The latest installment in our series of extracts from Craig Ward’s new book, ‘Popular Lies About Graphic Design.’ An attempt to debunk the various misconceptions, half truths and, in some cases, outright lies which permeate the industry of design, Craig Ward pulls from his ten years of experience to tackle subjects such as design fetishists, Helvetica’s neutrality, the validity of design education, the supposed death of print, client relationships and pitch planning.
An education in design is pointless.
As college and university fees continue to rise, this is something I hear more and more and am often asked to comment on for students’ dissertations and magazine articles. This, coupled with the ease of availability of design tools in the home, has led to a rise in the self-taught designer. “Democracy…” said Plato ‘ …is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder; and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.’ Democracy in design arrived in the form of desktop publishing in the 80’s and now, for a couple of thousand pounds, you can kit yourself out with a reasonably comprehensive mobile design studio.
It’s a subject I oscillate on. The beauty of democracy is that it’s a model that permits criticism and, while educated, gainfully employed designers are perfectly capable of creating something hideous in the name of design, there is a contingent of the community that believes the reason there’s so much ‘ugly’ design in the world comes down to the fact that anybody with access to a computer and desktop publishing software assumes they can create a flyer, a sign or whatever.
The point of this book is to be objective, so let me say this: just because I can draw a house, it does not make me an architect. One cannot simply announce oneself as an architect. Being taught how to draw a house; learning about space, studying light, social needs, load-bearing structures, materials, energy efficiency, texture, rhythm of line and form… These things make you an architect, and it’s much the same with design. Yet somehow not…
It’s true that you can learn a lot from on the job experience and reading the right books. In fact, I think I learnt more in my first six months in industry than I did in the previous three years at university—mostly about reality and expectations from industry it has to be said. And I agree, that a formal education is NOT necessary for those gifted few with a natural ability to lay out information well. Those rare prodigies that are born with a knowledge of grid systems, visual hierarchy, kerning and leading type, appropriate font selection and the history of the Design practice. I’m not even being facetious; they’re out there and I’ve met them. In fact I’ve met 15 year-olds who know more about design than I did at 22.
The poster boy for most arguments regarding the pointlessness of design education is David Carson—of whom I am a huge fan. A self taught designer who went onto define a decade’s aesthetic. Only, that was twenty years ago, and begs the question, how many David Carson’s have there been since David Carson?
There are those that say a qualification in design doesn’t guarantee you anything, and that much is true, but an education in any eld counts for something and to dismiss it entirely is insulting to those who choose to study and to those who have studied before them. Likely, your future employers. For my part, I took a one year foundation course and went on to university to study design at degree level over the course of the next three years and would recommend it to anyone—not least for social reasons.
I went to university as green as they come. And yes, I emerged broke—seriously, bailif-provokingly broke. This was in spite of my working the entire four years that I studied (a video store clerk, a bartender, a store assistant at Staples and finally—and weirdly—a security guard if you’re interested). But the time I spent focusing on that one discipline was invaluable. I learnt about my personal strengths, my weaknesses and made friends and contacts in the industry that I was about to emerge into. I gained my Honours by writing a 17,000 word thesis that gave me a legitimate reason to study an area of the eld in real depth and to contact and meet with people whose work I admired and whose opinions I respected. I learnt new techniques, about former practitioners, new ways of thinking and of approaching problems. I tried working with letterpress for the first time and learnt how to screen print and etch. I learnt about colour theory, typography, deadlines and how to critique my own work and that of other people. I attended lectures by those in industry and, damn it, I even met my future wife at university.
I was lucky enough to have a couple of great and inspirational tutors along the way — not all of them I hasten to add — and I found work after a short internship arranged through my university. With that said, a degree does not guarantee you a job when you do Finally graduate, but nor should it—you still need to show good work at the end of it. The degree or quailfiction is for the love of it. It shows a willingness to learn, to struggle, a commitment to the industry and a belief in the importance of process and in the passing on of knowledge.
An education in design is not always necessary, I agree, but it is most definitely not pointless.