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The greatest single area of ignorance among students (and some
professionals) is type and typography. It takes sustained effort and practice to
produce a type-literate student who knows how to compose type, what type is
designed to express, and the history of letterforms as design components. By the
senior year, too many students are still type novices, following superficial trends or
rote traditions, and their portfolios prove that the standard for literacy is not as
high as it might be. If nothing else, BFA graduates should flawlessly “speak” the
language of type. Regrettably, claiming proficiency with computer programs seem
to be more important.
Blame can sometimes be laid at the feet of instructors, but not always. How
many times do good teachers lament the lack of time devoted to their specialty, or
complain about the overall coursework packed into a short period that diverts
student attention? In a three-year program, the number of required classes (and
credits) often exceeds the ability of students to be well taught, or at least to retain
what they’ve studied.
Given the programmatic and bureaucratic intricacies of higher education, a
five-year program is probably unrealistic, but not altogether impossible. One
solution is to eliminate foundation. But, more important, it is necessary for
administrators to accept that twenty-first-century pedagogy is more complex than
before. More, not less, schooling is demanded in many fields today, especially
design. At the same time, design students must not be encouraged to view graduate
school as merely a two-year supplemental extension of their undergraduate
education. MFA faculties should not have to teach remedial type or computer
programs—leave that for continuing education classes. Rather MFA programs
should offer an additional two (or three) years to analyze and research bigger ideas
for which there is no opportunity in the workaday world. MFAs should be
advanced options after certain levels of experience are attained. Undergraduate
education should be a full plate of pedagogical necessities that prepare students to
enter the design field.
Admittedly, five years is not a lot of time either, but it will enable teaching of
technology and encourage its immediate integration into the design process in the
freshman year. Furthermore, it will allow courses on history, criticism, and theory to
be more than electives or add-ons (critical history should be a three-year parallel
track intersecting with practical studio classes). The added year(s) should allow for
more advanced minors in interrelated subject areas. More time could also allow for
longer and more varied internships as requirements toward graduation. Five years of
dedicated design pedagogy will better prepare students to enter the workforce, where
doubtless they will learn even more. Undergraduate design education is not the last
word in creating the good designer; work experience is essential. Yet more education
accelerates professional growth. There are many terrific graduates emerging every
year, but just think how many more there could be if graphic design education were
not hampered by such a truncated production line. An extra year or two could make
a big difference for everyone.