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Even though design education still has a long way to go in establishing
parameters and standards, this certainly does not justify the lack of credibility it often
seems to have. Designers who have been out of school for a while have no way of
finding out what is going on in schools today unless they spend time in a classroom,
attend an education conference, or read about it in design magazines. Unfortunately,
most professional organizations dealing with education do so with segregated events
that are primarily attended by educators and students. Or they hold a portfolio
review in which practicing designers review student portfolios without the slightest
idea of the students’ curriculum, and then pronounce their approval or disapproval
of the outcome. Design magazines are mostly uninterested in educational issues,
except for reproducing snazzy-looking undergraduate work with little more than
captions for explanation. They rarely publish graduate-level projects, fearing they are
too complex or in-depth for their readership (Emigre magazine excepted).
The climate of anti-intellectualism in design is often bolstered by a false sense
of professionalism based on real-world experience. Typically, this type of
“professionalism” amounts to little more than platitudes and bromides—problem
solving to get the ultimate correct solution, and the pursuit of timelessness that
supposedly transcends its own era. These entrenched clichés are responsible for the
banality of the cornball visual puns and pedestrian aesthetics that constitutes the
majority of graphic design. As long as such simplistic thinking is tolerated in design,
what little meaningful dialogue there is will be drowned in a morass of mediocrity.
As you may have noticed, the harping and posturing by anti-intellectual professionals
is not moving the discipline closer to becoming a real profession or increasing its
recognition as being an important part of culture. Nor is it helping the next
generation of designers to find their way.
To be professional is to be impartial and objective, guided by established
precedence in your field. Although the word “professional” is used freely in design
practice, graphic design is not a profession. Designers have no obligatory regulating
body that oversees and safeguards standards of practice. Today, anyone can be a
member in most graphic design professional organizations for the price of admission,
and can print “graphic designer” on their business cards. The true professionals in
graphic design are in design education. They are certified professionals whose
credentials and practices are monitored by organizations like the National
Association of Schools of Art and Design (nasad) and the Western Association of
Schools and Colleges (wasc). However, design educators are only professionals as
educators, not designers. It is one of the ironies of the pseudoprofession of graphic
design that the only true professionals in the field are frequently criticized by design
practitioners for not teaching students to be more professional.