Pedagogy Teaching and Learning page 6


Prototype Education
An approach to formulating problems which is particularly good at the Junior level is one used by Alvin Eisenman of Yale University. He called this approach prototype education. It gave students the experience of working with original processes as a means for better understanding more complex contemporary ones. When I was at Yale, Graphic Design students were required to take short courses in printmaking. Students did woodcuts (letterpress), lithography (offset) and intaglio (gravure), the three basic printing processes. Another example would be having students handset type, to learn spacing and leading, prior to typesetting by computer. At Minneapolis and Kansas City, we began our photography program by having students construct and use pin-hole cameras. By working with original processes, students could understand the function, and how current technology and equipment evolved.

There is nothing wrong in borrowing a problem from someone else or formulating problems based on published or exhibited professional work. While attending graduate school and knowing that I was going into teaching, every problem given to me that seemed to have merit was recorded in a notebook. This included Graphic Design, Color, Drawing, Typography, Printmaking and Photography. Any critical observations or remarks by the instructors that impressed me were also noted. These notes were my manual when I began teaching. Over a period of time, the notes were expanded, modified, reinterpreted and combined with ideas of my own. Gradually they were transformed with my personal interests, objectives and teaching methodology. Borrowing problems only entails defining them in personal terms, identifying student learning goals and establishing pertinent criteria.

When borrowing a problem, it is imperative to avoid simple image imitations which are superficial and detrimental to student learning. The most obvious indication of a weak Graphic Design program is having students when presented with a problem, regularly turning to design publications to find solutions. My observation is that students who have a strong perceptual base, rarely look to publications for guidance to problem resolution.

Teachers must anticipate where problems will go before presenting them. No matter how thoroughly a problem is projected, it is guaranteed that one or more students will move in directions which were not expected. In such instances, if there is merit to the student interpretation, the teacher should encourage it. However, the teacher must have an idea of where the process is leading, and stay ahead of students in order to be able to assist them when they need it.

I have reservations about giving so-called professional problems because so often students have preconceived ideas about the solutions. It approximates teaching through cliches that encourage stereotypical thinking. I found it best to choose problems in which students are less likely to find precedents that influence their work. This challenges students to do more research or analysis and to design independent of professional examples. Sometimes, the same advantages can be gained by having unusual problem content. I frequently turned to non-profit public service organizations in the community that could benefit from graphic design. While approaching these assignments that had few if any parallels, students acquired the added experience of working with clients. Design standards for student work were set by teachers and never by the client. Many of our senior projects were community projects.

Senior Community Projects
When working with a senior community project, I regularly divided the class into design teams. Students worked both individually and as a member of a team. Most students did not appreciate the group experience, but it was excellent preparation for professional practice in which the team approach to design is frequently used.

Beginning in the second semester of the Junior year, and throughout the Senior year, there is a substantial body of collateral information related to professional practice to be transmitted to students. Some is technical, but much of it is related to professional practice. Conveying this information must be as carefully considered as formulating and presenting design problems. Students are often overwhelmed by having to deal with both design and professional practice at the same time.

Additional information might involve establishing priorities, marketing strategies, interpreting research, managing time and prioritizing work, print or media production, design systems, technical writing, and client presentation.

Where it is appropriate, these factors should be defined as generically as possible. Then students can better apply what is learned to other design applications. Projects can involve students with unfamiliar technical processes and new materials or media that create another type of learning situation.

The teacher's role is to carefully plan large projects and organize the learning steps for both design and professional practice rather than expecting students to absorb everything at once. The various design components are used merely as avenues to reach broader objectives, and not as narrow ends in themselves.

There is insufficient time in most graphic design programs to teach everything that graduates should know for a professional career. Within a three-year period, American students usually do approximately sixty to eighty projects as preparation for professional practice. In state universities, because of reduced credits in the major, Graphic Design students may do as few as twenty to forty problems in preparation for a career.

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