Introductory Studies in Art and Design

Graphic design students need to know that visual principles are fundamental to the design process. Principles are referred to by some as the language of design. Language is expressed through vocabulary, and this is the terminology associated with design principles. Terminology is essential because it provides the means for critical analysis, developing concepts and communicating with teachers and colleagues.

The importance of what happens to students in their first year of design studies cannot be overstated. What and how students are taught, and what is expected of them shapes their entire education. It might be the talent of the teacher to evaluate and communicate with students rather than the talent of students that determines the quality of the educational experience. Teachers at advanced levels must be familiar with what students have done in basic design, and they need to capitalize on, and to reinforce the earlier visual studies. Otherwise, students lose the benefits from previous courses. A successful program at the introductory level requires the coordination of the total faculty, and this cooperative effort is rare within most art or design departments.

In looking at announcements from recent months concerning Graphic Design lectures, symposiums or conferences, subjects invariably deal with new technologies or the rapid expansion and importance of information. It strikes me as being somewhat ironic that there is so much concern for the challenges of the future when the shortcomings of the present underlie anything we might do in the future. The majority of graphic design programs have yet to master instruction in basic theoretical design, typography, drawing and color.

It stands to reason that students with the best visual education, highest values and the necessary hand and eye skills will do the most distinctive work with computers. Only by improving the quality of introductory studies in Graphic Design can we lay a proper foundation for the computer age. No matter how sophisticated the mechanics, visual fundamentals remain essential to successful application of the tools.

Of all areas of education within visual arts, the introductory or basic design courses are the least understood and most ineptly taught. The significance of a weak foundation should be self-evident, but far too often it is ignored.

My objective is to explain basic design, define content for a first-year program, and to illustrate how exercises might be more effectively presented and evaluated.

The purpose of the paper is to hopefully provide direction and understanding for young teachers who are inexperienced, who have a not been exposed to good role models or those who are victims of their own education and want to become more effective as teachers and better designers themselves. I am convinced that with the right goals and constant effort, it is possible for a poorly prepared teacher to develop into an effective teacher.

I was fortunate in my graduate studies to have exemplary role models and to be exposed to effective teaching. When I graduated, I knew what my objectives were but did not have a clue as to how to reach those goals. It is similar to giving directions and pointing out a landmark and saying, "Do you see that big tree over there? I can't tell you how to get there, but that is where you want to go." If young teachers have the right goals, and never cease to achieve them, they have a good chance of eventually reaching them.

Introductory Studies in Art and Design
Foundations or Core Programs usually refer to introductory courses for students from crafts, photography, fine arts and design. They generally are a combination of courses including drawing, color, design and art history. Because of the spectrum of programs, there is a corresponding increase in enrollment. At most state universities, there might be as many as ten to fifteen sections for each class. Most of these classes will be taught by graduate students.

Basic Design is more often associated with the Sophomore year in graphic or industrial design. The course is taught by one or two full-time instructors, class sizes are generally restricted, and only majors are permitted to enroll.

Design falls into two categories theoretical and applied. Basic design is theoretical and directed toward developing perceptual awareness. Theoretical design is taught through exercises that are without solutions, only options. Exploration of options is the foundation for basic design. Images are abstract, based on visual judgments and objectives are internal to the work itself. The process is of greater significance than the product. Applied design is professional practice, it is functional, user-oriented and concepts become a significant factor at this level. Applied design has external objectives, values, content, and function. Applied design is product based.

My understanding of nomenclature for Basic Design is that there are three broad Primaries color, form and space. Each of these can be expressed through Elements such as point, line, shape, pattern, texture, plane, value, etc. Interaction, manipulation and activation of the elements is guided by a series of Principles. These apply to interval, scale, tension, rhythm, figure ground, dynamics or contrast, etc. Principles are used in the abstract and they become the platform for individual exploration. The same principles apply to color, form or space, and most have several interpretations. The great advantage of theoretical education is that it prepares students for the unknown as it pertains to new technologies, i.e. computers, shifting social values, or other changes. User-based education tends to limit graduates to existing demands and conditions. When individuals recognize, understand and apply the principles, they are referred to as being visually sensitive or visually literate. The principles are often identified as visual, or formal values or fundamentals. To see or seeing refers to both in the optical sense and also as meaning to comprehend.

Styles of art and design are in a constant state of flux, some times returning to the past, and other times moving into novel modes of expression. Often change is triggered by new tools or materials. Sometimes it is the works of an individual that are emulated by others creating a style. Shifting societal values and events often influence imagery. New technology can shape styles. However, no matter how much or why styles change, the underlying visual fundamentals or principles remain constant. Therefore, it is the responsibility for visual educators to teach fundamentals and not styles.


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