Not Signed-In
Which clippings match 'Desk Crits' keyword pg.1 of 1
04 OCTOBER 2013

Meredith Davis: A Call to Action for Design Educators

"I believe that design education, at the most fundamental level, views complexity as a problem to be overcome through reductivist artifacts, not as an inevitable and pervasive attribute of life in the post–industrial community. So if the future is about an ever–expanding web of connectedness, how are we preparing students for meaningful work in this complex world? I'd like to suggest that we're not. Despite the obvious emotional impact of Glaser's poster, he belongs to a generation in which the goal of design was to make things simple. Negroponte, on the other hand, is a technologist for whom the design goal is to render the complex manageable and to make complicated things meaningful.

Almost everything about today's graphic design education is matched to Glaser's worldview. We structure both curricula and projects in craft–based progressions from simple to complex, from the abstract to the contextualized. In typography classes, for example, we begin with the letter, and then advance to the word, sentence, paragraph, and page. Sequences of typography courses are built on this simple to complex progression, when opening InDesign demands that students address the formal and interpretive issues of publication design simultaneously; how do you defer a discussion of leading, of column width, of the modernist preconceptions of software, of language? The only option is default, and what kind of typographic lesson is that?

The reality is that our strategy for teaching typography is residue from how students could comp type in predigital times; by drawing. It is the organizational structure for every type book since James Craig's 1970 Designing with Type, but it holds less relevance for what students need to know about communication in a digital world. Typography today is a complex relational system that depends on the interplay of formal, technological, linguistic, and cultural variables. Yet we persist in teaching this progression of scale, isolating such variables within their own distinct conceptual frameworks and rules.

The same strategy exists for how students progress in other studies of form. Foundation lessons begin with abstraction: point, line, and plane; color wheels; and paper–folding exercises. We defer discussions of meaning and context until later levels of the curriculum and beginning students learn these abstraction principles only through patterns in what makes their teachers smile. Nothing about these studies resembles what students know about in the real world, and as a colleague recently suggested, what the clients of design see in our work. So what if we begin with the familiar and complex?"

(Meredith Davis, 4 April 2008, AIGA Boston Presentation)

Presentation made at W/Here: Contesting Knowledge in the 21st Century, Emily Carr University of Art+Design, Vancouver, Canada, 7–9 December 2011.


Simon Perkins
09 FEBRUARY 2009

One to one is not enough: participatory technologies and learning

"The ways students use digital technologies are fundamentally different from how they are taught in the design studio. Implicated herein is the practice of teaching primarily through one–on–one 'desk crits' – what design educator Cal Swann derogatorily refers to as the 'Sitting by Nellie' approach, which often results in design instructors explaining their personal experiences in order to improve the students' work.

Conversely, by motivating students as active participants in learning, who construct knowledge collaboratively with their peers – rather than relying upon transmissive teacher–to–student approaches that create what Fischer calls 'passive, consumer–learners' – co–operative technologies reduce the focus on isolated learners. Such collaborative practices are not just about learning how to master participatory technologies as a means to personal expression; they should also be understood as social skills that enable engagement within a larger group or community.

The implications of participatory technologies for the practice of design will be long–term, far–reaching and are already being felt – though they are only beginning to be understood. What these developments mean for design education has barely begun to be addressed. 'The informal participatory communities of fans and gamers are where digital natives already congregate when they seek out knowledge – not the traditional classroom where learning is seen to be static, provisional and bureaucratic,' Jenkins declares. His cautionary report that schools tend to educate only individual problem–solvers – even though students entering the workplace will be asked to work collaboratively in teams, drawing on different sets of expertise – is as valid to design pedagogy as it is to education in general.

Digital technologies allow anyone with access not only to peer behind the curtain of the mysterious creative process but to experiment with it, and even appropriate the creations of others, first hand. Pierre Lévy's notion of a problem–solving, democratic 'collective intelligence' is already a reality on the Net where most of tomorrow's designers now engage with creative culture. When this group enters higher education, they will not leave their online communities and collaborative skills at the door.

There will always be a symbiotic relationship between design and the technologies used to support the creation of artefacts. Nevertheless, once connected digital technologies are introduced in the design studio – as they were in the 1990s – a new way of (net‑)working and engaging with design's communities of practice is possible. Consequently, design education requires a new approach that imparts relevant knowledge and skills in partnership with these technologies – technologies that take advantage of a classroom that exists beyond the academy walls and position the design student as a part of a broader community of learners.

From this perspective, students are not just individualised learners, the computer is not just another production tool, and the classroom studio is not a self–contained entity where students acquire knowledge to be applied later outside in the 'real world'. This type of connected pedagogy can be envisioned as a part of a wider network of learning, fostering engagement with the field that continues long after students receive their diplomas. The design classroom and its curriculum of projects, critiques and comps still have a crucial role to play in such a context, but they have to be connected with what students already know about in their world.

This article is based on research from the KnowledgeWorks Foundation (

Illustration by João Fazenda"
(Deborah Littlejohn, Eye no.70 vol. 18)



Simon Perkins

to Folksonomy

Can't access your account?

New to Folksonomy?

Sign-Up or learn more.