As a professional designer, my teaching philosophy is based on three goals: to create a safe environment for students to learn the foundations and processes of graphic design; to inspire them to work in the field, and foster a passion for design where they will want to continue to learn and experiment.
Design is subjective. A design solution for a small business may not work for a large corporate brand or vice versa. It is also not just about making “art” or pretty pictures. There is a lot of thought that goes into a design such as strategy, message, and form. Having a good foundation in subjects such as typography, color theory, and symmetry will only take you so far. You also need to understand how to think about a project, its goals, and its application. To make the classroom emulate real-world scenarios, I utilize the 5-Step Graphic Design process where students empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test their designs. Students learn different techniques for each process and then apply them to the graphic design projects they will create. I usually create projects around ones I have designed in the real world such as designing a landing page and banner ad for an author.
Feedback and Exchanging Ideas
One of the requirements that I have is for students to critique each other’s work. They are to provide useful, constructive feedback. Realizing that skill sets, education levels, and cultures vary, my other requirement is to be kind and respectful. I see diversity as a great strength because we can all learn from our different perspectives. I believe by setting up ground rules to ensure that students are kind to one another, I create a safe place where ideas can be exchanged.
Inspiration and Storytelling
One of the ways that I inspire students and make them passionate about design is to provide them with current topics and readings. Having virtual field trips to conferences is one way. Anyone can teach history but to see professional work and how it was created is far more exciting. Listening to famous designers talk about why they did something a certain way is very engaging to students. I also talk about my own work as well as my failures. Storytelling is an excellent method for teaching design because it makes you more relatable.
As much as I would like my classes to be based on real-world scenarios, I also need them to be measurable in some way. I do this through the use of formative and summative assessments. Some examples include short quizzes, graded critiques, mini assignments based on a technique as well as large-scale projects. It may be as simple as resizing a photo or more complex as creating a poster for an event.
One of the most important aspects of teaching graphic design is staying current. Without working in the field and staying relevant, it seems to me that you become antiquated. You need to try new techniques so you can’t just keep the same projects year after year. I once had an instructor who taught publication design by pasting artwork to a board. Meanwhile, I worked for a newspaper that used our digital files. I don’t want to ever be the person who was teaching out-of-date ideas.
I believe it is important to be a lifelong learner. Every quarter since I started teaching, I have taken a continuing education course on some aspects of education. It may be as simple as attending a workshop or as complex as an 8-week certification program. In addition to studying education, I also attend design-related workshops and conferences.
I believe that the world of design will continue to evolve. My role as a teacher is to inspire our students, create a passion for design as well as teach them how to problem solve. This alone will help prepare them for the jobs that exist today as well as in the future.