February 10, 2015
I was driving tonight to a friend’s house and listening to the Through Process podcast. (If you don’t know about Through Process…you’re totally missing out. It’s targeted toward design educators and design students but really, like design itself it’s about life as a human…whatever that may look like.) So, I was driving tonight to a friend’s house and listening to a Through Process podcast episode called “It’s okay to like things” where design critic Chappell Ellison joined the usual combo of Mitch and Namdev to chat about criticism, feedback and the general atmosphere around both in both design school and the profession of design.
It was a long and rambling podcast so I won’t try to summarize it here in any sort of pithy way (legit just listen….road rage decreases exponentially when you’re listening to something interesting). That said, there was an interesting point about raised about the weird image media saturated culture we live in and how that in itself has changed the student/learning experience.
At one point someone said that there’s so much access to design blogs and image banks and Pinterest and everything visual that rather than put work out there that is unique and personal and engaged with the project that has been tasked to the student….students are more likely to recycle back something “cool” they encountered on the internet—more likely to blind copy styles with little to no thought as to the why’s behind it all. When pressed into explaining the why of a piece, students come up short because there’s actually no why at all….the work is all face value.
Somebody else said that school was perhaps the safest place ever to be a designer because you can literally go off the deep end with conceptual/crazy/risky ideas and though an instructor might give you a hard mark…they’re not going to be like a client who will fire you. In school, the whole system is set up to nurture you so rather than just copy whatever the cool of the moment is, why not take the deep dive into whatever obscure inspiration you find and then just run with it and see where it takes you? You most likely will fail a bit (or a lot) but you’ll find deeper parts of yourself as a designer and the skills you learn in the engagement itself will pan out in the end.
As the sage design educator that I am, I said a hearty “Amen” to these ideas and wished that my own students would have this courage to find their own cool and not keep recycling the same stuff over and over. I even began thinking how we could shift our curriculum so that it would be more conducive to these things…be more intentional about stating what a “safe space” we actually are and using that as a catalyst to see how much deeper we can go into the learning process.
Then I began to think about the “student” thing currently happening in my own life and wonder if the same issues are in play, but just called some other stuff since this is doctoral level education. Admittedly as things got a little more close to home, they also became a bit more uncomfortable.
Here’s the truth…I’m not a tenured track academic who needs to do massive research or publish stuff in order to keep their job. I’m a student exploring these ideas for the very. first. time. In addition, I’ve got a support system in place with my supervisor, my cohort, and various other closely linked outliers who are more than willing to nurture the heck out of me whenever needed.
I’ve got all the head knowledge but…in what ways have I become like those mindlessly trolling not image banks, but articles repositories? In what ways am I so captivated by whatever is the “cool” topic/methodology/argument that it’s seducing me, ever so slightly, off course and following it is replacing looking for my own pathway? Do I realize that I could literally explore the conceptual/crazy/risky ideas to my hearts content because I won’t be fired from this experience? (I will most likely be confronted by my supervisor but still…wouldn’t it be amazing to go so deep into a path that you would get called for actually too much?)
So, this is my next new plan…my new goal is to be fearlessly courageous in probing and pushing and pursuing not because I have some weird anarchist bent but rather because I want to revel in this process as much as humanly possible. Like all my students, this is such a unique and special time and it makes zero sense to live it in such a self limiting manner. As I know from my day job, once you’re finished you get lots of limits and schemes placed on you….for this time and in this season, it’s time to delight and see just what might happen….just what I might discover.