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Pedagogy Design and Computers page 6

 
 

Introducing the Computer to Design Students
If I could begin teaching all over again using the computer as an instructional tool, in the first year there would be very little change from what I did in the past. I am firmly convinced that visual values are best learned through traditional hand-generated theoretical exercises. This applies directly to basic design, drawing, color and letterform. I also believe handskills must precede computer skills. In hand-generated work, the student is working directly with tools and media; manipulation and results are immediate; the student feels as well as sees which facilitates understanding. The computer is an indirect tool in that the student does something here and something happens there. I do not believe that drawing on the computer is the same as working with pencil and paper. Values are best learned through working directly with the hand, and values are what determine the quality of design a student will produce on the computer. There is a difference between kinetic and machine experience, and students should have the former before the latter. At the risk of over-generalization, I perceive the computer as essentially mechanical, the hand as related to feeling and intellect as the basis for restraint. Each plays an important role, but only when in proper sequence and balanced with one another.

During the first year of design studies, I would want students enrolled in a computer course where they learned what the computer and different software can do, and to become familiar with the machine and process. They could do exercises but I would not want students doing design problems on the computer in the first year.

My inclination would be to introduce the computer as a design tool first in typography. During the first year, students would study letterform as that is how they best learn the criteria for a well-designed typeface. With a background in letter design, spacing, margins and texture or color, students are prepared to work with type on the computer.

Most graphic design teachers seem to best understand the need for problem limitations in basic studies. Problem limitations are constraints imposed by teachers to focus students on problem objectives. Theoretically, students begin their studies in design with numerous such constraints, but as they progress through the program, constraints are reduced with the idea that students will impose restraint to accomplish the same end. Teachers set constraints to teach students the need for restraints.

The practice of teacher-imposed constraints should be used with the introduction of students to the computer. This is mainly to ensure that students use the computer as a tool and not as a play-thing. Students need to know when in the design process it is best to use the hand and when to use the computer. As one example, when it comes to generating ideas, the human mind and hand are faster and better than any computer. Often when designers use the computer to create ideas, they become so involved with the mechanics of doing it on a machine, they lose sight of the original objective. However, when it comes to making refinements, exploring options or working on variations of an idea, the computer is far superior.


Restraint is required in conceptualization as well as in visual decision-making. Concepts should relate to objectives and priorities. Alvin Lustig advised that the solution for any design problem grows out of an analysis of the problem. Analysis establishes objectives and priorities which in turn define the restraints. I once asked Armin Hofmann why Swiss typography was so consistent. He responded by saying that it was because in Switzerland they had many typographic rules. He went on to say that for typographers who were not so creative, they followed the rules. The typographers who were genuinely creative broke the rules and created new ones. Rules are a form of constraint.

Another form of similar constraint is tradition. I, as most graphic designers, have a deep appreciation for native arts whether they be Native American, Eskimo, African, or any similar cultures where imagery is passed from one generation to the next. I would speculate that traditional art is much like what Hofmann described as typographic rules. Those who are not so creative follow tradition and the unusually creative artist expands tradition. It is not my intention to advocate either rules or tradition to govern use of the computer. However, teachers should instruct students in what constitutes good typography, design, drawing and color, and these instructions lay the base for judgment and decision-making much as rules or tradition. Restraint is more important to me than constraint. It begins with the designer identifying objectives and establishing priorities. Then it becomes a form of checklist such as: What am I trying to communicate? Am I communicating the right message?; Is this the appropriate concept? Is it clear? Can I strengthen it? Can I simplify the design by taking something out? Can I strengthen the visual image? Restraint is an expression of self-discipline.

The practice of restraint is not in itself an inhibitor to innovation or creative expression. Historical constraints in design, type and printing were undoubtedly perceived by contemporaries as barriers. In retrospect, constraints helped to focus design and played a beneficial role. As constraints are eliminated, restraints are needed to maintain focus and balance. Restraint is that self-discipline necessary for all professions. Sometimes we call it professionalism. Restraint is based on critical analysis that keeps designers concentrated and making considered judgments. Restraint in design, as in typography, is a true reflection of intelligence.

The computer has eliminated so many typographical, image, technical and financial constraints, that today almost anyone can engage in desktop publishing. The opportunity and means to publish are open to anyone with the appropriate hard and software. The user doesn’t require all the former technical steps of key-lining, typesetting, making images, or the various skills. When they have what they want on screen, the disk is sent to the printer.

As a result of this, computers have become an integral component of both graphic design and professional practice. I have been scanning job listings recently, and what a few years ago was an occasional reference to computer skills, is now an absolute and primary requisite for employment. Computer skills and knowledge of the latest software have become such a consistent requirement that it brings to mind a recent experience of a friend of mine.

A short while ago, I was speaking with Norman Gorbaty, a very talented designer who is a close friend. Knowing Norman’s love for drawing, I inquired as to whether he was using the Macintosh? He said no, he simply hired two young designers who were expert with the computer, and he told them what he wanted. He went on to say that a few weeks earlier at a client presentation, he noticed a group huddled in front of some panels. He went over to see what was holding their attention and it was a few marker sketches he had made early in the project. As he joined the group, one of them turned and asked him what software he had used? When he told them that they were looking at hand-generated work, they were incredulous. It is cause to wonder about design education and computer versus hand-generated design in the future.

The distinction between artists that serve art for its own sake and those that serve society as visual communicators has become pronounced as society has increasingly become more diverse and complex. In this respect, the antecedents for graphic design as a mode of communication trace back just as far, if not farther, than any of the visual arts including painting and drawing.

 

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As constraints are eliminated,
restraints are needed
to maintain focus and balance.

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