Design Education, Part II: Gerry Leonidas

Well-known international design instructors answer our poll about job opportunities for design graduates, the differences between academic theory and real-world practice, specialisation vs general education, and their own motivations to teach design. (This is the full version of the poll published in TYPO 43.)

Design Education

Educators shaping the direction of design in a period of fundamental change in the publishing industry

Palo Bálik, Marcel Benčík, Tomasz Bierkowski, Peter Biľak, Min Choi, Patrick Doan, Richard Doubleday, Will Hill, Gerry Leonidas, Loîc Le Gall, Kristjan Mändmaa, Jacek Mrowczyk, Titus Nemeth, Ivar Sakk, Ewa Satalecka, Silvia Sfligiotti, Martin Tiefenthaler, Gerard Unger

The direction graphic design will take in the coming decades depends a lot on the educational institutions that teach the subject, and especially on the people there who teach design. As the editors of TYPO, we constantly encounter this issue as most of us—and the majority of our contributors—are regular or featured lecturers or workshop leaders at various schools around the world. We have decided to bring the education debate from our editorial meetings to the pages of our magazine so as to foster discussion about education today, and hence the future of the industry.

Gerry Leonidas, University of Reading, UK

What motivated you to decide to teach design and/or typography?

Teaching is the ideal profession for the perpetually curious! The challenge of explaining things and responding to other peoples’ curiosity is the best way to keep your mind sharp and your perspective clear and well-informed. As for the domain: typography and typeface design attract me because their development combines a wide social context with an individual viewpoint, and their practice is defined by the constraints of usability and the striving for originality.

Can you estimate about how many graphic designers your country graduates each year? Are there job opportunities in their field?

Several thousand! But keep in mind that there are over 230,000 designers in the UK, and most are active in communication and digital design. In addition, the UK is the hub for design services not only for Europe, but for many other regions as well. There is always demand for the best graduates, but the competition is fierce.

Does your school find that there is a certain gap between “the real world” and what students learn at school? If so, how do you deal with this issue?

The “real world” is very much part of the school. We have many visiting professionals running projects or presenting to the students, and some full-time staff are consultant designers at a fairly high level. We also run professional projects for commercial clients through our unique “Real jobs” scheme of client engagement, and are co-located with the University’s Design & Print Studio, a substantial pre-press and print unit (two offset, two digital presses, large-format printers, plus finishing). So a good student can graduate with several commercial items in their portfolio. Beyond this, we offer the possibility of paid Studio Assistant jobs in the summer of the second year. For our more motivated graduates there is no gap with the “real world”.

Should schools provide a universal education in graphic design, or is it important these days to specialise in specific areas and tasks?

It may be better to ask “how can schools respond to the demands of students and employers while fostering a deeper understanding of how design happens and promoting innovation and inter-disciplinary research?” Students and employers are by definition conservative and targeted, because they respond to precedent and the current situation. Innovation is by definition open-ended and unpredictable, and therefore difficult to constrain within a modularised programme of study. The answer lies in building robust but flexible methodologies for practice which appreciate the context in which design happens, include in all steps the perspective of the user, and reward research and exploration.

Do you think it is a good idea for students to work on actual commercial contracts while they are still in school? Should the school and the instructors at the school support this?

Our students work on real projects for real clients in a supervised environment, within the Department: the clients come to us. They don’t get paid, since this is assessed work, but the clients contribute to a fund that feeds back to support for students (e.g. paying for research trips). Our programme combines this scheme with conventional projects, so it offers students the best of both worlds. Bringing in real jobs in has the benefit of ensuring that students work on actual design problems, rather than cover the photocopier on a short-term internship.

5. 5. 2011 editors
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