Academic journal article Visible Language

Moving beyond "Just Making Things": Design History in the Studio and the Survey Classroom

Academic journal article Visible Language

Moving beyond "Just Making Things": Design History in the Studio and the Survey Classroom

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The disciplinary literature of graphic design education calls for the inclusion of design history in studio students' education. Yet evidence that the discipline has successfully answered this call remains scarce. This paper asks design educators to consider how our rhetoric might be misaligned with our practice on the subject of teaching graphic design history. It also asks educators to consider the need to develop an explicit, detailed body of case study literature dealing with the ways in which historical learning can be incorporated into the studio classroom. Design educators need to document and inter- rogate the specific ways in which we have been incorporating design history into the studio classroom. Enabling students to construct a functional model of design history requires more than a disparate and loosely defined set studio projects with history as their subject matter. Design educators need a way to learn about successful models and develop disciplinary best practices. Toward this end, the last section of this paper offers a detailed case study that documents one way to incorporate graphic design history into the studio classroom.

DEFINING THE PROBLEM: WHAT IS THE ROLE OF HISTORY IN GRAPHIC DESIGN EDUCATION?

AS a design educator with an MFA in graphic design and a PhD in design history, I see an intimate and prag- matic relationship between design practice and design scholarship. When I teach design history to undergraduates, however, the most common complaint I overhear is, "But I just want to be making things." In the design history classroom, I advance the argument that history allows us to contextualize and elucidate the very real - and often very useful- relationships between emergent technologies, professional skills, critical thought, and culturally situated problem-solving. At the end of the semester, when they write papers exploring how knowledge of a specific historical case study might help to solve a pressing contemporary design problem, some of my students become genuinely excited by the ways in which historically-situated criticism can illuminate their own emergent practice. Others still just want to make things.

As I survey graphic design pedagogy as a whole, it seems to me that my students' position is one that the prevailing model supports. This model emphasizes artifact-centered studio education, supported by a peripheral knowledge of art history.

In other words, design education fails to prioritize ( sometimes, even to accommodate ) design history, criticism, theory, and analysis within the graphic design curriculum.

Design educators spend a lot of time talking about how important design history is, but how much effort do we expend to get it added to the curriculum? An evidence-based evaluation of the current state of graphic design history pedagogy at public research universities suggests that we expend very little effort to add design history to the curriculum.

This paper asks design educators ( first ) to consider how our rhetoric might be misaligned with our practice and ( second ) to consider the need to develop an explicit, detailed body of case study literature dealing with the ways in which historical learning can be incorporated into the studio classroom. In the first section of the paper, I briefly review the familiar rhetoric that we, as design educators, construct around design history pedagogy. The "view from above" is that design history is important and we should spend dedicated time teaching it as a subject in its own right. In the second section, I look at the way we actually practice design history pedagogy. The "view on the ground" draws on a sample of design programs at public research universities and tabulates the percentage of programs that actually require their students to study design history as a subject. As it turns out, these two views do not align as closely as our rhetoric would lead us to believe. This being the case, it seems critical for design educators to document and interrogate the specific ways in which we have been incorporating design history into the studio classroom. …

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