Category Archives: teaching

Do digital and hand work mix? I have to say NO!

At the recent College Book Arts Association meeting (Oregon College of Art and Craft, January 8-10th, 2010) one of the more exciting discussions was on digital media in book arts. I wish it could have continued. While I have a dual appointment in the both art and interactive media, I share some of the misgivings over the “digital blessing” that have been bestowed upon us, and I council students on how and when to make use of them as practical tools. I spent a recent sabbatical doing hand bookbinding and letterpress printing.

Slowing down to the pace of handwork gives more time for reflection and observation. I sometimes liken it to the difference between walking and driving a car (and all the extensions of that metaphor). Perhaps the Pacific Crest Trail versus the Pacific Coast Highway.

Do digital and hand work mix? I have to say NO!
From teaching drawing, I found over and over it was not good to teach perspective systems at the same time I taught responsive observation—different parts of the brain, I suppose. Some people can intuitively do both simultaneously, but most, particularly students, trip up in the process. .

A better approach is to keep distinct times and places for each process. Certain environmental cues can facilitate the shift to a slower more reflective kind of work. I would suggest for individuals, set up a special desk or work area specifically for hand media. Different ergonomics, including lighting and chair configuration are required for sustained handwork versus digital work. Don’t try to keep your sketchbook beside your computer. Instead, clean off that old drafting table, pull out the cutting mat, sharpen some pencils and (for God’s sake!) open the blinds and get some daylight in, or get a good lamp.

This approach can apply to classroom settings and offices as well as the individual studio. We have reduced the size of desks and increased the amount of clutter: usually centering on them a keyboard and monitor. This makes it all but impossible to do serious manual work. Drawing, cutting, handwork of any kind, requires a more meditative and fluid workspace. I don’t want to go too far with the notion of “chi” here, but there is a body of thought that holds that to do any craft work (draw, cut, carve) you had to be physically rooted and balanced: feet on the floor and aware of your physical and emotional center.

When to teach digital media? To be a responsible educator, I have to equip my students with what they need; teachers and practicing craftspersons need to know digital media. But I find most undergraduates hungry for digital media; and I have to satisfy that hunger before I can expect some of them to appreciate the alternative. (Note “SOME”—not all will be able to or want to loosen their grip on the mouse.) That said, it is terrific that there are places, the OCAC, perhaps, for people who are ready to make that leap; where they can go and embrace the craft aesthetic and process. One of the great things about the American educational system is that there is room for programs that cover the full spectrum of possibilities.

My most recent bookwork came out of digital media. The little cast of characters in my most recent book projects (http://www.flickr.com/photos/portfoliolab/sets/ ) were created originally for some fun flash animations. (http://designwriting.info/indexl2.html)

literate design – The structure and meaning of the text

Recently a senior design student stated that he was unaware that his design projects were being graded both on content and on form—the he assumed that the actual verbal content did not matter. After I picked my jaw up from the floor, I tried to explain that we have always taken the position that design is essentially about problem-solving. And visual communication design involves knowing what it is that one is communicating.

In many conversations with art directors in researching an upcoming textbook, many have indicated that they are looking for someone with strong verbal, organizational, and visual skills. Writing is a vital component of both multimedia and graphic communications. Lance Rutter (of Tanagram, Chicago) underscored that a few weeks ago in saying he was interested in “literate” designers.

True, most production work requires that the designer merely follow the given copy; however anything higher and more creative—especially where the designer expects to be a participant in the decision-making process—requires that the designer pay attention to the connection of word and image in service of solving the design problem.

Four-year design programs, such as the one at Bradley aim to turn out thinking designers who have the potential to be art directors or creative directors, or heads of design firms. Highest marks go to those who creatively solve problems. Graphic designers work with words every day; and many hours are spent adjusting spacing, hierarchy, placement, etc, so the design reinforces the structure and meaning of the text.