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Glide’08: The Infrastructure of the Web as Design Education

This post is an asynchronous presentation written on behalf of the inaugural biennial conference on Global Interaction in Design Education, Glide’08 presented by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York and by the Upstate New York chapter of AIGA, the professional association for design. A full-day schedule of speakers is taking virtually and a most of us are contributing from the comfort of our own computers. Glide’08 aims to explore how the “development of instructional technologies for distance learning in low- and high-bandwidth contexts has created opportunities to bridge geographical divides in design education and conferencing.” For those that are joining via the conference, hello, and for our regular readers, well, hello too.

First, a disclaimer. I am wildly unsure as to why I was asked to contribute to this conference. I’m not an educator: At most, I am a graphic designer who has stumbled unto teaching positions. I don’t know the first thing about distance learning” A geographical divide for me is the difference between the Park Slope and Willimasburg neighborhoods in Brooklyn, or that point between the York and East Broadway stops in the subway’s F line where your ears pop because the train hits the middle point between Brooklyn and Manhattan as it crosses the East River. And, other than running a handful of blogs with an inherently international readership, my understanding of design education in other countries is minimal. In other words, and in terms of credentials, I’m out of my league. However, there is a certain activity that I engage in that perhaps puts me in a position to talk about the subject of using technology, the web in particular, in favor of design education: I poke around the web. A lot.

While other speakers of the conference will be better prepared to talk about the benefits of doing a tele-critique between a classroom in, say, Tucson, Arizona and another classroom in, say again, Paris, France; or praise the usefulness of having a semester’s curriculum on-line so that every student can stay on top of the assignments; or propose a blog network among schools to share work and ideas, I can’t speak to any of that. Instead, I would like to offer a few suggestions to take advantage of the existing infrastructure and dynamic found on the web.



The obvious answer to integrating the conversation between students, locally and internationally, appears to be a blog. This is somewhat true as it has now become a traditional means of communication and expression for the current generation of graphic design students and chances are that everyone already has their own blog. However, it seems that most blogs started by design programs have a hard time growing beyond their own world and activating that global interaction they crave.

Crit Blog

Crit, the graduate design blog for the students of the School of Visual Arts MFA Design Program.

Crit, the blog launched by the students of SVA’s MFA Design Program in 2007 aimed to engage graduate students from around the U.S., but it never quite managed to attract that audience; instead it became a great megaphone for the activities of the school, which is not a bad thing at all.

Crit Blog

emu graphic design, the blog for students, faculty, and alumni of Eastern Michigan University’s graphic design program.

Another example is a blog like the one started by the students of Eastern Michigan University’s graphic design program as a way to add interactivity to their experience. But as some of the teachers lamented in a conversation we had, there wasn’t the amount of activity on the blog that they had hoped for. I mention this not to be gossipy or belittle the engagement of EMU’s students but to point out that what students want to do in their free time is not likely to be blogging with the classmates and teachers they just spent all day with.

Design History Mashup Blog

Design History Mashup, the blog for the students of the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas in Austin.

An interesting blog that appeared earlier this year was Design History Mashup where students under the guidance of Peter Hall posted their assignments on specific bits of design history. For me, as an outsider it was very interesting to see the ongoing results and sometimes seeing students work out their research in plain view. And it is now available as a public resource for anyone interested in design history.

The more viable alternative for using blogging as an educational tool is to take advantage of blogs that are already established and have an active readership, whether it’s Speak Up, Brand New, Design Observer or the student-friendly Core 77, where students can be part of the dialogue and be part of an audience that includes seasoned professionals, beginners and students alike. Students could be given the assignment to pick an ongoing discussion and write in a, say, 250-word comment stating their point of view, forcing them to learn how to write about design and express their opinions. Harnessing the power of the written word at an early stage is imperative, and doing it in a rather risk-free environment like a design blog is a good probing ground.


Social Curating

UnderConsideration's ffffound

UnderConsideration’s ffffound.

It might seem like the trendy thing to recommend, but ffffound is a spectacular resource of visual resources and inspiration fueled by the constant addition of images by the hundreds of users that add content to the site literally every minute. ffffound also makes associations between images recommending similar options, resulting in a possibly endless loose image association. The site is notorious for being by invitation only, but they could surely have academic invitations for any design program interested and then teachers could assign a communal and social curation of visual material under any number of parameters. Students from a single class or from classes around the world would be given the magic script that bookmarks and adds the images and a visual well could be cobbled together for anyone to see as developed by students. Creating a cohesive collection of design work would be an invaluable exercise.


Google Earth as Field Trip

We all know that Google Earth is cool and that there is more to it than checking in to see who lives in your childhood home, more so as users add “layers” of information on it that you can traverse as your digitally globe-trek, so how could it be used for design education? Let’s take one example: The popular walking tours of New York’s typography given by either Tobias Frere-Jones or Paul Shaw. What if they created a route in Google Earth where you could go from location to location to experience, as close to the real thing as possible, the lettering that adorns the city? Google Earth’s resolution and quality leave a lot to be desired about, even with the addictive Street Level View, so maybe people that go on the tours can add their own photos to each location.

Cup and Saucer Sign, Photograph by Michael Surtees

Just one of the many images taken by Michael Surtees, who took Frere-Jones’ tour.

Google Earth Cup and Saucer Sign

Cup & Saucer sign located through Google Earth, as seen in Street Level View.

Google Earth Cup and Saucer Sign

Cup & Saucer location with user-added images.

If different design programs in different parts of the world agreed to do similar local explorations, Google Earth would be a great tool to learn about the vernacular language of each location… and the additional geography lessons wouldn’t hurt at all.


Flickr and eBay as Design History

Flickr Results for Wim Crouwel

Search key words: wim crouwel.

Flickr Results for Otl Aicher

Search key words: otl aicher.

Flickr Results for Penguin Books

Search key words: penguin books.

Learning about graphic design history used to mean either reading Philip B. Meggs’ A History of Graphic Design or sitting through four carrousels of aging slides that, themselves, are becoming relics of design history. There is nothing inherently wrong with these two scenarios, but the ubiquity of Flickr and the generosity of designers or collectors around the world has sprouted a massive amount of design ephemera and history in its pages. Most of them are original materials taken with modern-day photographic equipment that give these pieces a palpability that they never had. Whether it’s the work of Wim Crouwel or Otl Aicher as photographed in exhibitions or oodles of old Penguin books rummaged from flea markets or antique booksellers, Flickr is awash in design history. Right under our digital noses. So, no matter which school you attend and how well stocked its library is or how good the design history teacher might be, the original artifacts of design history are only a search away.

Modernism 101 eBay Store

Most awesome eBay store ever: Modernism 101.

Modernism 101 eBay Store

1956 Westvaco Inspirations by Bradbury Thompson, sold by Modernism 101. Auction may have ended and item may not show.

I would not encourage design educators to encourage their design students to spend their money on eBay but, not too different from window shopping, designers can see a lot of design history right there on eBay. Perhaps the best lessons can be had at Modernism 101’s store, which focuses on any publication or printed material related to graphic design from the earlier half of the twentieth century. On top of having photographs for all of the auctions — even if they are not the best photographs — the store features lengthy descriptions of each piece, acting as mini history lessons. Popular items in eBay are back issues of magazines, so if you wanted to see some covers of vintage Playboy, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar or Fortune, eBay will do the trick.


Global Portfolios

Certainly learning about design history and standing on the shoulders of giants is no good if we can’t look at the present and at the future. It used to be that you would have to wait for the latest design annual or the latest issue of Print or Eye to know what’s happening in the world of design. Now, every designer and design firm has a web site, giving design students the opportunity to see what their soon-to-be peers are doing. Exposing students to this global breadth of work is extremely important so that they can get a grasp of the visual climate that is currently being forged. Plus, looking at cool work from France, Greece, Brazil, Israel, India or wherever, is healthy for the eyes.

Portfolio Sample

Red and Grey Design, Dublin, Ireland

Portfolio Sample

Taku Satoh Design Office, Tokyo, Japan

Portfolio Sample

BeetRoot Design Group, Thessaloniki, Greece


Design students are entering a world that is already heavily connected thanks to the innovations in social networking web sites, the preponderance of blogs and the increasingly bulging archive of digital imagery. The tools for an integrated, global education are already in place and the material is only beginning to take form. Design students and educators can only strengthen it and make its availability wider and more relevant.


Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Oct.22.2008 BY Armin
Ben’s comment is:

I liked your response the EMU's staff lamenting about the lack of student activity on their blog! When you've been in class all day and you have tons of assignments due "soon", posting on a school-run blog is probably the least of one's priorities! Overall I found your post very interesting, exploring this convergence of internet-enabled technologies and sites with design education. In particular I'm fascinated with the potential that Google Earth (or similar tools)have for "virtual" field trips to places that could be economically difficult for students to go see.

On Oct.22.2008 at 09:50 AM
Doug Bartow’s comment is:

In addition to the online portion of Glide'08, we are hosting a local component to the conference here at id29 tonight at 7pm, called Design Dialogues on Along The Hudson. Anyone in NY's Capital Region (or beyond) is most welcome to attend, but you must register first at the link above. Note: the event was previously scheduled as a boat cruise on the Hudson...it has been moved to our design studio (overlooking the Hudson). Dinner and drinks (and drinks) to be provided.

On Oct.22.2008 at 10:31 AM
Erik Brandt’s comment is:

A thousand thanks for this comprehensive overview, a very useful tool.

On Oct.22.2008 at 10:48 AM
lynne allard’s comment is:

As a full-time graduate student of graphic design in a distance program I can relate very much to not being very excited about spending time on a blog in my free time. I could see this being especially true for on-site students, as an online environment can lack the intimacy and immediacy of being face to face. Points of conversation can take an enormous amount of time, often riddled with confusion and misinterpretation. Frankly what I enjoy most about the online classroom is having constant access to content, allowing me the opportunity to refer back to it over and over. I can also spend much more time in formulating my responses....not unlike what I'm doing right now.

I've also been on both side of the online classroom. I've taught design online as well, and what I've have found makes for a dynamic online environment is having an active mediator to keep the conversation going, especially working with undergraduate students.

On Oct.22.2008 at 01:33 PM
John Mindiola III’s comment is:

I am a graphic designer by day and adjunct instructor by night, all that while balancing my family, freelance projects, and my sports fix. I am now teaching an online course. It's very different, and yet, so very familiar. Now that I'm comfortable with the sometimes unintuitive interface, I'm able to navigate quickly between email, discussion boards, grading assignments, and posting new announcements. That being said, it's ease of use and instant access isn't always as fun as it sounds. Since my students are always logging on and off, leaving messages, I need to be right behind them, replying to questions and comments. I told my wife, "discussion boards stop being fun when you're getting paid for it." Now, overall, I really do enjoy the experience, and know that it can only broaden my horizons as a designer/educator. I guess I'm saying that instant is only fun when I want it, not when someone else does. Anybody who updates their company's site knows what I mean. Now, I think online learning is great, maybe even necessary, but it will NEVER be the same as the brick and mortar experience.

On Oct.24.2008 at 01:24 PM
Josh’s comment is:

I think the power of the internet and using it to help design education and the students they teach has not reached a mature level yet.

What I see as a void in design education is a practical resource that uses some of the aforementioned technology to help better educators and adjuncts. The resources are slowly building, but are fractured in terms of whether the same users are aware of and use them.

One is the AIGA Educators group on Yahoo. An excellent swath of educators are represented and exchange advice. The Cooper Hewitt seems to actively post content from time to time about teaching design skills in classrooms, even beyond higher education. Core 77 offers up content that most often can be used by multiple majors for general strategic thinking skills.

Per Armin's sentiment about blogs, is there a growing comprehensive blog(or website) about design education and it's practitioners?

Why isn't there a resource that could provide outlines of projects that an educator could use in classes. You could upload, download, share and build a curriculum around such items. You could strengthen or rethink projects that have been met with minimal success by finding inspiration in others. If an individual were to build an interactive presentation, why not share it and post it on the site. You could even post an idea and ask for critique.

Though for something like this to work effectively, the educators heart needs to be into it. Design educators like primary school teachers, need to prepare and be able to deliver just as a student needs to.

I'll say it: Not every educator is good and not every education is equal.

With that said, why can't there be a more democratized system of information that can be share to help every educator grow and in the end their students as well.


Per Armin's ideas.

Blogs - School blogs can end up as link aggregators too often. Not that the information isn't valid, but it would be better put to use if a valuable piece of information could be seen by a wider audience. Maybe a student-focused blog that cover topics, issues and the ins and out of being a design student. While SpeakUp, DO and the rest maintain their editorial focus where students can contribute as you mentioned.

Social curating - I'm not getting the idea. Building their visual vocabulary?

Google Earth - I think this could be effective if an the API was written so that users could upload graphic inspiration and where it was found. Old neon signs out West, random posters seen in Cincinnati, street art in Boise. Essentially for those elements that can't easily be experienced or found.

Flickr - Images just need to grouped better.

Global Portfolios - Pentagram probably does it best. I've seen others picking up recently, but most design firms take ages to update their portfolios. CA does a good job showing new work, but Print....get on the ball.

On Oct.26.2008 at 01:29 AM
Tan ’s comment is:

This conversation is interesting, but useless. The web as a teaching tool is a given. Sure, the complexities, formats, and tools may change -- but I'm not sure what's being revealed here.

I'm a working designer who've also taught design courses for the last 10 years. Sure, the web can be a good teaching tool. But I've seen a transformation in students who have been raised online -- and it's not good. Education may be gained online, but most design jobs require face-to-face interaction. Basic social and communication skills during group critiques with peers and professors is crucial in preparing design students to thrive in agency environments. As they progress in their career, those communication/social skills are imperative in dealing with flesh-and-blood clients.

I've known some gifted design students who were so socially inept that they couldn't speak about their work, or even carry on simple conversations in a group setting. It's not just shyness -- I believe that it's an inability of those students to listen instead of read, speak instead of type. The web classroom is changing the very definition of human interaction, breeding a generation of designers trained to work in isolation.

I've always told my students that school is paradoxical experience. On the one hand, they are taught to seek originality through individual development. They largely compete with their classmates as lone wolves. But when they graduate, most of them will work in firms and agencies that are team structured. They must coexist and collaborate with peers and art directors, not to mention clients, for the rest of their careers.

Online education is a good thing -- but there are some aspects of a design education that can't be replaced.

On Oct.26.2008 at 09:44 PM
Armin’s comment is:

This is not about replacing the school experience with a degree in on-line surfing, it's about complementing the curriculum of the school experience. The conference was about exploring how distance learning, or distance collaboration could take place. A typical scenario is a bunch of kids awkwardly teleconferencing with another bunch of kids thousands of miles away, which is fine, but what else is there? I think there is a lot of concern put into building new tools or new on-line destinations to foster this interaction, and a lot of time could be saved by just using what's already there. Hence, my post. I don't think it's earth-shattering thinking, but sometimes it's easy to overlook what's right in front of you.

On Oct.27.2008 at 06:15 AM
Josh’s comment is:

Well Tan. Either the readers agree with you or they have little to say about anything.

Your sentiment about the talkers got me thinking. Yes, there are those that more often spoke up and those that didn't. Though from my experience, not always has this ability improved once they get into the professional world. I think it's quite amazing how many people practice design just into or prior to the internet revolution who still are in a sense lone wolf decorators operated by creative directors.

I don't think that some schools take interaction and teamwork seriously. There are plenty of classes outside of art classes where you'll team up. Science, math, english classes will all have groups of some sort, but I can rarely remember an art class where I ever had a partner. My point being is that at my school collaboration wasn't considered very often. Can't say if it was policy, but critical reform and transparency is needed for many design programs.

That would definitely be a discussion worth having.

On Oct.28.2008 at 12:40 AM
John Mindiola III’s comment is:

Collaboration? Hmm, yes, it's important to learn how to work with others. Yes, the social aspect will be much helped in a face-to-face setting, but it's not automatic. We all know folks who are shy or intimidated in the classroom, but online, with text and pixels, they thrive.

Personally, I would rather argue with a introverted and knowledgeable individual than agree with a personable idiot.

I think one of the best "social" skills I learned was how to deal with being ripped apart, and how to rebound. My college senior capstone project started off in one direction, critique day came, I got destroyed, got pissed off, and turned out something really great in retaliation. I never would have been able to produce the work without that initial lashing. (You can see that project here.

Now, back to collaboration. In college we had a collaboration project with the packaging students. With one or two exceptions, it was a disaster. The packaging students were trained to find efficiencies, and we design students were trained to think outside the box (pardon the pun). Most of the teams faired like mine, with the design students doing all the work, and the packaging students show us how to use the scoring machine. Yeah, thanks.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is collaboration is essential and should be a part of the curriculum, but to say that the online schools can't foster similar results seems to be a stretch. Think of how much NON-face-to-face interaction we all have everyday with clients, vendors, freelancers, etc. Heck, I've never even met my printer. He's two states away!

On Oct.28.2008 at 01:14 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Back to Armin's counter-point, which is valid, that this discussion is more about online learning as a supplement, not a substitute for classroom teaching.

Point taken, and under those conditions -- I agree it's a net plus.

>I don't think that some schools take interaction and teamwork seriously.

I agree. In fact, I think most schools do a terrible job of teaching collaboration. I see programs that have team projects as part of their curriculum -- but to be honest, I think those projects are only successful about 15% or so of the time. Most of them are uneven and scattered attempts at best. And because they don't have ownership, few students talk excitedly about their group projects.

But my point was that face-to-face interaction is itself a great value because it teaches overall communication skills, if not collaboration. Group critiques, group brainstorms, group discussions prepare students for the working environment. The ability to take art direction effectively is a learned skill of listening as much as concepting or designing.

I tell students that there's two parts in keeping a design job. There's being a good designer, and then, there's being a good employee. You have to be both. Being a good designer takes talent, but being a good employee requires the ability to multi-task, be dependable, have good communication skills, and carry a good attitude, among other traits. Online teaching can't teach students to be good employees. And no matter how good a designer is, if he/she is a shitty employee who can't interact w/ people -- peers or clients -- then, he/she won't last long. The oppposite is also true.

>Think of how much NON-face-to-face interaction we all have everyday with clients, vendors, freelancers, etc. Heck, I've never even met my printer. He's two states away!

Valid. But I think your example is the minority, not the majority. Most agencies are beehives of interactions and meetings. They are not quiet, isolated cubes of internet hermits.

On Oct.28.2008 at 06:26 PM