Top secret MFA students contributions
Day 1 Post Formalist group Notes
Day 1 Hyper Formalist group Notes

Fragmented Thoughts on Radical Design Education Models Etc.

(from student perspective)

[work in progress, please add thoughts with*]
[Also this was written before the presentations, and represents general thoughts on topics*]

Conversation begins with the temperature in the room.
Humid, California-hot

Educators presented ideas for breaking down the current system and trajectory of design education in order to stop the perpetuation of colonialism, hierarchical structures (and exclusivity?) Could we move forward with an understanding and respect of the value of the Bauhaus and other western schools of thought (or even simply, those who came before), but accept the validity of all different points of view, cultures, and levels of experience? Is it not so much about rejection or dismissal, but about adding to the story? There is no such thing as starting over. We must mine anthropology for a new non-western interpretations of what graphic design is and we must question the perspective of “history” itself. Students must be able to see themselves in design – to have a place.

(What is the new?)

How can new and radical pathways be carved in design education, while still providing the structure and guidance that many students are specifically looking for? Questioning the admissions process, what does it mean to “have potential”?

(Deconstruct and reconstruct)

What would happen if educators and students were seen as equal? Ideally, everyone would contribute their own perspective and background to the classroom, creating a diverse and vibrant collection of thought and methodology. The student could be given the ability to choose their own path. They could determine at the beginning of the semester what he/she would like to accomplish, and the educator becomes facilitator instead of authority. We are very interested in “choosing your own adventure”. Students could be grouped by interests, goals, objectives, creating mini sub classes. It then becomes the students’ responsibility to decide how they want to move forward.

Although it does seem problematic to allow the students to become “equal” to faculty. Horizontality seems nice on paper, but (I cannot speak for everyone at this moment) how could that ever actually exist? I think that EVERYONE’s opinion is valid, but in terms of “design”… I feel that there has to be a boundary surrounding or grounding it, or I think design becomes everything and nothing.

(Or is design everything and nothing regardless?)

From a student perspective, the question of whether or not hierarchy is necessary, is complex. On one hand, we generally rely on those who came before us, those who have more experience (in both life and education) to show us the way (mentors, parents, family members, teachers…) It is embedded in us from the moment we are born. There are also natural orders of hierarchy that exist culturally. Factors such as age, height, time, space, volume, pitch are ever-present. Are these even possible to break down? In Taiwan, elders are respected, because age implies more wisdom and experience. In Saudi Arabia, they are seen as irrelevant and dated – not trusted or valued. (There is no universality and there never will be)

Undoubtedly educators have more knowledge and experience in visual communication, and we depend on that knowledge to guide us, to allow us to find our own voices and discover how to translate those voices into form. Maybe it isn’t a matter of hierarchy, but one of dialogue.

The idea of a curriculum was questioned (does a curriculum inherently lack pluralism? Does it imposes a structure, leaving no room to stray or find one’s own way?) Is it about reconfiguring the whole educator/student relationship? Or could it simply be a matter of shifting it slightly. Or more diversity in the background of educators? Could it be beneficial to include all types of makers into the conversation? Diversity in everything… from the style of teaching, history, setting, influence and education of educators themselves. And how are different forms of education valued in our system? And who has access?

Through the discussions we held as a group, most came to graduate school looking for guidance, hoping to build skills, find their voice, and develop the ability to speak articulately and elegantly about their design thinking and practice. Here are our student perspectives about graduate school and what we have been generally looking for.

“Coming from a visual and musical background, I was looking for mentorship — a space that would allow me to explore and try new things — to experiment… I needed the tools that would allow me to connect various visual practices together under the umbrella of graphic design. I also wanted an opportunity to take time for myself to discover what it is I want to say or speak to or engage with. I was looking for mentors in the community that knew more than I did. I wanted to absorb as much design visual literacy as I could, but to also take that literacy and do whatever I wanted with it. Graduate school has been an opportunity to better articulate my practice, and learn how to connect visual form to culture at large (political, social, civic). Also I was interested in studying with specific people that I already knew and admired — I wanted to be around them, learn from them, acquire real life skills.”

“For me, there was an element of wanting to understand design as something beyond visual outcome – and I looked to my teachers, specifically, for the answers. I think I immediately categorized myself as “knowing nothing” – hoping to learn from those I admired (maybe that makes me the wrong person to be writing this article). Having a foundation that was grounded in something formal has always been important to me… It doesn’t mean that the end result needs to be formal, but acknowledgement of it in some way. (What is the difference between breaking a grid and not using one) Also I think experience is inherently hierarchical. I arrived with specific questions about the value of design and the role of the designer, and I think those who came before us had the answers (the answer is there is no answer). This somehow provided the solace I was looking for. Definitely more diversity and dialogue, but I need structure. On the other hand, I have relied so much on the teachers for validation I have lost the ability to self evaluate.”

“Once I got comfortable with the way of working at OTIS, it really opened my mind. I was looking for guidance and for someone to help me understand design. Generally speaking, I hope to not be left more confused than I was before. I do wish teachers would be more specific about how to move forward – to come to my level and speak to me as a colleague.”

“I came to school looking for more formal skills. Because I didn’t study graphic design in undergrad, the conceptual thinking was very difficult for me at first. Since I come from a different culture, and my logic is different, I am not only learning graphic design, but I am learning the logic as well. Everything here is super different. If there is no guidance, there is no direction for me. I appreciate that they allow us to be very open, but I think it would be helpful to have more specificity and detailed direct feedback.”

“I came to graduate school with very specific interests — interrogation and questioning. I am not interested in being a teacher in a formal sense, but being an instigator of radical thinking (against traditional colonial systems). And using this as a filter or lens for all the work I produce (whether it is an education system, a book, poster…) I want to decolonizing design identity. I have the information, I just need the system to plug it into. I need the formal direction for how to bridge these different points that I am trying to connect. (The bridge is the foundation, the structure, the form)”

“I came to graduate school to enhance my formal skills (which is a bad idea). I think over time I have understood that graduate school is a way for me to understand how to communicate issues that I have with the world and myself, through graphic design. I think that for me personally, the way of teaching that i’ve found to be very productive and beneficial (compared to my undergrad) – the structure of a critique, which is more open to interpretation – more advice giving – has helped me to create criteria for myself and allowed me to be more comfortable with my own decisions. What would be nice to have from the teachers is more openness. I think there are some subject matters that you can’t touch because of formalities (i.e.: how much do you get paid, how long do you spend on projects you hate?) more life driven advice, which I feel can only come from mutual openness. Less rules and more open communication. I don’t necessarily think that we have a wall of rules, but the way the program is structured I feel that you don’t get to talk in a very open way, there is clear hierarchy. Sometimes conversations I have with peers can be more valuable than the teachers.”

It seems as though it is not necessarily about “changing the system” and starting over, but about reacting and responding in ways that can be deeply transformative. “How can you find agency within the system?” And do systems create opportunities for constructing new systems?

Side Note on Hierarchy and the Workshop Itself: Investigating the complexity of breaking down a hierarchical structure

It has been extremely interesting and valuable to hear educators speak about a system which we are currently a part of and understand first hand. Inevitably, there have been different roles within the workshop — facilitators, participating educators, students… The idea was that no one person was “more or less important” than the next. (But does the word “student” inherently imply that one knows less, or is in the process of learning? –although by definition, then isn’t everyone then a student?) Our contribution was separated from the rest of the group. Over the last few days, we have observed and documented with notes and photos on the wiki. We were asked to formulate a response to the things we experienced, and find a way to deliver it back to the members of the group. (I) initially felt intimated by the presence of the workshop participants, all with experience and prestige. Because how could our thoughts on design education possibly be as valuable as actual educators when we have no experience whatsoever? We can only speak about what we know and understand to be true. Every opinion and perspective is indeed valid and has been welcomed, but we felt hierarchy was present, unavoidable and actually necessary in this context.

While coming up with ideas for documentation and distribution, we received helpful feedback and critique from our professors and the event facilitators. We listened intently, took notes and implemented it with an open mind. This is simply because they, from direct experience, can see or understand things in a way that we have not yet learned to identify or articulate.

Seeking out people that think differently from you, in order to challenge the way that you see the world.