My undergraduate education in applied arts was a bit old school. If you have ever seen Madmen and recall how art direction was done back in the 60’s, you would think my curriculum never evolved beyond that era. For 5 years, I drew and painted type on graph papers, painted live portraits, created paper, wooden, metal structures by hand and developed black and white photos on film in the dark room. Don’t get me wrong. I think my education helped me get a solid foundation on how design, layout, typography and photography works. But I also graduated at a time when advertising and design was done on Adobe software loaded on fancy iMacs. In fact, my final year project that landed me the highest paying job from college was all created on Adobe Illustrator. But it’s safe to say, that none of my undergraduate curriculum included being a computer literate. I (along with all my classmates) had to self learn these software, work on our computerized portfolio projects and on the side, keep painting type to get good grades so we could all have a degree.
10 years later, I am a design professional who started off as an art director in advertising, went on doing graphic design, worked as a marketing professional, and now am trying to stay relevant with a brand new career in UX and interaction design. The world is changing rapidly. As economies rise and fall, and as we quickly move from a skill-based to a knowledge-based economy, virtual reality is more real than reality. Job descriptions have changed. Work culture is different. Life has taken a somersault and we are somehow still trying to make sense of it all.
But the one thing that has remained relevant for me from my early days as a designer is my ability to communicate my ideas through words. In design school, I was one of the few students who compensated my mediocre craft skills by my strong ideas and writing skills. My work won awards each year for my ideas, not my artistic skills. I tried very hard to ‘fit in’ with my thought doodles and little black books of ideas. But inevitably, words found me first.
Since then, my approach to a new brief has always begun with mind mapping — using words, not doodles. I still feel there are many designer stereotypes out there, but for the first time in 10 years, I think there is an increasing awareness and enthusiasm about instilling the importance of words in design education. We, as designers, are expected to speak up. Take leadership roles. Defend and articulate our ideas with a language that everyone speaks and understands. In fact, it is not considered unreasonable to expect a designer to be some kind of a hybrid unicorn that is tech savvy, artsy and a wordsmith.
As Jessica Helfand, a founding editor of Design Observer states in one of her articles, “As a 30-year veteran of making and writing, I think it is not only possible but imperative that we strive to do both. Let’s teach our students to think about language. Let’s ask tough questions about why we make things. Let’s support the role of writing, the opportunity in reading, the value of a second language, the need for engaged criticism. Let’s remember that graphic design is about ideas, and ideas mean words — beautiful, descriptive, analytical and magical words. We write about graphic design, quite frankly, because we can.”
As much as I have written about all kinds of things on my personal blog (travel, food, art, being mom, being unemployed etc.), after 10 years of being designer, writer, traveler, mom and a foodie, I decided to finally start writing about my craft and what I think about this journey.
And what better way to start writing about design than writing about the role of writing for a designer? =)