Photo: Stephanie Hart

The entire faculty of a design program should be on the same page and work as a team. Therefore, all of the faculty must buy in to your program’s strategies and goals, this is the hard part but is well worth it in the long run. Any goals that are set must always put the students first, they are the end-user, so make them happy.

Team-teach all of your classes in your major. This allows every faculty member to have a clear holistic understanding of the program, rather than their own little part of it. You can work better as a team if you know what the what the left and right hands are doing. Put faculty where their strengths do the most good teamed up with another faculty with complementary strengths that create a unique powerful class environment that couldn’t be experienced by using a solo teacher.

Team-teaching reveals that there is not just one answer to a problem, that there exist many alternate perspectives and solutions. There are no right answers in design, only solutions that work better than others. Team-teaching is sometimes like tag-team-wrestling, enabling us keeping the content and energy at a very high level because we constantly hand off topics and play off one another’s comments. This enables us to cover much more content and our contrasting viewpoints and experiences make critiques stimulating.

We all agree to disagree, but are on the same page programmatically. You have to keep the ego in check where content is king. Our students see the faculty working as a team, it supports the team-building skills they will need when a team project appears, and we have lots of them. In fact, their first project in the major is a team project.

In that very first class in the major, we combine all our sections together in one huge class in the auditorium that is team-taught by the entire full-time faculty from the major. This reinforces that there is no individual ownership of a class, we all have ownership.

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


Don’t teach, coach!

July 14, 2010

Photo: Glen Lewis

What I do is closer to coaching than teaching. My hero is Syracuse University Hall of Fame basketball coach, Jim Boeheim.

For over thirty years I’ve watched his “tough-love” style of coaching make winning teams. I appreciate the way he yanks a player out of the game immediately after a dumb move, gets right in their face and tells them what they should have done, a wonderful teaching moment. He is a master at getting the most out of all his players.

In practice coaches put their students in situations that closely resemble the actual competition. This gives them every opportunity to mess up and learn from their mistakes yet also encourages them to take risks. It can be a little messy and unpredictable but so is design.

Example: We don’t grade anything until the bitter end. This allows the student to redo a project that may have been trashed in a critique. They can redo a project as many times as they want. We will only grade the final revision, noting the student’s effort and progress to improve the quality of the project.  They must be very careful about time management, robbing Peter to pay Paul, because the new projects shout for attention too.

Learn by your mistakes and make better failures. We love to say and our apologies to Nike, “Just re-do it!”

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

Stop teaching design!

July 1, 2010

We shifted a lot of our emphasis from that “training” stuff, to creating class and studio environments that could better foster these intangibles. We didn’t give up our design content but tried to find ways that student’s would “discover” knowledge. Our students do their work entirely outside of the classroom, in classes are only presentations and critiques.

Today you can learn anything you need to know about Graphic Design without ever setting foot on a college campus. You can get it just about anywhere. Create opportunities for the students to ignite that desire and the passion to find it and learn it. Information is out there, on the web, in blogs, DIY videos, online courses, in books and magazines, free lectures and even, from the person sitting right next to you. The students who want to learn, will learn no matter what. The ones that don’t, have to be mentored by the good ones. They are in charge of getting their own knowledge. When you want to know something, and learn it yourself, it‘s forever.

Our majors need to know design history. Most programs “push” the content in a semester long, snooze session in a dark room with a lot of slides, which passively involve the students. We involve our students through project-based learning in order to have the students “pull’ the content.

We assign our sophomores to design a major exhibition on design history. The class breaks into teams, each team focusing on a major topic research all of the content with each student responsible for their own sub topic. They have to design the space, edit and proofread all the content, build a scale model and promote the exhibit. Then they have present it to the community and the university in an actual exhibit made up of their scale models and an accompanying publication containing all their research content. Here’s the payoff, the class experiences the big picture of design history while the individual teams and students become “experts” in their design history topics.

It is the faculty’s responsibility to help the students find their passion. Stop trying to “push” information by teaching them things they won’t retain, more importantly, we have to create the opportunities for them to succeed and insure that we instill those intangibles that will fuel that passion for a lifetime.

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

(I will be away from the blog for a short while but will be back with more, I promise.)

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