lot of independent study classes). I thought I might work at a magazine, or if somehow the stars aligned or I won the lottery, I would be a painter.

When I graduated, the "lead gene" in my ambition was survival. I had very little money and was really frightened by the idea of not being able to pay my rent, so I ended up following a career path that, while incredibly interesting to me, wasn't what I really, *really* wanted to do. I have followed that path for 24 years, leading me to where I am now. Along the way, I did what would be considered a few personal projects (a few exhibits of my paintings and a performance piece in the mid-90's, as well as some money losing design projects that I loved with all of my heart (Hot 97). But along the way, I found that whatever it is you work hardest at is what gets more and more finely tuned, and this is what you inevitably get good (or better) at.

So...long story short, I stopped "personal projects" full time when my professional career took off. Or was it the other way around??? All I know is that I stopped writing and painting when my day job (which I also love, just in a different way) required enormous hours of commitment and travel, and thus turned into a all day-all night job.

I restarted doing personal projects several years ago, when I was no longer hampered by basic financial worries. Design Matters is most definitely a personal project and I pay out of my own pocket to do it, and never cared a wit about that.

But when you are broke or short on time, it can be hard to take on personal projects that are not limited in scope. (Though I know many, many people that will give up eating and rent to do personal projects, I was never strong enough or believed in myself enough to do this.) I think that this is why personal projects are often projects that are undertaken in school, when these constraints may not be as prevalent.

All that being said (sorry for my long-windedness), the really issue here (imho) is how you define personal projects! I recently interviewed a very well known graphic designer who, when I asked about doing personal projects, responded by saying he didn't understand the question, "all of his projects were personal." This didn't mean they were all self-funded, but rather he put all of his heart and soul into professional work, which made it quite personal.

Finally, my two cents on personal projects during college: YES, you need them. But you also need a strong foundation in history, science, math, music, along with all of the design classes you can take. I think it is just as important to learn how to present and write proposals for clients as it is to learn grid systems and how to kern type as it is to learn how to design an identity for a law firm AND design "a 2-color 100 page book on whatever."

College should be about experimenting in all areas of academia and to me, it should be about trying on enough hats to get a sense of what feels right and where your talents shine brightest. First and foremost, it should be a time to test out beliefs about yourself so that the chances you take when you graduate are not compromised by lack of self-esteem or fear of failure. The projects you undertake in school should be rich and varied. Course in typography and drawing are as beneficial as courses that help you reveal your inner thoughts, feelings, fears and beliefs. The best and most interesting designers I know have an equal knowledge of what they excel at in design and who they *really* are as people. Different projects help uncover these different aspects of what and who we are.

On Jan.31.2007 at 05:26 PM
Samuel’s comment is:

I recently conducted a design workshop at a design school and gave the students a challenge to define. No given outcome or product just a visual challenge.

To my surprise most of the students were puzzled by this simple exercise. Their response was; What do you mean? Do you want a poster? A brochure? A book? All those questions are valid but these questions should never be the first thing you think about when facing a visual/design challenge.

For example: One challenge was to create a visual language for the city's transportation system. Instead of looking at what others have designed, in the past, I emphasized the point of becoming familiar with the transportation system; attend official meetings, ride the bus at different times of the day (rush hour, mid day, late night...,) take a survey of the riders; age, sex, and ethnicity. One way to fully understand something is by looking at it from all angles. From the owners, participants, by standers... points of view. Allowing the challenge to be defined by the active participants.

The result may not be a new ad campaign but rather comfortable seats, more efficient routes, or better lit bus stops.

Rather than defining the platform one has to define the message first.

To tell a student to do an identity, book, or poster is to focus their attention on the product and not the process that will shape the product.

That's where personal projects stretch you... to think, ask, analyze, discover... the meaning. There's so much the world around us has to offer to make the design experience richer.

As for clients. I asked them; "What's your challenge?" Then I tell them; "I don't know what the final product will be. Let's first define the message."

Sadly, design education/practice has become too technical rather than organic. "Technology" has replaced "Thinking."

On Jan.31.2007 at 06:16 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I'm with Josh B. A personal design project is less design and more art. That's great, but doesn't really apply if you are looking for a design job.

Student portfolios tend to fall into two camps (generally): 1) those that went to a school where everyone has been assigned the same set of projects for 20 years, but they are all client-based and 2) those that went to a school where everything was a personal exploration of some sort.

The latter group tend to have much more visually exciting portfolios, but have a really tough time communicating things like the strategy, business goals, challenges, etc. The former group tends to have more predictable solutions (as you've likely seen the same set of projects the semester before) but they also seem to be better prepared to handle things like clients. And deadlines. And project scopes.

Neither is really better or worse to have, I suppose. There's always a job looking for one or the other.

I to tend to agree that personal projects really are more art. That's what the painting, printmaking, ceramics and sculpture classes are for. The design class is for figuring out how to work within a set of definable parameters.

On Jan.31.2007 at 07:03 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

Make every project personal. Words of wisdom.


On Jan.31.2007 at 07:15 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

Didn't mean to steal from you, Ms. Millman. Glad to see some (at least two) other people see the personalization method as "good."

Note to self: Read all the comment before posting. Even "windy" ones. Ha!

Very Respectfully,

On Jan.31.2007 at 07:39 PM
Christina W’s comment is:

Wow. That chicken is bizarre.

The design of these sites was done with a larger audience in mind, and therefore they were made within certain parameters.

Isn't that a large part what defines design as opposed to art? The external projection as opposed to the internal projection? I had a bit of an opposite take on personal projects when I was in school - they were a chance to do something actually useful for myself, to be educated on something I truly wanted to learn about, instead of doing another fake project... but I had a wierd perspective when I went back to university. I didn't need pieces for a portfolio, since I had been working in a studio prior to returning to school, and very little student work can trump real pieces in a portfolio.

But, I also agree with Armin that colonic design purging is a good thing, because it forces us to get past the ego-centric results that we typically first produce. Did you every have that one person in your class who HAD to tie every project in with Disney, or horses, or the Smashing Pumpkins, or whatever they were infatuated with at the time?

On the other hand, I've often wondered if I am a better designer for having purged the quirks... or just a more bland one. Could we really all be Sagmeisters if every project was personal? Or would we just have a lot more headless chickens running around?

On Jan.31.2007 at 10:25 PM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

For me, "personal projects" definitely fall in the vein of being my own client but having a wider audience in mind. I always have some variation on this going because I thrive on a packed schedule. If I have too much free time, I become unproductive. I need something like this to fill in the gaps when they pop up.

On Jan.31.2007 at 10:27 PM
Ravenone’s comment is:

Almost all the so-called 'personal' projects I had in college had a list of at least a page of requirements and objectives to be fulfilled. Personal Projects can be fun; but they can be hellish, too, especially if your teacher ISNT clear on objectives and requirements.

I do agree with Armin, however, and his reasonings for saying NO. Personal projects seem an easy out for a student, afterall, how can you really grade something if it's 'personal'? and how do you determine a grading scale?

I wouldn't mind seeing the Syllabus for one of his or Byrony's design courses! :>

On Jan.31.2007 at 11:27 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I’m not sure that the issue is personal vs. (what? Impersonal?) but students (and many working designers) can get so freaked by technical and practical requirements that they believe that they are being required to make mundane crap. Sometimes framing an assignment around other goals can be worthwhile. Assigning work that is outside the “parameters of realistic projects” can make later “real” projects better and, I would argue, more realistic.

That’s not that same as the designer using self as subject. A hundred-page book charting everything you ate and excreted in a semester isn’t even interesting to your gastroenterologist. I don’t have any desire to have a bumper sticker but if I had one it would say “Keep it to yourself.” (And the hundred-page book ought to be ninety-six pages and the students ought to know why.)

On Jan.31.2007 at 11:29 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

The desire for personal projects also stems from ambitions to escape client land. At the start of these comments, John himself says, I like to create art, and it is that much more fun to do it when I can leave a client out of the equation. OK, John. So you've labeled it as art, and taken design out of the equation.

However, what's wrong with self-directed design? It can have purpose, and perhaps Armin's "curmudgeonly or narrow-minded" initial reactions stem from seeing too much of the same crap. Personal projects are just another way of stating self-directed design, and in short, that can be art. But it can also be something more. Look at what Armin's done here on Speak Up. Experience the power of 'phenomenology' that the Obey campaign created. Would Adbusters ever have taken off if somebody didn't say, "Why the hell not?" Rather than calling these and other projects personal, let's consider self-directed, problem solving, or critical agency as labels. Personal sounds too artistic. Maybe that's what turned off Prof. Vit.

On Jan.31.2007 at 11:52 PM
keith mcc’s comment is:

I am not too far removed from design school, and I can't ever remember having the hankering to ask a professor to do a "personal project". I guess that a lot of the courses I took outside of design were more introspective (I called my Video classes my exercises in Narcissism). I guess my skew on graphic design is that it is a client based environment. Even if you are creating something for yourself (personal identity, web site, blog...) the idea is to appeal and attract a larger and more general audience. The other half of my two cents is that I feel like what I create as a designer is an extension of who I am. Just as an illustrator or painter has a "style," so every designer has a different way of approaching a project. Give 100 designers the same requirements and I guarantee no two would be so alike that you couldn't pick out each designers different thought processes for creating something that might have the same value at surface level.

On Feb.01.2007 at 12:05 AM
Su’s comment is:

(And the hundred-page book ought to be ninety-six pages and the students ought to know why.)

Gunnar wins.

On Feb.01.2007 at 12:34 AM
Ravenone’s comment is:

Gunnar wins the internetz.

-back on topic.
Even artists -if they want to make a living at it- generaly have to think about clients. They have to sell their art. Buyers and dealers don't pop out of the woodwork for everyone.

On Feb.01.2007 at 02:03 AM
Nathan Philpot’s comment is:

Personal projects are called personal projects for reason. Nobody is interested exept the person who created it. Which is just fine. Everyone once and a while there is that personal project that is understood by the masses. Then you find a way to make money on it.

On Feb.01.2007 at 09:04 AM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

I've found my own personal project a fabulous way of experimenting with photography, learning perspective, depth of field, how to run like hell when people throw you off their property, ect.

In that sense, as a design student, I like to keep personal projects AWAY from design. I use them as experimenting with other ideas I can pull INTO my design. Things I wouldn't learn any other way.

It is like a big sketchbook. You try something, and whether it works or blows up in your face (Who'd have thought a Wendy's wrapper actually contains metal?) you learn something new.

On Feb.01.2007 at 09:10 AM
Pesky’s comment is:

I'm having this teaching problem precisely and maybe someone can give me a piece of advice.

I'm not an academic type but I just got a job teaching (HA!). 12 design students. A class on making and using sketchbooks in daily life as both journalistic discipline and personal observation. The students barely can draw (except one who draws very well) so my first objective was to teach them to really SEE a face, a chair and figure it out on paper. Some are lazy thinkers and others are earnest.
My problem is that some things - like awareness and clarity of observation cannot be taught, but learned by opportunities presented to them.I bring books in: Audubon's Birds of North America, 19th Century German drawing. Manga comics. My sketchbooks. To aquaint them with handling of pencil or ink on paper. I figure it's my job to take each one, measure their commitment and deal with each one seperately. The talented one needs more difficult assignments. The weakest one needs hands on encouragement to not give up in the middle of a drawing. I have a Zen approach and by that I mean - take what's in the room and draw it. A folding chair, the face of the student next to them. The dog walking around.... It's not high powered classroom academics but what my gut tells me to try. Then I give them outdoor assignments and warn them not to come back with unconvincing crap.
Most come back with unconvincing crap.

Someone recommended I be "ruthless", which I interpret as structured rigorous discipline and questioning motives. Is this better? Professors?

On Feb.01.2007 at 09:11 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Someone recommended I be "ruthless", which I interpret as structured rigorous discipline and questioning motives. Is this better? Professors?

Just be honest, and remember that you're not there to be a best friend; you're there to help them grow as designers and gain insight into its practice, history, media, etc. Sometimes this requires being ruthless, other times it entails boosting their confidence.

On Feb.01.2007 at 10:03 AM
Samuel’s comment is:

(And the hundred-page book ought to be ninety-six pages and the students ought to know why.)

Gunnar didn't win.

Of course, 96-page book if you are having printer spreads and binding saddle or perfect.

But what about 100-page book if you are binding it with string, wire, screw post, prongs, hooks, etc...

On Feb.01.2007 at 11:11 AM
Bruno Silva’s comment is:

I truly believe in personal projects. However, I feel that some of these projects have a tendency to lack a designer's voice and point of view, becoming a "personal" aesthetic form of expression sometimes too abstract to be understood. As a senior graphic design student at the School of Visual Arts, I have opted to create personal projects that are socially conscious, instead of creating another CD package or book jacket. I invested my time and effort in creating compelling solutions to aid non-profit organizations and social causes that I truly believe in. Articulating my personal voice as a junior designer rather than how well I can set type.

On Feb.01.2007 at 11:27 AM
Michelle French’s comment is:

Personal work.

What a concept. I have always subscribed to the theory that design was that previously mentioned four-letter-word (work). Personal projects were art.

How odd, as I am working on grad school applications that NOW after 24 years of practice, I have to produce "personal" design projects.

My undergrad experience prepared me very well to work. Not so much for the abstract concept of self-driven personal design.

The projects of which I have been most proud professionally, have been the ones with near-impossible criteria, for which I produced design that was an excellent solution. May not look flashy, but the story behind it...and the 88 page book (plus cover on a half size press) may help someone's long term survival from breast cancer.

NOW, I'm being told “We want to hear your voice” when I've been the expert at interpreting my client's voice.

My voice?

That's why I've painted! Where is the “problem to solve?” What needs to be communicated? When I paint I slay dragons and dance with the devil. It's my extremely personal self.

My personal voice neither fits on a grid nor spells neatly in Helvetica.

What to do? Advice off list, anyone?

On Feb.01.2007 at 12:05 PM
Josh B’s comment is:

Lots of interesting discussion. Cool.

It was unexpected that many people felt the need to point out that all projects should be personal. To me, that just goes without saying. My concepts, my style (if I have one), my skills are the only things I can bring to a project. Certainly there's plenty of outside info to digest, and lots of empathy to employ, but all that input still passes thru the filter of my own psyche. In that sense, its all personal - it's all a product of me. But maybe those folks (Debbie, Joe M et al) mean it in a different way. Care to elaborate?

I also see a lot of people saying that personal projects are a way to explore ideas or techniques that "real" projects don't give them the opportunity to. Really? I'm curious to read about some examples of this. Because my brain doesnt have to ability to parse areas of exploration. Granted there are degrees and depths of exploration that may not be acceptable or appropriate for real projects... but I still bring all my thoughts, even the "out there" ones into the process.

To address Bruno's comments: if all your work in your senior year is personal and for the benefit of non-profs, how do you plan to demonstrate to an employer that you can design for other types of clients? I ask, because I firmly believe the best asset you can present in your book is diversity - diversity of clients, diversity of audiences, diversity of styles and materials. One type of work will get you one type of job... if you're very lucky. Of course, what belongs in a portfolio is another discussion.

And Michelle F: I feel your pain. I got a BFA; I did the "fine art" thing, and I loved it. But it was only after I finished art school that I realized that all my best work came from solving a problem. The more specific an assignment the better. So when I went in search of graduate programs for design, it was disconcerting to see so many couched in programs for "fine art". What I didn't need was another degree in personal expression. So I guess my question to you is: Why are you interested in a Graduate Degree? What are your objectives? If bringing your personal voice to design doesn't interest you then you may need to find a graduate program with a different agenda.

On Feb.01.2007 at 01:21 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

Ms. French,

Something to do with dragons or the devil comes to mind.


Sacre bleu!


On Feb.01.2007 at 01:24 PM
Sarah Ayers’s comment is:

I can't remember being given a project at University that really fits with Armin's definition of a personal project. We had self guided projects where each student was allowed to tackle pretty much whatever they wanted. Some resulted in esoteric big books that would likely fit his description.

But others tackled more practical aspects of design, one person creating a tabbed glossary of Typographic terms including visual examples. I was into comic books at the time and investigated the creation of a comic book character both researching to develop the storyline and polling classmates as to what kind of character they would prefer. Everyone's problem, process and end result were different but identifying a problem and attempting to find a solution was the common thread.

We also had a few more practical self-promotional projects to tackle the problem of being able to pay the rent. Some interest catching, skill selling gadget to win over a potential employer. It was practical in the 'get a job' sense, but I don't feel it did anything to make me a better designer.

My best design school experience was in a Typography class with a professor visiting from Germany. In the two weeks we had with her, the class worked on a collaborative layout of The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe. Each student had a portion of the text to layout in their own grid and typeface but had to conform to a final page size/margin restriction. We were challenged to add many additional levels of information while only using the characters within our chosen Typeface to differentiate them from one another. There were aspects of the project that allowed us to be creative and others that were really restrictive but in the end everyone created a personalised layout that fit within the system of the class project.

The practical skills required to complete this project are far more valuable than the physical result. There were negotiations of personal taste versus larger usability requirements as well as simply meeting deadlines. The final physical project is something that I don't have in my professional portfolio, but the skills I developed I use all the time. I had way more personally invested in creating an effective and interesting solution than if I had been given the task of creating an esoteric personal book.

I still have a soft spot in my heart for Futura.

On Feb.01.2007 at 02:21 PM
Samuel’s comment is:

Great discussion!

Have a hug!

Go to my blog and play the video:

Department of World Service

Spread Love!

On Feb.01.2007 at 03:01 PM
Andrew Twigg’s comment is:

I can't help but wonder if there's a way to let students work on a personal project while giving some other valuable experience. For example, what if the student was allowed to create a personal project but was given a context in which to place the work:
First they would write a creative brief, then brainstom, showing the instructor a series of distinct concepts for the project, and then be allowed to move into execution mode after a review/discussion. The project would wrap up with a presentation of the brief, the conceps, the project, and an analysis of how they met the objectives they set forth themselves in their brief.

This could help to prevent some of the typical "shoot-from-the-hip" work that I think instructors want to avoid and that an undergraduate student might not yet be ready to make... and in the process the student would learn the role of the creative brief and the importance of checking your work once it's done.

Just a thought.

I should add that I'm optimistic about these kinds of things, but I'm not naive. I taught for a few years in Chicago and know exactly what kind of work Armin is trying to avoid. But I also think there's great value in allowing students to feel total ownership over a project; in my experience this is when a student's visual voice can begin to emerge. And sometimes the results are surprising.

On Feb.01.2007 at 03:35 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

I think the problem with personal projects is that it becomes difficult to separate the 'how' from the 'why'. Design is for the most part a question of 'how'. 'How do I change a customer's perception of company A', 'How do I communicate message B'.

However, when the project is personal, it becomes a question of 'why'. 'Why is it important for me to communicate message C'.

It is difficult to criticise personal projects properly because the execution is so intrinsically wrapped up with the reason for doing it. You can commend the use of type, or criticise the use of colour, but 'that's not the point', they'll say.

I think personal experimentation is very important in learning to be a designer (I did my fair share of narcisistic nonsense – I spent a large part of my final college year making puppets), but we should be experimenting with 'how' to do things, not with 'why' we should do things.

If students are keen to initiate projects, how about creating a brief to give to other students in their class. That ought to give them a really good understanding of the client-designer relationship.

On Feb.01.2007 at 06:15 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Tom may have come up with a convincing argument for personal projects or something like them. I’d argue that graphic designers worry way too much about how and not nearly enough about why. If we questioned our clients’ assumptions and our own more we’d do our jobs better and be held in a little less low esteem.

On Feb.01.2007 at 07:22 PM
Woody Holliman’s comment is:

It's wonderful to hear designers arguing passionately about what they do - no matter where they stand on this particular issue of personal work vs. client-centered work. As someone who's made a living in so-called "fine art" as well as commercial illustration and design, I find this distinction irrelevant to my life. I've always made work to please others (if only the critics), as well as to satisfy my own creative impulses. And if my client work were not also inspired by my personal passions, it would be dry as bones and, I suspect, utterly ineffective in achieving my client's aims.

On Feb.01.2007 at 09:07 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

If we questioned our clients’ assumptions and our own more we’d do our jobs better and be held in a little less low esteem

Point taken. If personal work can help us to question assumptions then it is invaluable. But it is far too easy to fool ourselves into thinking we're questioning assumptions when in fact we're reinforcing them, or just ignoring them.

As Armin said, 'I don't know...' simply isn't good enough – and neither is 'to be cool'.

I've been to too many student shows where the question I've found myself asking is 'what's the point?'. Personal projects are driven by a strong desire to say something unique. But far too often they fall way short of the mark – rehashing something the student has read somewhere, or just churning out the same old teenage angst.

Some designers may be visionaries, but most of us are not. If personal projects can help us to become better designers then I welcome them. But we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that just because we know how to communicate, the things we have to say are more important than anyone else's.

On Feb.02.2007 at 06:28 AM
Pesky’s comment is:

Achieving genuine excellence takes hard work, there's no denying it... even visionaries have to climb some mountains to get where the lightning strikes...

On Feb.02.2007 at 09:06 AM
Michelle French’s comment is:

Samuel! You hugged me in London in November!

It was the day after the “We want to hear your voice” from the portfolio advisors.

I was a little depressed, but I was just beginning to recognize what they meant when my friend and I saw you and I realized that was the type of project I was missing. You really helped me so much. And you are a wonderful hugger.

One of the most intriguing things about the difference in UK education and US it the focus on the conceptual, and, if you will, personal, in design (at the expense in some cases of preparing students for “real” work). I've got the methodology and an abundance of real world experience. I'm looking to expand my outlook.

Some of you may remember when PhotoShop took possession of the minds of many designers in the early to mid 90s. There was absolutely no point or context to their work other than “it was a cool thing to do in PhotoShop.” I want context and meaning in my work. Whether it is for a client or for me.

Here in Atlanta, my personal projects include a couple of guerilla campaigns against speeding (pedestrians are target practice here) and littering by smokers (that shit is NOT biodegradable). For applications I'm doing a magazine that is called "It's All About ME!" to include my painting, off-the-wall essays, photographs, therapeutic illustrations and, of course, my dog. All the points I never got to make hiding my “voice” in my client's work.

As for the question of “Why?" posed by Josh B—I want to teach. In addition to having a captive audience (they have to sit there while I talk—sweet), I have enjoyed instructing those who have worked for me and more than that I love learning and who can you learn more from than young designers and artists. (Not to mention, they program your i-Pods.) I also want to spend more time painting.

So, after years of thinking personal projects for design referred to the pro bono work I did or things I've designed for my family and friends, I've been on this journey of discovery, integrating the two very different sides of my creative life. The monstrous, unbridled expressions of my internal self with the Bauhaus, methodological designer.

After years of saying “I'm not an illustrator,” I've found myself pulling off some amazing illustration work. A painting of mine found its way onto a magazine cover because it perfectly illustrated the topic...mood swings in cancer patients.

So Tom, you've convinced me that when I do teach, there will be some form of personal project assigned. With the parameter that it needs a point. Better to meet that challenge in school than at mid-life.

Basically, I have the freedom to wander a path of discovery and I'm taking it. And my little dog, too.

On Feb.02.2007 at 12:10 PM
pnk’s comment is:

A few random, related thoughts...

When I'm looking at designers' books, personal projects can be really instructive in helping me know what kind of *person* they are, and since I'm hiring people that I'll actually have to be in the company of for a vast portion of my waking hours, that's significant. I was swayed in favor of a designer a few years back as a result of one such project. It was a really nice collection of photographs, which showed her formal sense, her technical skills as a shooter, and told me that visual questions mattered to her, both personally and professionally. And she was a great hire, too.

For my own personal projects, being in a band has given me lots of excellent opportunitues. Always lots of flyers, album art, shirts, etc... and since there are usually real limits on the projects, and specific communciation goals, the work is definitely design and not art, but since it's largely ephemeral and done for no cash, the creative freedom I get to assert is very satisfying.

But if I want the real deal escape from Clientville (the true value of personal work for me), it's simply picking up a pencil, or some chalk, or a crayon, or some paints, and making pictures that does the trick best.

When designers show me their design portfolio, and have a sketchbook to show too, *that* usually makes a very good impression on me.

On Feb.02.2007 at 01:14 PM
Christina W’s comment is:

I see a lot of people saying that personal projects are a way to explore ideas or techniques that "real" projects don't give them the opportunity to. Really? I'm curious to read about some examples of this.

OK, here's an example. I've spent an inordinate amount of time doing visual and cultural research for a Russian fairy tale that I'm making into a picture book. This is so far away from what I do at my job as a designer (corporate sales lit) that there is no visual crossover. Crossover in what I've learned about other things, perhaps, like page structure and story pacing, but no visual crossover.

But I also really agree with the comments about needing a diversity of clients in a portfolio after you graduate. So I guess it depends on what you want out of school - a job, or a license for personal growth. Not that they are mutually exclusive, but I've found it is a rare and talented teacher that can take you down both paths at the same time.

On Feb.02.2007 at 01:33 PM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

WordIt is going to be my personal project for this coming year.

On Feb.02.2007 at 02:12 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

A personal project, is just that, a personal project. Sometimes it can take a life of its own and become something huge and completely external. But that is not usually the goal or purpose when one starts, it is part of its growing up and reaching new boundaries and new goals.

Back in the day, Speak Up was what I consider a personal project. But it no longer is. At this point we make changes not with us in mind (although what we want does play a big role), but with all of you in mind. That has shifted Speak Up from being a personal project to a project we do.

I do not object when a student approaches me with a personal project they wish to include in their portfolio. But it needs to be interesting, serve a purpose and demonstrate an added value. There is no point in having a 100-page page in your portfolio if it will add nothing to your capabilities, potential and overall interview interaction. I do have a problem with assigning a personal project, since I can’t possibly determine what “personal” + “specific parameters” equals to each individual, thus loosing most of its personal characteristic.

On Feb.02.2007 at 02:13 PM
Samuel’s comment is:

Samuel! You hugged me in London in November!

Michelle! I have to tell you, that is not me hugging the people in the video! His name is Juan Mann. I placed the video under "Who I' like to meet" in myspace page. Juan Mann's name is clearly displayed at the end of the video. I find that act of human kindness very moving.

I am sure Juan would like to hear how much he touched your life!

Keep doing great work with socially responsible projects.

Here's my Big Hug!!!

On Feb.02.2007 at 05:54 PM
Greg Hay’s comment is:

Many others have already said some great insights, so allow me to add my (very pithy) two cents.

'Personal' is an artist.
'Real-world project' is a designer.

What do you want the students to be?
What do the students want to be?

I, for one, think the line should be blurry. But ultimately, it should be a personal choice.

On Feb.03.2007 at 07:05 AM
Andrew Twigg’s comment is:

I just have to say that I disagree with all of you who say that personal = artist and real world = designer.

I'm not looking to convince anyone of this, I just disagree. Strongly.

On Feb.03.2007 at 08:05 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Greg, Andrew, Jason, et al,

I don’t know how this squares with anyone’s position on personal/design but: Your design is not likely to be great unless it is profoundly about you and the most important thing to remember is that it has nothing to do with you.

On Feb.03.2007 at 04:56 PM
ed’s comment is:

^ugh i was wondering where my headache went...

On Feb.03.2007 at 06:55 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

was wondering where my headache went...

Don’t worry, Ed. I’m always right here for you.

On Feb.03.2007 at 11:11 PM
km’s comment is:

12 design students. A class on making and using sketchbooks in daily life as both journalistic discipline and personal observation. The students barely can draw (except one who draws very well) so my first objective was to teach them to really SEE a face, a chair and figure it out on paper. Some are lazy thinkers and others are earnest. My problem is that some things - like awareness and clarity of observation cannot be taught, but learned by opportunities presented to them.I bring books in: Audubon's Birds of North America, 19th Century German drawing. Manga comics. My sketchbooks. To acquaint them with handling of pencil or ink on paper. I figure it's my job to take each one, measure their commitment and deal with each one separately. The talented one needs more difficult assignments. The weakest one needs hands on encouragement to not give up in the middle of a drawing. I have a Zen approach and by that I mean - take what's in the room and draw it. A folding chair, the face of the student next to them. The dog walking around.... It's not high powered classroom academics but what my gut tells me to try.
Man, I wish my professors had been more like you, and that we could have had a class even remotely like the one you describe...

On Feb.04.2007 at 12:34 AM
Peskymar’s comment is:

Thanks KM....teaching is harder than I thought. Especially a subject that requires inner motivation. We are talking on this thread about personal work vs. assigned work. This is both. When I saw half-hearted sketchbooks filled with mediocre Manga figures I knew there was a cultural divide happening. Alien monsters are ok and all that, but so is drawing your left hand. When I asked for that, they barely knew how to depict their own thumb.

I would talk and I'd see a glazed look come over their little faces. It surprized me and puzzled me. What do young Americans think of the vast and rich world cultures? Is everything but their Paris Hilton worldview just off the radar? (Their music isn't even interesting, but that's another story.) Makes me feel 500 years old, which ain't bad, but the disconnect is.

When I showed them my saved-from-Hurricane-Katrina complete copy of Hiroshiga's sketcbook (two, 320" x 8" sheet, accordion folded, hardbound books) - they were not impressed. But I was. Here in front of them was a great copy of 2 books by a famous Japanese master of drawing and they nearly yawned.

My next assignment to to take them out in the cold into the woods behind the school to draw weeds. The colder the temperature the better. I like weeds.

On Feb.04.2007 at 10:07 AM
Pesky’s comment is:

I meant Hiroshige...sorry.

On Feb.04.2007 at 10:12 AM
Ghazaleh Etezal’s comment is:

From an undergraduate graphic design student perspective:

Most students don't see the potential in most projects to be "personal". They just do it to get it done and try to make it look good at the same time and in most cases good enough for their teachers to like it.

Most students don't want to take the time to "choose" something they don't know or not comfortable with when they were given that choice in their brief. The little choices that you have in your briefs can make a project become personal.

That choice for most people is usually in their comfort zone and not enough in the uncomfortable zone. It's in that uncomfortable zone where you can find a new comfort, hence you grow and learn more before you define yourself and your strengths.

Here is an example:

In a typography class, you have to take one out of eight pieces of text, take a concept and execute it.

Now, the texts could be boring, stupid and dull for most people. They are not something you would ever pick up or read on your own. They're not funny, or cool or adventurous on the surface.

So, what's the solution here? This project has no potential to be personal because it appears that it can't be? Because you can't relate to the text?

This project can be personal if you extract a concept from one of the text and explore it. Twist it, turn it, use the words but punch them, cut them, feel them, breathe them, write them, write them again, read them, read them out loud, google them, google the author, his life, his other writing, look at his book, his life, his religion. Okay, maybe he wasn't all that interesting but his WIFE was the most brilliant tea cup painter in the world! And you LOVE tea!

This project suddenly becomes personal! Because you made it personal. You learned more than any other project that could ever be assigned in a regular university. You researched without being told to, and THAT is what a personal project is.

YOU CAN MAKE IT PERSONAL if you are compelled to.

And if you're a student, there is NO reason for you NOT to be compelled to. Don't hate the teacher or the project, blame yourself for not working hard enough to find potential in your uncomfortable, unexplored, undiscovered zone to MAKE that project and UN-BREAK it.

On Feb.04.2007 at 12:35 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Ghazaleh, thanks for the insights. I don't mean to sound unappreciative of the undergrad experience, but I haven't seen any light bulbs go off over heads yet...wish I had students more like you.

On Feb.04.2007 at 06:24 PM
BGregory’s comment is:

As a printmaker teaching graphic design fundamentals...I feel the comments here are at the heart of my daily teaching practices...how does one balance the personal creative balance...freedom of expression and client needs? I would like to hear more from educators about their specific projects and how they meet the needs of todays expectations and the abilities of neophyte designers...

On Feb.05.2007 at 11:58 AM
ed’s comment is:

why does it have to be a balance?

i think when you try to make a balance between what you call freedom of expression and client needs, it can take away entirely from the expressiveness that the client needs or the needs that the client expresses.


tap into our design unconscious by granting our talent and technical know-how permission to do as they please unraveling results that we may have otherwise never achieved.

why do you wait for personal projects to do that???

that sounds like EXACTLY what you ought to do for your client

On Feb.05.2007 at 06:57 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Damn. As much as it pains me to admit it publicly, Ed is absolutely right.

On Feb.05.2007 at 07:10 PM
felix’s comment is:

Speak Up was what I consider a personal project. But it no longer is (due to) all of you in mind.

I consider personal projects to be ones stamped with a greater good on it (ie: logo and branding for large AIDS awareness campaign, green effort, or autism program). They're usually done free because you feel like an ass for painting personal "naked self portrait with Armin scrambling eggs No. 2". I've seen it, folks... and some things are best left personal! Note to self and armin: bic shavers, cheap, neccessary.

On Feb.05.2007 at 08:17 PM
Tan’s comment is:

A good designer finds a way to harness personal passion, voice, and expression to put into his/her work. Period.

Having to qualify whether or not that work is "personal" or real work is a failure to master this self-development and learning as a designer.

The masters of our craft don't have any such distinctions.

On Feb.06.2007 at 01:18 AM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

Props to wahat Ed and Tan say.

I realized after finishing school that my projects suffered when I spent too much time in conceptualization and research, and not enough time working on the execution. My trouble was a lack of training in formal execution combined with a perfectionist tendency.

To help remedy this I took on a personal project. The idea was to work fast and let go of the result. I also was seeking a way to ride the ups and downs of feeling "inspired." For 100 days I dedicated about an hour a day to exe(o)rcise my creativity (demons) by putting on a CD and designing a type-based sleeve using the title, artist name, song titles, times and track numbers. I had until the CD was finished to complete the work, then upload it to a web site. The last part was to keep me honest and on track. (I had told a few friends about it.)

It would be quite a stretch to call it art. Each piece was an exercise in design. It was a valuable lesson in countless ways, all the more so because it wasn't assigned. Personal projects don't have to be aimless self-expression, they can be used for very specific purposes; not necessarily for promoting a greater good. But I'm sure glad I never had to submit mine for a grade!

On Feb.06.2007 at 03:27 AM
CactusJones’s comment is:

What if personal projects were allowed, but the students were required to assume another personality? Much like method acting, this is method designing. Make the students randomly pick a famous personality and do a personal project based on whomever is picked. This is what professional graphic design is all about — being able to visually project a client's brand/personality, not your own.

On Feb.06.2007 at 09:44 AM
PA’s comment is:

I am a Graphic Design and Advertising student who has read the comments in this forum. Since I haven't worked in this field yet, I can only respond with my feelings as a student. I certainly hope that each project I am given to complete as a student not only shows that I can follow the directions given by the instructor, but that I have put my own thoughts and creativity into the project. Every project I do is personal and important to me.

On Feb.06.2007 at 09:15 PM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

You know, thinking about it, the option as a student for doing a personal project is always open to do in your free time (badoom boop! rimshot).

Question to Armin, Bryony, and any teacher reading this: Have you ever turned down a student when they've pulled you aside before or after class to look at something they are working on?

On Feb.07.2007 at 01:26 AM
Bryony’s comment is:


Never. We encorage this and make our time before/after class available, as well as our email.

On Feb.07.2007 at 07:56 AM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

>>Never. We encorage this and make our time before/after class available, as well as our email.

I had a feeling that would be the case. My experiences have been the same, I've never been turned away by any of my professors.

On Feb.07.2007 at 06:45 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Kevin, a good teacher always makes time for a student's adventurousness...it's the spark that lights the fire of real creativity....so good luck, Ke...

...then it dawns on me that Kevin is one of MY students...

:::pulls out a bullwhip and mercilessly beats him back into the classroom:::

Bryony was right, in our private email: they need to be savagely manhandled...(thanks, BGP)

::: then a swift kick, trying not to break his drawing hand:::

Damn students!

On Feb.07.2007 at 07:24 PM
KM’s comment is:

When I showed them my saved-from-Hurricane-Katrina complete copy of Hiroshige's sketcbook (two, 320" x 8" sheet, accordion folded, hardbound books) - they were not impressed. But I was. Here in front of them was a great copy of 2 books by a famous Japanese master of drawing and they nearly yawned!!!
Were they breathing..did you check their pulses? Or were they in some sort of drug-induced coma?

On Feb.07.2007 at 11:52 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

No, I just think they were keeping their cool intact. More than one student, a week later, mentioned they remember seeing my book....one has even said he wants to try using a Japanese brush....to me that's progress.

On Feb.08.2007 at 07:10 AM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

>>:::pulls out a bullwhip and mercilessly beats him back into the classroom:::

I call it "God's Sketchbook".

I'll have the details fleshed out by Tuesday morning's class.

I'm very excited about it.

On Feb.08.2007 at 07:17 AM
Leila Singleton’s comment is:

I seem to be joining this discussion a bit late...and with a bit of a novel...!

The notion that a personal project is, by default, a meandering work steeped in immature angst and cryptic meaning is indicative of the creative limitations of those who hold such a view.

A personal project can be something relevant and valuable to a student's portfolio...if not by their own making, through the guidance and watchful eye of a skilled professor. With one-on-one attention, an instructor can guide students into incorporating some applicable, real-world skill in their work (e.g., getting it offset printed, pitching it to a local business) or make sure that the project fills holes in their portfolios (use of type, color, complexity of layout, etc.).

This is obviously not the type of project you assign to a first-year student; it is true that one must first learn the rules before straying from them. But as a student hits their final year in school, "technically-oriented" projects proving adeptness at following instructions and/or skill in various graphics programs become monotonous and counter-productive -- especially for those students who have held real-world internships.

Having reviewed portfolios, I can additionally say that I relish the few projects that break the monotony of standard assignments -- certainly it is important to see how multiple students all approached the same design problem; this creates a standard for gauging talent. But after the 200th logo created for the same local donut shop, a fresh assignment is a pleasant break. And a personal project can give a reviewer or employer an idea of what a student is able to do when left to their own devices: does the student possess initiative? Are they able to not only build a project, but fabricate its parts AND write a sound blueprint? These are skills that set apart "nuts and bolts" designers from future art and creative directors...valuable if one is looking to hire more capable, versatile talents.

After four years of hard work, why not reward a student with one last opportunity to execute the type of work they likely will not encounter in an entry-level position? Furthermore, why not extend the opportunity to receive a grade for it? Personal projects executed outside of class are a nice idea, but tend to be relegated to the Do-It-Someday Pile as graded projects take priority.

On Feb.21.2007 at 07:02 PM
Scott’s comment is:

right on, very good. we've got this one worked out. i,too, think personal projects are fine as long as the students are required to make a stand and define what it is they are attempting to DO. to place it in the WORLD. to make a stand as to what they hope to communicate. hold their feet to the fire--challenge them about their expectations and objectives, even if the objective is to devise a perplexing and fully ambiguous edible book that critiques the merits of feeding sloppy joes to toddlers, while they sleep.

also, it's helpful if they're required to research designers/artists that have come before them and attempted to wrestle with similar issues; that, too, is a way of placing it in the world-placing it into context in a way that it can be defended, and then taking the heat in a critique if we can punch holes in the underlying logic.

Leila, how are you? scott(b) from your alma mater. come on over to the design relevance discussion and add your two cents! hope you're well!

On Feb.21.2007 at 09:52 PM
Leila Singleton’s comment is:

Hello Professor Boylston! What a surprise. Glad to hear from you, and that we're on the same page...must come from the same SCHOOL of thought (sorry, I just had to).

RE: Design relevance discussion...where is that one? I'll gladly get in on the fun...

I believe I saw a blurb on the SCAD site not too long ago about some of your recent exhibitions (posters, I think) as well as a recently published/upcoming book...congratulations!

I suppose I should wrap this up so that I do not annoy with this thoroughly off-topic reunion. So nice to hear from you!

On Feb.22.2007 at 10:32 PM
Scott’s comment is:

sorry, the discussion is titled, Speak Up: Now What.

i've been meaning to tell you how much i liked what you did for the Urban Forest Project ever since i saw it--great job! hope all's well in colorado!

On Feb.23.2007 at 07:30 AM