Pedagogy Design and Computers page 4


Computers in School
To the best of my knowledge, Jay Doblin was among the first to use the computer as an instructional tool for graphic and industrial designers at IIT during the 1960s. However, it was not until the introduction of the Macintosh and rapid development of its hard and software during the 1970s that computers became the significant factor in graphic design that they are today. The assimilation is so complete that it is now impractical to conceive of teaching graphic design without computers. At this time, most teaching and professional job descriptions call for computer literacy. My concerns are when and how the computer is used for educational purposes in graphic design. Students today can hardly appreciate all the benefits provided by computer technology. With a computer, scanner, laser printer and appropriate software, students can set type of choice, integrate photographs or art, draw, manipulate elements, change sizes and use color with a minimum of labor and time. Most of the traditional production constraints have been eliminated and the designer is no longer as dependent on others in the preparation for actual production. The computer eliminates most of the constraints, financial and otherwise, associated with traditional forms of typesetting, photographic processes and printing. The cost of computer-generated design, type and proofs is viable for education.


The Computer: Distilling Complexity
The designer’s current fascination with the computer is easy to understand. With the computer it is possible to do easily and quickly those things that were difficult and time-consuming to do in the past. This generation of students has grown up with electronic devices and games, and the computer is another avenue for exploration and exploitation.

I have worked with upper level students using the Macintosh to do assignments. It did not take long before I began feeling that if one more layered design was submitted, I was going to be sick. Much the same was true for type zooming into the stratosphere like a comet, or curling and twisting its way through a hodge-podge of elements, or type superimposed over texture making it illegible. The computer is being milked for every bit of complexity it can produce, and much of it is visual gibberish. Complexity should not be confused with quality. Computers can depersonalize the work, and sometimes it is difficult to tell one student’s work from another. I have many of the same problems with graphic design produced on the computer found in the marketplace. Perhaps of even greater significance, I cannot always tell which work was done by a professional designer and that by a non-designer, such as a salesman or secretary.


The Computer and Typography
The computer should be an excellent tool for teaching typography. However, based on what I have seen so far, the computer appears to be more destructive to the art of typography than constructive. My understanding of typography has always been that its primary function is communication based on legibility, and it is the art of the minimal. Priorities are determined through use of space, placement, visual tension and change of typeface, size and weight, and these are kept to the minimum. The typographer knows and relies on well-designed typefaces, ignoring those that are badly designed. Good typography reflects intelligence as well as visual understanding; restraint is the hallmark of good typography. During the 1950s and the beginnings of the Graphic Design program at Yale University, these precepts were understood. This was largely due to the fact that the typographic focus was on book and periodical design. The art of typography has always been associated with book design. Advertising has always been a typographic playground for the naive or vulgar with only occasional flashes of brilliance.

What I am seeing in much of computer-generated design is distortion of type affecting legibility with excessive reliance on different sizes and weights. There is an illogical mixing of styles, and designers demonstrate poor selectivity in choice of typeface designs. It is as if designers do not know how to distinguish between a well-designed typeface and a poorly-designed one.

To a great extent, the bastardization of type and its use by students is occurring because they have no models to guide them. Students are so overwhelmed with the excessive visual presentation in our society today–both type and image, through video, film, television, print advertising and the computer. Most of what they see is not worth emulation. Today, students have to unlearn much more than their predecessors of twenty years ago.

The Computer and the Designer >


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Restraint is the hallmark
of good typography.

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