A Story About Graphic Design

This post will delve into teaching a little but more into the politics behind teaching different disciplines in one department in a university. Prepare for intrigue, mystery, subterfuge and even back stabbing (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Put a picture next to a picture and all of a sudden you are making a comparative statement. In adding more than two you are diminishing the importance of each picture a little bit with each added picture. Frustrated with a single picture as a print on a piece of paper? Grids are your answer. But keep in mind that a grid forms a pattern and patterns very quickly reduce the importance of your individual pictures to a graphic. Add type to your pictures and all of a sudden you are in the design business. I learned this very quickly when I played with placing a title on the same big print where I'd made a grid. What had I just done? Made a poster.

What are the implications of this? I had just stepped into a very different discipline. Posters are not a photographer's domain. As an artist/photographer I deal with design every day in my work but have no training in combining type with an image. This is what graphic designers do.

Know this: Danger! Danger! Danger! Have no training in graphic design? Tread lightly, my friends. Graphic Designers can be a militant group of people. For good reason as many live in the world of poster design. Many have been to graduate school and have MFA's in GD. Some have even gone on to receive PHD's. OMG!

The story:

In fairly early digital days at the school I taught at I we were teaching classes using scanners, early digital capture and inkjet printers capable of 44 inch prints by however long we wanted. If students had the funds, they could print massive images. And some did. At one point in an intermediate class I gave my students an assignment to make a large print with a title on it. The results were mixed but a few were very good. I decided to display them in a hallway gallery we had. This is where Danger! comes into play. It seems this offended many of the graphic designer professors in our department as we had crossed over the line and my students were making truly egregious errors with their posters. A colleague and friend of mine was teaching animation and it seems his students had committed a similar error in displaying their storyboards, this being the way an animator or film maker will plan out the sequences in their film.

We were told to report the next week to a meeting to discuss this. Two tenured professors being called in to receive some "justice", presumably.

My colleague and I huddled before the meeting as we knew all too well we were going to be told not to ever do that again, meaning make a poster. We had stepped on many toes and offended sensibilities and were going to be given a talking to. So, we developed a plan.

The day of the meeting came, a Friday after morning classes were over. We entered, sat down, faced our colleagues across the table and were told why they wanted to meet with us. They wanted us to explain our actions. We asked if we could read a couple of prepared statements.They said all right and so we did. First my friend read his and then I read mine. In it we explained the rights and privileges of tenured professors, that what they taught in the classroom was sacred and untouchable, that what tenure conferred on a professor was: job security and freedom from outside constraint or intervention. I looked at my colleagues across the table as my friend read his statement. Their faces were now locked and frozen, tolerating this unplanned for line drawn in the sand with no room for negotiation. I then read mine, which duplicated my friend's tone and substance. In effect, we were saying "Hands off my classroom!" This, of course, came as a complete shock to them. We weren't allowing them to take on the issue of bad design or whether we were qualified, we were saying that no matter what we did, that our classes were hands off.

When I finished my statement we both stood up and walked out, with cries from the professors back in the conference room pleading with us not to leave. We both left the building, walked out to the parking lot, got in our cars and drove away.

What was the result of this dramatic move? The meeting and the issue about posters was never discussed again. My friend and I continued to teach as we saw fit and occasionally, yes, there were bad posters made by students that were not graphic designers in our classes. 

Topics: Commentary,teaching

Permalink | Posted December 12, 2013