I needed more info and went to the usual place to get it, the dictionary.

“…{ intangibles } affect performance but are not readily observable. They are often cited as a reason for performance which is surprisingly better or worse than expected. An asset, an abstract quality or attribute …intangibles are hard to value.”

Looking back here’s how I see “intangibles.” It’s all those things you really can’t “teach” your students but are the MOST important stuff for their success. Those are the things that we need to instill in our design students that reside near my DNA sweet spot.

They are best described by the words that might be spoken about you in your eulogy. “He or she was … fill in the blank” (see in my abstract).

Intangibles are most important things about you: the things you want people to remember you by, the things that drive you, define you, and affect you and everyone else. They describe the many hats you wear in life. They are you.

An incomplete list of some intangibles.

These are some of the intangibles my students take with them for life when they leave Communications Design.

Intangibles have always been around for ever. They are ubiquitous, deep-rooted, defining, but hard to see and difficult to nail down to quantify. We don’t focus on them because there are no processes, no classes, no tests, or no accurate standards for them. In academia, and the world, the measured, rules.

If you can’t see intangibles, can’t measure them, and can’t teach them; then how can we instill them to our design students?

And what do we mean by instill? I found a great definition: “to infuse slowly into the mind or feelings.” Almost a Zen thing. Try teaching that!

It is a student’s strong design portfolio that is the key that unlocks the door to the design discipline. However, I believe that it is the intangibles that propel them through that door to successes as design professionals. Once established, it is those intangibles that set in motion all the necessary attributes needed to become design leaders.

(This is an excerpt from the paper presented at the 2010 UCDA Education Summit at Lawrence KS by William Padgett)

Design Leaders

June 28, 2010

“Every year there is 50-60,000 students graduate from Graphic Design programs in the U.S. This number has be increasing every year for over the past two decades. The number of quality design jobs, however, available to these graduates remains stable around 3-4,000.”

I read this somewhere over twenty years ago, I never forgot it. I’m sure that the numbers have changed by now. Where do the other graphic design grads go? Did they drive cab, work in their uncle’s print shop, flip hamburgers, or end up in “non-quality” design jobs?” This was my first glimpse of graphic design dividing into two separate paths. One that was upper, “white collar,” that lead to design strategists, managers and creative directors. The other, lower “blue collar,” non-quality design production jobs.

Over the years we have also debated if graphic design is a trade or a discipline. We yearned for the professional respect that other disciplines, like architecture, have enjoyed for years and even debated licensing designers. We all want our students to be professionals and design leaders.

But what makes up a design leader?

He or she, first, should be an excellent designer. They should have a vision, the know-how to communicate that vision, and have the savvy and be driven enough to get things done. Design leaders rise to the top of the discipline and move it forward.

Am I responsible for my students getting a great job or making them great designers? Or both? I passionately taught my students everything from Asymmetrical design to Hermann Zapf. I thought that I taught them design, with a capital D, but they wanted me to, “Teach me the stuff I need to know to get a job.” I realized I was just “training” them.

So here we have it: a lot of “trained” designers entering in a field that has a major identity crisis, few quality opportunities, and a short supply of potential leaders we need to affect change on design and the world. Now, what could we do about it?

I remembered something I read way back in college:

“I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.”

The first line would be my lectures. The second are any readings and demos. The third is the process, an area where the good stuff happens, the Ah-Hah moments live there. This is the place where understanding occurs and I wanted to play there.

I also noticed that many students were just going through the motions and had little self-motivation. I wanted them to have an overwhelming passion to design and to learn. The drive to be a great designer should be on the DNA level.

Add to that, they weren’t very professional, they were behaving like students. Training students doesn’t make them professionals. You have to treat your students as professionals from day one!

Knowledge without passion is an engine without fuel. And what was that fuel?

Well, it is made up of things that were more about the person than the designer. It was things that constitute a fantastic human being who just happens to be a designer. What are these things and how do we teach them?

They were the intangibles.

(This is an excerpt from the paper presented at the 2010 UCDA Education Summit at Lawrence KS by William Padgett)


June 25, 2010

From time to time I will post some thoughts on design education. I gave a talk recently at the UCDA Education Summit in Lawrence, Kansas that roused the curiosity of  quite a number of the members of my audience. The title of my paper was “Stop Teaching Design: The intangibles make design leaders.”

Here is the text from my abstract:

Why is it with the tens of thousands of designers graduating each year we don’t have more great designers taking a leading role in business and making a valuable impact on society?

We shouldn’t be just teaching the design fundamentals: the design process, typography, color, and layout but rather instill the intangibles that can propel good designers to be design leaders, not just a visual superstars. The intangibles I am referring to are the things that might be said about you in your eulogy:

“…having a great work ethic, a caring family member, team player, a life-long learner, self-reliant, a community leader, a passionate designer, a great collaborator, a friend and colleague, sharing knowledge, a global citizen, a true creative, a firm yet sensitive employer, a mentor, a tough but ethical competitor, and an all-round nice person.”

Rarely do you ever see any of these attributes in a syllabus yet they are the most important things that you look for when hiring a young designer to your team. The portfolio opens the door but these intangibles get you through it. Once a designer is hired the portfolio goes in the closet and it is the intangibles that are in it for the long haul.

Design educators should be more like coaches than teachers. After we teach the design basics, then allow the students to play, giving them the freedom to create their own curriculum but also having the responsibility to perform at a very high level. How do you create a culture revolving around intangibles and how can they be woven into a curriculum? What are the holistic strategies and techniques needed to implement them and how do we evaluate success? We have to stop teaching design and start building design leaders.

I will focus on these intangibles in future posts. ciao

(This is an excerpt from the paper presented at the 2010 UCDA Education Summit at Lawrence KS by William Padgett)

A poem about teamwork.

June 24, 2010

Admiral Farragut Academy, Pine Beach, NJ, Fall 1963

25 Crossblock
(to coaches Stan Slaby, Bob Hunt)

The concept was simple,
The execution was difficult,
The result was glorious.

Roommates rehearsing over and over again,
Barefoot on cold linoleum, cramped dorm room,
Slow-mo to get the timing perfect.

The tackle and the end blocking
each others matching opponent,
crossing, exchanging positions.

At the snap the end stepped in
As the tackle stepped out,
One in front, one behind.

Where there were two
For a split second, one organism,
Then appearing as two again.

On the left side of the line,
The two lower case xs crossed
forming one big capitol X.

The opponent watched
In awe, his man disappearing
Followed by a blind impact.

In an instant formed a gap in the wall
Like the smile of the lineman
Who invented the immortal play,

Or as a front portal of a villa, inviting,
The halfback, then the fullback bearing the gift,
Leisurely entering the backfield.

From the ground we watched with joy,
His image becoming smaller, smaller,
Strolling into the green garden of the end zone.

William C. Padgett  2009