Where Design and Education Meet

An exploration on how people teach and learn about design

When I was 15 I was in a digital media and arts class. My teacher was excited to show us a design documentary. What I didn’t know was that this was going to be one of the moments in my life that defined what I was going to do. In the opening scene there’s a man setting metal type and it eventually reveals the word Helvetica. This film revealed the impact of design had on every second of people’s lives. Even the band El Ten Eleven, who did the music for the Design Trilogy by Gary Hustwit has been a huge influence in my work.

Sometime during 2008 I decided I want to do design. I had no clue what it would take or look like to pursue this, but I knew that’s what I am supposed to do. It is a way to communicate and create relationships between people. It can define our emotions or feelings through colors, shapes, typography and other basic principles that intertwine to create everyday experiences.

In the most recent year I have been on the AIGA DC Board and have been working with a high school in Alexandria, Virginia creating a place to have a conversation on design. We bring in designers to share who they are and what they do. It presents design in a manner that exposes it as a possibility to do this for a living.

I was fortunate enough to have design introduced to me at a young age and there is something absolutely amazing about giving that back to younger students. While working with West Potomac High School and Deep Run High School in Richmond, Virginia I have seen very different and amazing teaching methods that work with art, design, and photography students. It creates a foundation for students to grasp the basic concepts that are typically needed in the design field.

Recently I spoke at Deep Run High School and got to see how students were collaborating on projects. What I didn’t understand at first was who was collaborating. High school design students were assigned middle school design students and they had to communicate and collaborate on an animation. The final output was fascinating, but I think the best part was that the students probably have no clue how valuable that project is going to be in the future, whether they are doing design or not.

Design could fundamentally be pushed forward in a thousand directions if high school students are given the ability to learn about design. What would the curriculum look like to set up students to learn design in a streamlined process? They could understand the process of learning from failure, applying foundational art techniques, and communicating through critique. Going into a undergrad program would just allow them to strengthen and expand what they know.

After finishing my first year on the AIGA DC board I found that I feel inspired while pursuing ways to educate people on design. Design should be inspirational and be comprehended in a way that people instantly understand its relevance. When people see it as a commodity to make things “look better”, it becomes irrelevant and moves away from the ideas of process and communication.

Seeing how design and teaching design inspires a community has become something to help light a fire under the DC Design community. People want to get involved, but sometimes just do not know how. I am going to continue researching and understanding how education and design work together.