Build on their passion.

July 25, 2010

Our backbone course is the 18 credit Design Problems, made up of half juniors and half seniors to encourage and enable mentoring. The concept is simple: each credit represents a substantial design project with extraordinary depth and breadth.

But it is the students creating their own unique problems is what makes this class extraordinary. The student’s select problems that inspire, arouse their curiosity and are passionate about. One thing I have learned is that students having ownership and authorship in their work, perform better. They are very proud of coming up with projects that are innovative and entrepreneurial.

We encourage the students to clearly define their problem, then execute their best possible solution(s) in a form reflecting the their particular interests. It might be a publication, a packaging project, an information design system, a retail design, an advertising campaign, a website design, an integrated branding system, an exhibit design, and so on. Each project is, in essence, a student’s own personal independent study. Instead of a student reporting to a faculty advisor once a week as done in traditional independent studies, we put them in the classroom. Lot’s of them.

This facilitates learning from each others process. The entire class will be completely involved with each of the student’s individual projects which completely involves them in all aspects of design through the process of weekly critiques. Classes are long and arduous with each student presenting their project(s) and the students and faculty critique of the work.

We want them to be complete designers first, then to see how the design process can manifest itself through diverse media. In their senior year we encourage the students to extend a couple of their favorite projects resulting in vast depth and breath of a single problem that couldn’t be accomplished in an average time slot in a semester. These completed class projects make up the majority of content of the student’s portfolios, which result in the class portfolios that are as different from each other as our Syracuse snowflakes. Most are renaissance portfolios, a little of everything. Others are specialist’s portfolios, focused on the students’ passion about an aspect of design that they feel they want to pursue.

What really makes them unique is that each student’s portfolio is an example of their personal interests and passions, it is a direct reflection of them. So when a potential employer responds very positively to a portfolio, they are responding directly to who the student is, not just a design solution to a project.

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

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