Teaching Graphic Design in a Digital Age

It is necessary to focus on how the teaching of graphic design is governed and managed in UK. It is known that this is a relatively new practice to UK and the Arab world, especially the skills of graphic design teaching, it is not like the other branches of art.

This discipline had a strong relationship with printing, whilst to a certain extent this still holds true, it is now taking to be an integral parts of the design process. With the introduction of technology in the teaching of this specialization, students and teachers should be encouraged to search into their creative mind.

Teaching must create an environment that nurtures and encourages innovative thinking, visual literacy, students centered-learning and personal development. Students must be able to recognize true creativity because just knowing how to use a particular tool or a software program does not make one a designer. Art institutions should be aware of the ever-changing nature of the technology they teach with. This constant attempt to keep up to date from part of the strategic planning of the institution, however a focus on the traditional design teaching methods, principles and process should not be forgotten.

The development of Digital Art and Design education provides new production methods such as computer rendering and modeling. This increases our ability to create, to see and to express and compose a layout. We are interested in how Digital Art and Design education and physical materials can be used interchangeably as instruments in the teaching of this subject.

The development of digital methods does not deter from the importance of traditional methods of teaching; however, this should be used in conjunction with the digital approach to the study of materials and mediums. The traditional approach in particular focuses on colour, light, texture, form, shape and composition. Through the teaching of traditional methods in design we are able to challenge students to be more questioning about their use of new technologies. By encouraging students to interact with the medium as part of the creative process, it not only redefines established solutions, but also encourages development of the student’s imagination. By aiding students to develop real methodology that explores the concerns and techniques of making and exploring objects is essential to the future of graphic design.

Schools and institutions have supplied generations of young graduates into the graphic industry. In the past, art education and more specifically Graphic design courses online created a forum in which the ‘craft’ was learnt. Here students were encouraged to challenge previously unchallenged ideas, whilst at the same time developing the skills they would need in the future. Graduates then finished their formal education with an apprenticeship in a design company. Young graduates would then develop specific disciplines such as typographic expert, magazines, creative and art direction. By undertaking an apprenticeship students were exposed to the commercial pressures of the industry something which a classroom can only try to simulate, this putting them in good stead for their future careers.

All the aforementioned disciplines had a distinct relationship with the craft of printing and as such more defined roles existed for the graduate. It is these established routes which distinguished graphic design as a ‘craft’ and aided the transition of the skills from education into industry.

In UK, most of the colleges and institutions do still teach as part of their study plan:

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Colour theories: using practical application and mainly traditional teach methods. (Colour circles, 2D & 3D shapes and forms. Students also learn about space, background and texture.)
  • Poster illustration: By actively starting and completing a design using Poster Colours or Gouache.
  • Introduction to Typography and Arabic Calligraphy
  • Materials and Textures (medias & Mediums): i.e. colour pencils, airbrush, Gouache, poster colour
  • Graphic Art: Printing and Engraving techniques

The changes that have taken place in the industry and weakened these established routes have coincided with a large influx of graphic design graduates leaving art institutions. Many new technologies now have their place on the curriculum. During the first year of a four-year course, the students are expected to acquire a large number of core skills. These range from traditional print to an understanding of the new media. The demand put upon students to be multidisciplinary against a background of gradual overlapping of the roles of the technician, the programmer and the designer means that less time is spent developing their individual creativity. Students today often assume that the solutions to visual problems can be solved using the technology available to them, rather than through their own knowledge and skill. It has become the responsibility of the discipline tutors to encourage students to find creative skills based solutions to visual problems and to further facilitate the student’s personal exploration of creativity through the process of creative thinking.

In UK we recognized that technology has significantly changed how students and tutors value core design principles. In teaching graphics today the computer has almost replaced the basic tools of the trade. New technology does provide simultaneous control over different components of design however, it is important to remember that computers are not designers. The biggest error made today in this profession is to use any given template on software package to complete a work. In reality a template is only a guide and it should only be used as an aid to reach the final layout, in other words, a template is a tool for sculpting the masterpiece.

Reflecting upon this we must create study plans that push students, in the early part of their degree, to explore their skills. When planning our study plans it should be remembered that many of the students who join Art and Design courses do not have strong backgrounds in the discipline.

We aim to do this because we believe that when teaching Art and Design students must be encouraged to search within themselves, within their creative minds to provide the answers and not just rely on a computer to produce the layout for them. Similarly students should learn when and how to use the appropriate software. Students should be taught visual literacy and must be able to recognize true creativity as opposed to the craze. By simply understanding how to use a given piece of software to create a layout does not make one a designer.

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