08 November 2006
Elena Gonzalez Miranda
Elena Gonzalez Miranda

Sensible Learning of Intelligent Design
Conceptual processes establish unique and individual criteria.

Teaching implies designing, as teaching is synonymous with communicating. Graphic ideas are named and applied to verbal arguments. The visual manner of thinking design and its learning process correspond to a language, in the context of which designers will translate verbal content into graphic content.

The objective was to convince [...] that what is needed is to set one s feet back on the ground, and get rid of theories and ideologies weakened by a lack of contrast, and recover the spontaneity and simplicity of an honest trade and its sensible learning.
Norberto Chaves. Teaching design or learning to communicate. tipoGrafica (43).

I am a proud descendant of a family of stonecutters, of stone carvers and house builders; it is more than likely that tradition has ingrained an almost indelible imprint in my genome. The craft was taught in a sensible way, yet I must admit that in most cases it was transmitted without the slightest possibility of criticism by the apprentice of the master and his methods. Doubting was discouraged. And then, one day, with the development of new materials, the warmth of stone gave way to the rigidity of bricks and concrete. This had dire consequences for the appearance of my small town. However, we cannot but admit that there are marvelous buildings made with these and other new materials, undoubtedly because the apprentice who questions his master or excels him can add innovation to his craft. Neither doubting nor surpassing should be considered a lack of respect for the master. Respect has nothing to do with an absurd blind faith in his knowledge.

Yet, what has happened to design? Typographers, printers and other artists were the artisans of graphic design. In the course of time those artisans became designers. However, today we are finding it hard to understand what happened in the process of evolution of our discipline. At some point the term became contaminated. Possibly someone outside the field of design began to use the expression misguidedly, or we designers ourselves favoured these new and arbitrary meanings. Anarchy was also a beautiful word, with an almost idyllic meaning related to the freedom of the individual, until it began to be associated with its other side: disorder, incoherence and confusion.

We all know that design s loss of prestige has been compounded by the abusive and globalizing implantation of a consumer and market based society. Many of the new so-called designer products and services, are frivolous and possess neither functional nor aesthetic quality and, paradoxically, designers did not even participate in many of them. Designer furniture, designer drugs, even designer children . And jokes on the subject of design which we accept, as we should, with humour. We designers do what we can to correct the misunderstanding. However, we are either too few or too individualistic, or else we simply do not have sufficient command of oral and written language. Graphic ideas can be named and need to be applied with verbal rationales, either before or after expressing them on paper. It is probable that our way of thinking is primarily visual and we, naturally, prefer our own language.

Our task consists, precisely, in switching from one language to another, of translating verbal concepts and contents into graphic concepts. Learning to translate is not easy and one can be either a good or a bad translator.

Learning to design is not an easy task
Both teachers and students are immersed in a specific universe of factors that determine whether learning will be a success or a failure. It is not easy to either learn or teach design.

Some students find it hard to learn to distinguish quality in graphic design. Others are born with the knack for organizing contents, communicating messages, transmitting the relevant connotations which respond to certain objectives, conducting the required experimental research when necessary, making in-depth evaluations of the relationship between language and image, innovating in the application of the resources of the graphic language. In the case of these latter students, the teacher does not need to do more than light the wick for their capability to surge forth.

Supposing that the student has a minimum capability for learning design, what is truly important for the teacher is to successfully instill in the pupil the ability to develop criteria, which will be the tools that will enable him to evaluate the quality of a design or whether the solution which is offered is a worthy one. In other words, to develop his ability to provide alternatives which make sense, which have soul , and are neither senseless nor hollow, frivolous nor made superficially appealing by means of a computer, that is, to develop the student s ability to produce intelligent design .

And neither is it easy to teach design
Here again, supposing that the teacher also knows what intelligent design is all about, teaching how to design is a very complex activity. Understanding the basics and learning to perceive them visually takes time.

Which is also needed for experimentation and consideration on the practice and in practice , which are the marrow of the student s learning of design and of his future profession.

It should be added that each student learns in a different way and the teacher must possess sufficient insight to perceive his way of learning and adapt himself to the student s own reasoning powers, educational and cultural background, interests and intellectual maturity. Furthermore, it is only natural to believe that it is the teacher s duty to teach with illusion, transmitting the emotion, the passion and the importance of what it is hoped will be learned, being mindful of the pedagogical interpretation, presenting it in accordance with the level of learning of the student, in perfectly intelligible terms, capable of motivating creativity, criticism, analysis and personal experimentation with the craft. Although it is progressively easier to instill enthusiasm in the students because they have demystified the teaching methodology and their future, and they know that the only requirement will be to become expert Photoshop students.

Whether designing or teaching, we live in a period which is trying to keep ahead of time, dominated by high-strung students, teachers in a hurry, with careers compressed into four years, with far too many students per class to correctly guide their work, with four-month courses in a discipline which needs time to mature... in the eyes of the teacher, each student is a world and a question mark which he is barely able to articulate in the brief span of an academic year.

It is not easy. I often wonder if this type of designers, teachers, communicators, critics, computer buffs, detectives, psychologists, advocates that we, teachers, are in an almost schizophrenic way (in this case, of graphic design), may not be the result of something purely vocational rather than the outcome of the application of a series of studies on academic theory and professional practice.

All good teachers, in any area whatsoever, design as they teach, because teaching is synonymous with communication. Nevertheless, we not only program the process of learning. In design we carry out veritable mental gymnastics to resolve the students varied assignments, which result, in turn, in the ongoing improvement of our own professional caliber.

Teaching-designing can be a very rewarding task, even when we know that only a few of our students will have learned the basic mechanisms which will help them to think design in the best manner possible throughout their professional life.

Yet there will always be teachers (and students) to remember
Being an optimist is the best solution, because after all we do not want design to develop in the computer design academies which have sprouted up everywhere under the electronic flood. We should also accept the fact that the pure craft of the designer no longer exists and reconstruct the correct concept on the basis of what we actually have in our higher institutes of learning, polytechnic centres or schools of architecture or fine arts. When all is said and done, it should be remembered that there have always been good teachers and good students, in spite of the eternally adverse circumstances in any period of history.

Undoubtedly, we all recall a few select teachers and professors whom we thank inwardly and outwardly for their teaching. Regardless of theories, ideologies, philosophies, methodologies and many other ies , what is essential is the actual person and not the method used to teach, the study program involved, or the grade obtained. It is a special possibly inexplicable personal quality of the teacher, perhaps beyond all human logic. It is something which transcends the limits of a verbal explanation. They have been and are teachers who had and have time for their students. In whom all students awakened and awaken a curiosity about them as persons and as scholars of their academic subject, a curiosity which tends to be reciprocal.

Who admitted and admit their doubts and are proud to have their students question them. We preserve their essence, an almost omnipresent recollection, throughout our professional career. The practice of teaching was and is inherent to them, as natural as placing one foot before the other when walking. They neither presumed nor presume to teach, knowing that what is fundamental is that the student should desire to learn. They do not believe they are indispensable, they teach what they know and, even more important, they teach what they are .

Some of the reference material which has inspired these reflections:
Bonsiepe, G. Las siete columnas del diseno (The seven pillars of design). Mexico, UAM, 1993.
Chaves, N. Ensenar a disenar o aprender a comunicar (Teaching design or learning to communicate). tipoGrafica (43): 18-23, 2000
Dinham, S. La ensenanza del diseno: el diseno de la ensenanza (Teaching design: the design of teaching). Temes de Disseny (6): 131-150, 1991.
Satue, E. Talento, curiosidad y pasion (Talent, curiosity and passion). Experimenta (6): 61-63, 1994.
Spiekermann, E. Information design: What is it? Who needs it? 1995.
Vazquez Montalban, M. Buscando la inutilidad desesperadamente (Desperately seeking uselessness). Temes de Disseny (5): 138-140, 1991.

For more information, contact:

Silvina Rodriguez
Viamonte 454, piso 7, of. 14
C1053ABJ Buenos Aires

About this article
The following article is reprinted from Fontanadiseno, with permission.

About Silvina Rodriguez
Graduated in 1985 and was awarded a Doctorate in Fine Arts (Graphic Design) in 1995. She has participated in design teams for a number of institutions such as the DZ-Centro de Diseno de la Diputacion Foral de Bizkaia, Metro Bilbao and the Bayonne IUT. Since 1987 she has been teaching methodology, Graphic Design projects and doctor s programs in the School of Fine Arts of the Basque University. She has participated in European Union programmers such as Lingua and Erasmus, as well as in interactive design research projects

About Fontanadiseno
Fontanadiseno has been editing tpG since 1987. It is the only independent publication focused on typography and design entirely produced in Argentina. Part of the thinking behind the magazine is the dissemination of knowledge and ideas to all those connected with the disciplines of communication. tpG is now an international forum of design debate and its advisory comitee gathers the most remarkable specialists around the world.