Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Gary's four circles of hell...

for graphic designers who refuse to see the bigger picture.

A few years back someone I respect very much said to me, "Gary you are a form maker." Later this person also told me that I was "facile." At the time I took these as a somewhat negative comments — though I am certain they weren't intended as as negative in any way. I want(ed) to be more than a form maker. In the context of these comments a form maker is good at creating visual designs and being facile means that I do it well and do it quickly. I like these things about myself and having someone I respect labeling me in these ways should be flattering. But, deep within I knew/know that being a good designer should run much deeper. "Thinking" like a designer, questioning like a design, exploring ideas like a designer -- all of these and more must underlie the "making." These are what I am trying to instill in the students I am teaching this semester. It's an "intro to graphic design" course in which I am trying to teach students that design process and design thinking will set them apart from other graphic designers when they move on to other endeavors. The form making will come with practice and is secondary to deeper processes and thinking. Towards those ends we have spent the first three weeks of the semester researching a site, it's people and their culture.

Today in class a small mutiny reared it's ugly head. A couple of students spoke up saying things like, "In other studio classes we work differently — we don't like the structure of this course," and "we want to just focus on making pretty things." Other comments were made that they weren't really learning the things they feel are important. I can relate to these feelings and I feel them myself at times. But, the designer inside of me has deeper notions of what the priorities should be when approaching a design project.

Here is a screen grab from a site I discovered recently... 

What happens when we teach design and focus exclusively or even primarily on form making? Look at the screenshot above — the large colored circles across the top represent phases in a design process. Where does form making enter the processes and how many of the phases focus on form making? If we were to take this chart at face value then we would believe that form making begins in the last third of the overall process and is not the exclusive feature of that last third. But a funny thing begins to become apparent when the rest of the website is explored — a great number of methods in all of the phases use some type of form making. Form making is not used just at the end of the process but is used throughout the process — it is "thinking through making" and the making is formal in nature. Methods in the "toolkit" include making diagrams, maps, storyboards, collages and other visual artifacts. Who better to be involved in these portions of the process than graphic designers?

Most graphic design classes focus heavily (or even exclusively) on the last two circles. Why is this the case when a closer look at the methods in the earlier circles reveals that form making should be a part of the entire processes? Is it because we want to make pretty things even if they are less useful or less compelling? Why do novice graphic designers not want to be involved in the first four circles represented in this "Design Methods Toolkit?" My theory is this — graphic designers are addicted to the idea of the "final artifact." They long to complete that final beautiful thing.

The way I had designed the course is that beginning at the end of next week they will begin working on some end goal artifacts. But, quite honestly today I am tempted to redesign the remainder of the course and have them generate designs that reside in the first four circles.These are four circles that may be hell for others but it's where I want to be — I will become the master there... yes... I will... Mwa ha ha ha ha!!!

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