DesignPrinciples101’s research phase involved five years of testing and twelve workshops in total ranging from onsite coaching to distance learning via video conference and video exchange. Design involves a process and sometimes involves integrating logic and free association. The exchange between the two extremes can take creative individuals into wonderful journeys or lingering conclusions.
Research developed during this period indicated that students who had previously taken a basic two-dimensional design class tended to make up ground rather quickly, especially when compared to some of their neighbors who’ve never before taken such a class and suddenly found themselves in a one day workshop. However, several first-time students had also shown remarkable results, especially when suspending various pre-conceived notions of how art or design should be made or thought about.
Case Study 1: California State University Northridge
It all began here: What began as a six-hour workshop based on an educated hunch turned into a six+ year research project intending to repair a perceived gap in traditional design pedagogy. CSUN’s art program at the time had similarities to many public and private art and design programs in the sense that transfer students comprised a significant degree of the student population. As a result, the various smaller college foundational pedagogies that this population base represented, betrayed the varying degrees of awareness that students had involving design principles.
These newer students may have been familiar with some if not many of these essential design principles by the time of transfer, but the successful or unsuccessful engagement of these principles would generally became apparent by the time upper division studies began to have their effect.
Before and after examples from the daylong workshop strongly indicated that if early cognition of even a few design principles had already occurred, a concentrated reintroduction of those principles at a later time could produce tangible improvements in design thinking.
Case Study 2: Santa Ana Community College
A patchwork quilt of learners: Based upon the prior results of the CSUN workshop and another at Long Beach City College provided feedback that informed and helped drive this research program towards a more engaging mix of topics and exercises. The SACC workshop produced a remarkable yield and variety of successful student work.
The significance of this success is more remarkable when considering that nearly 1/3rd of the twenty-three students (mid-to-late twenties on average) had not taken an art class in years, and in a few cases – at all.
This workshop also provided the first documented example of a career track being positively affected after having had taken the one day workshop:
“I’m moving the family North for a new job in Cupertino, and I have your workshop to thank, in part, for it. It was partially some of the tweaks that I made to my design process after attending your workshop that led to the client work, that went into the portfolio that landed me the job designing for, Apple.” – A.O, Cupertino, CA
Case Study 3: UCLA Extension
Design training as reinforcement: If Santa Ana Community College’s program resonated in a workshop populated by varying art or design education backgrounds, what results could be expected in a similar workshop but presented to a class of advanced design students at the mid-point in their program studies?
UCLA Extension is one of the largest continuing education institutions in the nation. Students in their Design Communication Arts program were invited to participate in a one-day workshop. Attendees remarked that the course provided “a great refresher on (design) principles”. “Once I was warmed up I was better able to complete later exercises with a higher degree of complexity”, and “a stronger sense of composition” were typical of the comments made about the workshop’s benefits.
The quality of work produced that one day underscored the value of design principles in the creative process. In this version of the workshop, in-depth discussions on rhythm were now being introduced in a more deliberate manner. Several students requested that the workshop idea be expanded to include a weekend and perhaps even a entire course. Afterwards, work began on creating an online learning environment intended to service both onsite and long-distance learners whether these learners exist within traditional institutions or not. Afterwards, work began on creating an online learning environment intended to service both onsite and long-distance learners whether these learners exist within traditional institutions or not
Case Study 4: Los Angeles World Airways
Design workshops for teams: The Planning & Development Group’s design contingency at LAWA, parent of LAX, is comprised of a respectable lineup of talented design personnel. There was only one problem: the group’s creative engine was showing signs of running on auto-pilot and this concerned their supervisor. Among this design department’s responsibilities is the design and production of communications collateral such as, brochures, directories, posters, flyers, and various internal and external informational products.
Following an analysis of their most recent design work, an onsite learning program was developed and implemented to cover a six-week period; one three-hour workshop per week dedicated to lecture, creation and critique. The projects ranged from hands-on exercises to digital, real world assignments. Resources were made available for the learners to access in order to complete their activities. Results from each session’s activities informed the next round of activity and so on. The last two sessions involved real-world projects that served as a means to reinforce design principles across a range of familiar communication items.
By the end, design sensibilities began to appear on a cognitive level. Team members were communicating (and competing) with one another about design. Professional work of a significant design caliber began to emerge. Team members bore witness to– while learning from– fellow team members’ struggles and successes.
Addendum: Student Number 1
Apprenticeship programs are fairly common in higher learning art and design institutions. Typically, senior level students begin a process of transition into professional-level activities through such programs. This author’s design and advertising studio had been part of California State University Northridge’s apprenticeship starting in early 1999. Three semesters later, I decided to invite onboard a student whose portfolio was the furthest away, in my view, from the caliber of professionalism one would expect from the “ideal” hire.
My purpose in taking on Lillian was two-fold: (1) Can she begin to develop a clearer and more purposeful way of thinking, and (2) to see if a senior-level design student could be redirected toward achieving a stronger set of sensibilities within a short amount of time?
The strategy involved assigning a simple task: create something. The student chose to create an abstract graphic using Adobe Illustrator. I would then review each week’s results and provide general feedback*. The first draft was chaotic though typical of the unrefined eye. Each additional draft revealed steady improvement. By the sixth revision, a powerful, rhythmic and lyrical abstract graphic had been achieved. Her newfound confidence was obvious – a true shift in thinking had occurred.
In the year 2001, I began teaching at CSUN. In early 2002, an informal get-together of recent graduates allowed me and my former apprentice to reconnect. It turned out that since her apprenticeship, she had revised her entire portfolio. Upon graduation, she had begun happily working as an assistant art director in Oxnard! And so too began this author’s journey.
* The reader might be wondering, what sort of feedback was provided? In my apprentice’s situation: (1) Repeat and vary, (2) begin losing the extraneous, (3) repeat and vary. (4) Repeat steps one through three as needed. (5) If appropriate, add a focal point or a point of entry. (5) Know when to stop. (Thank you, Lee.)