Research Readings #5: Why Designers Can’t Think

12 Mar

Michael Bierut

  • as structurers of the world’s communications, graphic designers partake of in many fields of interest as they can have clients
  • men and women who invented graphic designer were self-taught (no design schools existed), yet prospered without 4 years of typography, visual problem solving and advanced aesthetics
  • today most professionals are alarmed at the growing number of graphic design programs with an increasing number of high school graduates want to be a graphic designer
  • american programs fall into two categories: process (swiss) and portfolio (slick)
  • process schools favor a form-driven problem solving approach
  • first assignments are simple letterform drawing ones, translating 3-dimensional objects into idealized high-contrast photos and basic still life photography
  • Intermediate projects include relating the drawing of a flute to the hand drawn letter N, combining it with a photography for example
  • Graphic Design: the letter N plus flute drawing plus ballet slipper photo plus 42 pt Univers
  • Process school traces their lineage back to the advanced program of the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel, Switzerland
  • Swiss style schools thrived largely as a reaction against perceived “slickness” of the portfolio schools (have been around since 1950s)
  • The portfolio school has a more mercenary aim, to provide students with polished books that will get them good jobs upon graduation
  • The problem solving mode is conceptual, with a bias for appealing, memorable, populist imagery, product is king
  • unlike full-time teachers of process schools, portfolio schools are staffed largely by working professionals who teacher part-time, impatient with idle exercises that don’t relate to the real world
  • best-trained graduates of both schools are equally sought after by employers
  • identity firms love process school grads while packaging firms love the portfolio school grads

So what’s wrong with graphic design education?

  • Both schools are the same. What is valued is the way graphic design looks, not what it means
  • in many programs it’s possible to study graphic design for four years without any meaningful exposure to the fine arts, world literature, science, history, politics or any of the other disciplines that unite us in a common culture
  • The new graduate doesn’t need to know economics but needs more technical skills yet 5 or 10 years down the road, how can a designer plan an annual report without some knowledge of economics?
  • Layout a book without an interest or even passion in literature?
  • But most mediocre design today comes from designers are who faithfully doing as they were taught in school, worship altar of the visual
  • pioneers of graphic designers were more well-rounded because their work draws its power from deep in the culture of their times – they had no intensive specialized programs
  • modern design education is value-free, every problem has purely visual solution that exists outside any cultural context
  • nowadays passion of design educators seems to be technology, fear illiteracy will handicap graduates
  • designers will end up talking to themselves

Hmm. This article is kind of sad because I do feel Ocad is one of those schools that do not really educate its students on other areas besides art and design. I come from another university so I guess I feel a bit more well-rounded and I try to take the few liberal courses here that don’t relate to design or art. In the meantime, I try to learn other topics as much as I can. I loved and hated the courses I have taken before yet I will never regret taking them. I have to agree that being a designer is not just about visuals. Economics is something I find important as literature is to myself. Being integrated within culture is important because how will we design then? What context will we be designing in? I feel that students in the design and art faculty do not really interact or communicate. Design students mainly talk to other design students and vice versa. Is this going to change?


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