schools start out with a handicap, Sydeman says candidly, “The state of
our high schools presents a major impediment for design schools: To get
students to think critically in college is a huge challenge. It can
require a somewhat remedial approach, especially in analytical thinking, grammar, etc.”
FOR PROFIT OR NOT FOR PROFIT? THAT IS THE QUESTION
you can get out of high school, you can get into an open admissions
design school, many of which are for profit. The financial model: Huge
enrollments allow for lower tuition and/or greater facilities. AAU,
founded in 1929, has 18,000 students (by comparison, Pratt Institute in
New York City has 4,700). It is a “for profit” school started, owned and
still run by the Stephens family. Its tuition is almost half of many
nonprofit design schools. Phil Hamlett, who is the graduate director of
the school of graphic design, says the AAU philosophy is simple, “We
feel if you want to get an education in design, we want to give you that
chance.” Sydeman says the school’s reputation is: “It’s easy to get in,
tough to graduate.” Hamlett adds, “We can be much more nimble and
respond to the marketplace, to changes in the design field. If I want to
alter my curriculum, I just do it. More conventionally run schools may
require reviews, curriculum boards, it’s like getting a bill through
Congress. We’re not invested in the way things are, we are invested in
the way things are going to be.”
He adds, “Most of our students
are AIGA members and so they know what’s going on. And our students are
very vocal. We have town hall meetings every semester where we
recalibrate what we're doing based on their feedback and the changing
field. We’re also asking professionals what our students should be
taught that they aren't. It’s pretty organic and it works.”
all sounds great but “for profit” schools don’t have to disclose how
they make or how they spend their money. So there’s less transparency
than nonprofits (whose status protects against abuse) and so there are
some bad actors just out to make a killing. The size of some “for
profit” schools slap them with the pejorative label “factory schools.”
in order to truly affect change, design schools themselves have to
match or beat the standards of the workplace. That goes far beyond the
role of accreditation.
There is no reliable ranking system for design schools or designers in the United States8
similarly, the profession has no licensing of designers. And design
professors do not have education degrees. So a lot is left to chance:
When determining if a designer is qualified to take on a project or if a
school is worthy of a student, in a lot of ways, it’s a crapshoot.
There is no Consumer Reports
of design schools or designers anywhere. And, probably, that is a good thing since in America our inherent laissez-faire
capitalist attitude is meant to nurture competition and innovation. So what causes design schools to conform and stagnate?
are a floor not a ceiling.” Grefé says, “There are grave concerns about
the schools. AIGA, which works towards the highest and best use of
the design mind, and has 12,000 student members, has to consider what
future is being created for them.”
In Europe, the approach to
education standards is much more uniform than the United States. The
1999 Bologna Accord, which 47 countries developed and ultimately signed
onto, says design degrees should require a five-year program.
Tonkinwise, associate dean of sustainability at Parsons the New School
for Design, says, “3 + 2 is replacing a four-year bachelor’s in the
Accord, in that it declares that a bachelor’s is not sufficient to
qualify anyone to be a professional, even if it is earned in four years.
By implication, 3 + 2 is replacing 4 (BFA) + 2 (MFA) in that the
Europeans (and Australians) are attaining what the Americans call a ‘terminal degree’ in only five years (though Bologna also standardizes a
subsequent third-year PhD as the proper terminus). Then again, it is
sometimes argued that given the comparative poverty of us high school
education, in America the foundation year of design school should, in
fact, be considered a repeat of the final year of high school, which
would push the American terminus degree program back up to six years—1 +
3 + 2 (foundation + bachelor's + master's).”
Tonkinwise adds, “With globalization and the rise of BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia,
India, China), I would think it imperative that US design schools stop
perpetuating erroneous neo-con US ‘exceptionalism’ attitudes and start
to conform to international standards to facilitate cross-cultural
learning. Type Bologna into NASAD’s search and you get ‘no results.’
Type Bologna into AIGA’s search and you get a list of designers from, or
events in the town of.”
REVOLUTION FROM WITHIN
goal of any prison is to maintain control. Prisons are therefore
designed so that prisoners cannot see each other when they are in their
cells. If they could see each other, they could blow up the prison and
make a run for it. Until the Internet, we were all, to some degree,
prisoners. Now we have Twitter, Facebook, endless blogs. Citizens in
authoritarian countries organize sophisticated revolutions, change the
course of history. No problem. Think Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain,
Libya, Morocco, Wisconsin and God only knows where else before this
article is published.
Students, in the same vein, are ultimately
disenfranchised citizens: They pay a lot but have little control or
recourse over what they get.
Back in the late ’60s when I was a
student at Parsons, we didn’t know what it was like at RISD, Art Center
or even Pratt (just five miles away). We asked our teachers what we
should do and they said, “It’s all the same. It’s all hopeless.” So we
gave up hope. If you can’t be radical as a student, when can you be?
Time to start a revolution. If you haven’t already, consider blowing up
your design school. CA
note: Thanks to John Waters, chair of graphic design at SCAD for
inviting me to attend Design Ethos last fall at SCAD, which inspired
these two articles and more.
1 Baby Boomers
(born 1946-1964) and Millennials (born 1982–1992) each represent about
one quarter of the total population of the United States.
2 AIGA Salary Survey.
3 Daniel Schacter, The Seven Sins of Memory, 2003.
The Design Educators Community was developed by AIGA in the mid
1990s, after the National Design Educators Association and American
Center for Design faltered. designeducators.aiga.org
8 Malcolm Gladwell, "The Order of Things," New Yorker, Feb 14, 2011.