Last week I went to the Graphic Design department’s open studio night with the tour group from AFO. It was a great glimpse into what it’s like to be a graphic design student. There wasn’t as much to see as I thought there would be, from the title open studio – I guess there just aren’t very many people working on a Friday night. But the four design students who led us around the building shared a lot with us about what they do in their classes, and we got to look around at all the studio spaces. One of the most exciting things to see was the printing press that’s available for student use. When we got there, there were two or three students using the press, so we got to look at the type set up on the machine and also see the finished printed poster drying nearby. It was a good reminder that graphic design doesn’t necessarily have to be completely computer-based. Our student tour guides told us that besides one class in the first year of the program, where you learn how to use several different mediums such as the printing press, they’ve never been restricted in terms of what medium to use for a project. The impression I got is that the teachers and other students are much more focused on what you make than how you make it.
I also got to see a lot of student work up in the hallways, and there was quite a wide variety of assignments. One required class, “Mediums Misuse,” had an assignment where students had to take photographs of each other (in groups of four) as four members of a band. In every photograph, the students were wearing strange nonsensical objects as clothing or accessories. Though the results were goofy, it seemed like an exercise in going outside of the expected use for something – an exercise in creativity and innovation. Another assignment from sophomore year was creating a pair of logos for the concepts of dystopia and utopia. It was awesome to see the variety of logos that were created with everyone working at the same scale, with the same colors (only black and white), and working off the same prompt. There was also an assignment to create a poster formally representing a song, only using solid shapes. Both of these assignments seem to me like an exercise in using concrete visual elements to represent something highly intangible – in one case, a complex concept; in another, the sound, emotion, and effect of a piece of music. These two different exercises seem to me like some of the biggest challenges of design. It’s the challenge of creativity – how to communicate something in a way that is fresh and new but still carries the connotations that you want it to? It reminds me of what David Shields talked about during our last artist talk – how in the 70s, twine and sticks and paper were always used to represent natural, and it was a challenge to come up with a new way to express that same connotation. When there is a well-worn way of doing things, it takes creativity, effort, and a lot of brainstorming to consciously think outside that path and come up with other ways to visually represent the same thing.