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What is the greatest problem facing
graphic design education today? Not enough quality time. With the exception of
occasional two-year programs, most undergraduate colleges and art schools offer
four years—one of them being foundation, a questionable squandering of significant
design teaching time. So the average education lasts three years, which is insufficient
to cover everything today’s well-rounded graphic designer should know. What
might ease this “crisis in education”? Perhaps what this country needs is a five-year
undergraduate school.design
Of course, this assertion contradicts prevailing beliefs. But, arguably, the
increasing number of applications (particularly from graduating seniors) to the
growing number of American graduate design programs is evidence that today’s BFA
students are not entirely prepared (or confident) to function in a world of integrated
practice and advanced technology. Let’s face it, a three-year education is old school.
Proficiency in requisite technologies, not to mention a slew of optional
techniques, easily takes a year or more to master in a rudimentary way. Acquiring
fluency in the design language(s), most notably type, is an ongoing process. Then
there is instruction and practice in a variety of old and new media—print and Web,
editorial and advertising, static and motion, not to mention drawing and
photography. These take time to learn, no less to master. And what about the liberal
arts: writing, history, and criticism? Theory is also a useful foundation if taught
correctly, but it is often perfunctorily shoehorned into studio classes. How can a
design student function without verbal expertise, let alone the ability to read and
research? This must also be taught in an efficient manner that takes time. And then
there is basic business acumen; every designer must understand fundamental
business procedures, which are virtually ignored in the ultimate pursuit of the
marketable portfolio.design
Whew! That’s a lot to accomplish in just three years. But added to this are the
necessary internships that also take chunks of time. Frankly, students should not be
allowed to enter the field without a little real-world experience under their belts. So
shouldn’t there be time set aside for a few solid internships or work-abroad
programs in addition to a strong course load?
What This Country NeedsIs a Good
Five-Year Design Program
The foundation year—traditionally an opportunity afforded to freshmen to
sample a broad arts curriculum—would serve students better if devoted instead to
teaching the technologies and introducing languages endemic to graphic design.
Art and design schools that ostensibly begin to teach design majors in the
second year have barely prepared their sophomores for design literacy. Foundation
classes may offer some credits toward graduation, but what good are these credits
if the knowledge has little bearing on the major? It is hard enough being merely
competent these days, but fluency in type and conceptual thinking is so essential that
more, not less, time must be devoted to it. Most sophomores, even those who excel
in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign, are plunged into problem solving
without the ability to parse the problems they are asked to solve. Sure, their instincts
and skill sets evolve over time, but in the truncated three-year time frame there are
greater chances that too many students will be left behind.design