In contrast, the largest number of Graphic Design students
in this country are enrolled at state universities. These
institutions tend to have huge student enrollments, bureaucratic
management with a myriad of policies governing educational
requirements for a degree, scheduling, grading, admittance
and retention of students. Because of broad institutional
scope, the number of faculty, amount of studio space and technical
facilities tend to be extremely limited. Within universities,
art and design programs normally do not have high status in
the eyes of administrators, and therefore have low priority
in appropriations and resources. Because of university or
departmental requirements, students usually have only 24 to
35 credits in their major when 45 to 60 is optimum. None of
these conditions are favorable to educational quality in Graphic
Other American Graphic Design programs are situated in private
universities, independent schools of art or trade schools.
Many of the problems for design education found in state universities
are also manifest in private institutions. Exceptions are
universities that absorbed professional art schools, or where
technical and trade-oriented private institutions joined state
systems. Independent schools of art and trade schools have
greater concentration in the major than most universities
allow, but this does not necessarily mean that they do a better
job of educating. Time in the major is only one factor among
The majority of American students are not carefully screened;
performance standards are seldom high or consistently applied.
American design education places emphasis on concept and professional
practice; the Basel program stresses perceptual development.
American students tend to view assignments as doing what the
teacher wants. Consequently, their goal is to please instructors
and be rewarded by receiving a high grade. This notion is
a more serious inhibitor to student learning than most teachers
realize. I think European students know they can do what they
want as long as it is within the parameters of the problem,
and they recognize studio work is for their learning benefit.
American students frequently demand to know the purpose of
problems, and they want them defined to a point where they
are less likely to fail. They prefer to do an exercise, have
a critique, complete the problem, receive a grade and move
on to the next one. They are impatient and experience difficulty
concentrating. They are often resentful of having to work
in class or do projects over and over again. There are many
uncommitted students in American programs, and they rarely
are weeded out.
American students do not hesitate to question the teacher's
judgment, either in terms of criticism or in grading. Having
less time in the studio than students in Swiss schools, our
students are expected to do a great deal of work outside of
class time. Many students, especially those in state university
programs, are financially dependent on outside jobs. A serious
conflict occurs between job and education as it pertains to
class work done outside of school. The results are less productivity
and inadequate preparation for a professional career. In our
program, we asked applicants to declare the hours they expected
to work outside of school. We declined to accept students
that indicated they would need to work more than twenty hours
a week at a job.
some respects, present student attitudes reflect changes in
American education that came about during the period of student
activism. Before the sixties, curriculum was largely determined
by faculty, and only a small part of it was elective. Student
protest led to a reduction in required courses and increased
elective curriculum options. Students now want to pick and
choose their courses, and they often resent having to take
required classes. Compared to Fine Arts, there still is more
structure in Graphic Design because of its professional objectives.
I strongly advocate that teachers rather than students determine
Another extremely important factor has to do with
the quality of instruction. Unfortunately, American educational
administrators are prone to accept inept teachers with the
notion that as long as the position is filled, that is all
that is required. In this country, educational management
makes little effort to find and hire highly qualified faculty
for art and design. A notable exception to this administrative
lapse is those educational fields that attract large grants
from government and industry.
of students is directly tied to the standards and values of
the instructor. An instructor with high standards will demand
more from students, and therefore, they perform at a higher
level and learn more. Conversely, weak teachers tend to graduate
a higher percentage of weak students.
schools, that offer sound design programs with qualified faculty
and high standards, drop unmotivated students from the program,
and the remaining ones perform well. There have always been
isolated instances of individual teachers or programs that
have been commendable. Unfortunately, there have been few,
and programs have dissolved when the people responsible for
them left the institution.
believe problems with design education in this country are
more attributable to mediocre instruction, institutional limitations
and administrative policies or practices, rather than to student
capabilities. American students seem to respond well in a
credible educational environment.
there are many talented and dedicated design teachers in our
schools, the quality of instruction in this country is shaped
by the educational experiences of the teachers themselves.
In most cases, American teachers are products of weak programs
with questionable pedagogy that provide poor models for individuals
who become teachers. With few exceptions, I have found the
most effective teachers are graduates from programs with strong
leadership, structured curriculum and a definite pedagogical
approach to design education.
it might be helpful, it is not necessary for every Graphic
Design teacher to be a great designer, only a good teacher.
To have a sound program in Graphic Design, teachers must have
high standards, understand them, and be able to communicate
them to students and demand that students meet the standards.
When the majority of students do poorly, it is more of a reflection
of teachers than it is of students. Standards for faculty
determine the level of student performance.