Pedagogy Teaching and Learning page 4


Criteria are defined as standards for judging; they are the basis for critical comment and evaluating student work. Within the context of graphic design, criteria are determined by problem objectives. At the introductory level, criteria are based on formal values and craft. At upper levels, criteria encompass concepts as well as formal values and craft. Inappropriate criteria normally result in weak student performance. Asking students to make a design that sells or looks professional are examples of poor criteria. Teachers should use criteria they can explain to students. Criticism is based on factors such as limitations, mistakes, inconsistencies or weaknesses that can be pointed out in the work. Options or corrective measures can be demonstrated by the teacher. Rational criticism is always superior to imprecise or intuitive judgments when dealing with students. Design standards are grounded in relevant, appropriate and consistently applied criteria that students absorb as they progress through the program.

Graphic design programs should include three general categories of problems; perceptual, transitional and professional, and in that order. Time allocation for each is likely to vary between programs. In the core design program, I have allowed three semesters for perceptual studies, one semester for transition and two for professional problems.

My inclination is to concentrate on abstract perceptual exercises in Sophomore level classes. The largest block of time is set aside for basic design. Letterform design, color and drawing are quite compatible with theoretical exercises. The establishment of work habits begins with the first day of class.

At the Junior level, transitional problems are presented which might be practical in content, but hypothetical; they are conceived as theoretical exercises with strong perceptual reinforcement. The curriculum becomes more diverse in the Junior year with different specializations and technical studies in supporting classes and core design in the second semester. This might include some combination of photography, printing production, typography, computer graphics or courses in specific design practices such as systems, publishing, packaging and typography or letterform. Design problems and criteria gradually become more complex as the year progresses.

Senior classes are professional in both content and working procedures. At this level, greater emphasis is put on concept, problem-solving and independent work, with continued reinforcement of craft and formal values. In upper division classes, objectives are often complex and criteria tend to be more varied.

Incremental Learning
Albers compared learning to the process of crystallization an additive process. The student learns one thing and all other learning is incrementally added until there is a body of cumulative knowledge and experience. This premise strongly suggests the learning value connected to sequential education. I found myself designing problems in phases, with each exercise building on preceding ones. Articulation of bridging as part of the problem definition is important. Students cannot be relied upon to make connections between assignments. Perceptual problems might begin with one principle and its variations, or transmute from one principle into others. The complexity of work progressively increases, and students are accountable for everything learned to the current stage. Phasing and overlapping exercises are pedagogical decisions that aid student learning.

I begin with a line problem. Students are asked to use a pencil to design lines, to learn line quality and how to use a pencil. The lines move into composition and figure ground. Brushes are substituted for pencils and lines become contours. By connecting the ends of lines, shapes are created. Some shapes are flat, others appear dimensional. The exercises are further explored through using content from nature or simple objects. The course ends with one large project that requires students to integrate everything they learned in preceding exercises.

My experience is that to teach basic design principles and professional practice in the same problem divides the objectives, and confuses students trying to grasp principles. If content is introduced, I generally elect imagery derived from nature rather than professional applications. The so-called professional problems should be in the sequence of learning that comes near the end of the cumulative educational experience.

At advanced levels, phasing multi-faceted problems introduces students to methodology. This provides them with a format for dealing with complex or multi-faceted problems in other situations. An example would be an identity problem where the first phase would focus on a symbol, then perhaps a logotype. Simple office applications might be a second step. This could be followed by architectural or vehicular identification and signage. Promotional materials or packaging could constitute a final stage.

At Sophomore and Junior levels, the more successful learning experiences were extended over one or two semesters, consisting of a series of exercises leading to a body of related work at the end. Senior problems are different. They might incorporate staging, but it is not as structured. At the Senior level, students are required to structure their own design work.

Exercises at the Sophomore and Junior levels that proved to be effective in terms of student learning, were repeated from year to year. I experimented with redefining problems, changing content, refining criteria, or adding or subtracting from basic concepts. The advantage was that over a period of time, problems became stronger. The criteria and objectives were better understood by me, and I was much sharper in knowing what to say to students, and how to make critical observations more meaningful to them. This was especially true with visual exercises leading to perceptual learning for students.

In addition to phasing student work, teachers should concentrate on denominators that are basic to Graphic Design practice. This is the primary justification for placing such importance on visual relationships and process, because they apply to any type or level of design. Far too many instructors refuse to acknowledge that perceptual education precedes and underlies concept. Formal values are the means for visually expressing concepts and delineating content. At advanced levels, programs might rely heavily on a conceptual approach to problem-solving, but student performance will be no better than the educational foundation grounded in visual theory.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Yale, Basel and Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) placed emphasis on visual theory and process. Graduates of these institutions were employed in a variety of design fields, and their success is overwhelming testimony to the value of this educational approach. Students from our program that spent two years doing theoretical and hypothetical problems, with only one year of professional work, did not suffer when it came to finding employment or achieving future success.

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