When I was admitted to a bachelor course in Communication Design I thought that I would look around, assess my skills and move on to a master’s course straight away. However, the first two weeks proved that I was much more of a freshman than anyone else there. This post will help me generalize all the new stuff I faced.
The department has three majors – Communication Design, Photo Design and Industrial Design. There are about 80 first year students aged from 18 to 40, many of whom are people of the same age as me, who had already studied, graduated, had a job, and decided to change everything. The first semester is designed to sort of teach yesterday’s schoolchildren to study hard, concentrate on work, build project teams, conduct research, understand the systematic basis of things and discipline. It turned out that everyone had to learn it and get used to it.
During the first semester, all subjects are compulsory and it is not allowed to miss a single class. Later, one will be able to manage priorities, for example, to make a web-site for the department or publish a magazine, but as for the 1st semester – learn to learn only.
There are five modules that we have to complete in six months just to learn to speak the same language as our professors do. I have never had any weakness for design and got into it not because I wanted to work as a graphic designer, but I must say it is really fascinating. Let us now see what I mean.
My professor – Ben – every week brings us lecture notes on some pressing topic concerning the ideas of how design, its components and principles (lines, balance, contrast, planes, proportions and rhythms) work. Each week the topic changes and at the end of the year there will probably be a whole book about the principles of how the world works in terms of meaning, visual imagery and understanding of related processes. In order to find and explore concepts of which he speaks, we work with our sketch-books every day.
For example, this week is dedicated to collecting contrasting lines. So, every day I spend 15–20 minutes on this sketch-book. This will continue for a year, but he hopes that after this year it will just become an ever-lasting habit for us. Once a week, we work in groups of five, share what we have found during a week, think of our findings and their meanings, and present our group’s success in a two-minute report. In these moments, one can realize how differently various people think and that if they are interested in cars only it does not mean that they are not sensitive to implicit processes. The semester will finish with a 4-week individual project; the topics for these projects will come out during our semester research work.
Right now the most important result of this research is our understanding of the fact that there are two opposite actions in design: creation of the concept and process-oriented work. In other words, first you think what you are going to do, and when you start to do it you do not think at all and just use your intuition simply surrendering to the workflow. So, we are taught to switch between these two conditions.
There are four types of drawing, and once a semester they change. At first, we studied object drawing (as close to the real thing as possible) and portrait drawing, and at the middle of the semester we will start drawing models and build various structures. As much as I was afraid of this module at the beginning am I happy now, because every Monday till lunch I sit and draw a strange kind of either a leaf or some fruit or a tree which I found in Leipzig. I look at it, touch it, study the ways the daylight and lamplight fall on it; in short, I just meditate. They say, drawing always goes out of one’s head, not from the eyes or hands.
In the afternoon, I talk with the coolest guy in the world who teaches drawing, but in fact teaches us to get to know each other, quietly watch things and draw not a face but its expression, not a human, but some of his or her feature. For example, some girl looks like a child, but I draw her strong and concentrated. In the end, it is all not about anatomy, but about something lively and very interesting.
Communication and Design Theory
In a bit messy, but still a very interesting way we study different approaches and theories that people used to study design and related disciplines. Sometimes, without any warning it touches semiotics, semantics and aesthetics. It seems to be planned as a lecture, but goes on as discussions, presentations and research. During one of the classes, we were divided in random pairs and had to present a design that one of the students considers fantastic, and the other one — terrible. A great opportunity to reflect on evaluation criteria and the idea that one should not mix up formal and symbolic features, if it is worth to learn the story of an art object or vice versa – have not a single idea about it so that to be able to judge; if someone’s personal taste is enough to judge or not. This Thursday, we will talk about Comme des Garcons, and the idea that a harsh “no” requires far less reason than a most feeble “yes”.
All of a sudden, my professor is a very cool guy. We know everything he says as rules, but we have no idea how to use these rules, we do not know how to give reasons for our works, we hammer the required format and do not respect the reader; we just want to make beautiful pictures as soon as possible. So, the first time you work with a square, you get to know what working with a static format means. I mean, one physically understands what it means. He doesn’t read lectures, just gives us tasks, listens to the first presentations, and then allows the group to speak on them. It seems, he never evaluates anything himself, but the group becomes lively, the students discuss and study things – I find it a great way of teaching. Right now we are fighting not even blocks, but sizes, and for me it is already a calamity. And yet, it’s very interesting.
Incredibly interesting and difficult, Interaction Design is a constant challenge-and-response. We count, measure and analyze, at the same time understanding how inhumanly difficult it is to work with visualization of information. I received a ton of advice for at least the next ten years on cool books and web-sites, I dig into it and yet – there is no end to it. Interaction Design is about process design, which was a great discovery for me. It is about the idea that one has to think about people for whom things are made, and this perspective is very new to design and production in general. My task for the next week is to build a group of three, isolate one topic from the pre-defined huge ones that describe “real” rather than “process” component of the department, so to speak three small aspects, and visualize them.
We are going to make a model of incoming-outgoing correspondence of a typical first-year student, the amount of paint for screen printing in the workshop, and the principles of dividing students into groups. It sounds crazy, but this is how it is. Moreover, in order to come up with these topics, I still did not do anything out of my “fear of a blank sheet of paper” concerning everything connected to infographics, in comparison to which only programming is more difficult for me.
And for dessert, as if aware, they always leave half an hour for Processing, and I start to think that maybe I’m not entirely hopeless in it.
In general, I think all these studies will be about the ability to ask questions, be inquisitive and sometimes even boring, forget about the idea that design is drawing nice pictures, learn to think using systems and structures, look at life from a different angle, and only after that do design. So, I’d better go and visualize something.
I also leave a few links about my department, professors and projects that we have.