An effective designer interprets the world in his or her own unique way and understands how to translate that into a clear message for others. Such a designer must have clarity of vision with an understanding of "self" and the world to get his or her message through.
I teach both online and offline students how to identify what they want to say and how to say it and help develop their eye through critique steeped in visual and critical design theory. Part of my goal is to encourage students to see and experience the world in order to have a larger toolbox of ideas and a better understanding of others so that they may more clearly communicate messages. By finding their visions, using their voices, and mastering techniques, my students are equipped with the skills needed in future classrooms, as well as in their professional careers.
Vision: Helping students find and communicate their vision
I want to help students codify their own creative processes: to understand what their internal tools are so they can begin learning how to use them and expand on them. This fosters more meaningful exploration, greater productivity, and more effective communication.
An important part of each project is the research phase, where the student researches not only the institution or business they are designing for, but also the people that will use their design. They also create thumbnail sketches, concept maps, information architecture, prototypes and several visual comprehensives. Discussions and frequent critique help with this process as students answer questions to discover their own beliefs, ethics, and philosophies; questions that help them discover why they are driven to create. I try to help students reflect on what they are sending into the world with their designs, and why. I believe this helps students analyze their creative processes and clarify their visions.
An instructor must mentor students toward the larger goal of becoming strategic learners. Therefore, I check in with my students periodically about their study and research habits. If students can look at their own patterns, they can better see how their vision permeates all of their habits. I also identify how academic tasks in my courses relate to being an effective designer. I set clear expectations every time we meet, as well as for each exercise and assignment. Using a rubric helps to clearly convey my expectations about coursework.
Voice: Helping students find their voice and their client‘s and audience‘s voice
It seems that design students have to literally find their voice! Effective design requires strong verbal and communication skills which is why my students learn to talk and write about design. On the very first day of each course, I discuss why critique is important and how they are exposed to several, different critique styles throughout the semester. My students routinely practice public speaking in safe, small groups. As a critique session starts, I ask them to jot down their thoughts before they speak, which helps them to feel more confident about sharing. Plus, my students regularly write rationales and discuss readings in class, or on the class blog, which hones writing skills.
After finding their voice, students learn to find their client‘s and users‘ voices. Collaboration is key to framing and solving visual communication and usability problems, which is why my students learn to research target audiences and effectively talk with their clients and users. One method I use to teach students about client-collaboration is to have them write all of their rationales using positive language, focusing on the client‘s intended message while keeping in mind the research they have gathered about their target audience members.
I keep students communicating by having more of a discussion–based lecture, where there is time for conversation about design during every class. Storytelling captives my students, and I share many stories from my years of as a designer. I also encourage them to watch interviews and read reviews of designers on "Design Observer" and "AIGA", learning how successful communicators use their voices.
Keeping students involved in local design events as well as organized field trips helps them feel connected to the larger profession of design. The latest such trip was to AS220 in Rhode Island for a hands-on workshop teaching letterpress, laser cutter and screenprint techniques — concepts that are unavailable to them at our current facilities. I regularly involve students in AIGA functions as ambassadors or volunteers, and have helped several students earn Board of Director memberships onto the regional board of AIGA.
Techniques: Learning to use the tools of the trade
Once students can clearly see their vision, and realize the power of their voice, they need to master design techniques. Learning how to organize information and getting comfortable with industry software programs helps students create beautiful designs with intent. I believe students learn by watching and then doing. I teach software methods and techniques as well as HTML and CSS hand-coding by creating tutorials and demonstrations with visual theory in mind. Students hone their "design eye" through frequent critique sessions and learn about user experience design throughout every project. They see that exercises and assignments relate to real-world situations, which keeps them engaged in learning. Peer learning through small group-work fosters a safe environment, encouraging each student to take chances and dive deeper into challenging software programs. I will often "flip" the classroom and provide or point students to an online lecture and use the class time for discussion and exploration.
My goal is to help every student become an aware and vested citizen in the design community. Helping each find their vision, use their voice, and master critical design techniques positions them on a path of continual learning and professional growth. I not only teach indispensable industry knowledge, and effective communication skills, but help students learn more about their personal creative path and how that path impacts the world.