Filed under: Some ranting
Tim had sent me this link today which pricked my curiosity. The RCA’s communication, art and design course is looking for a new leader and Dan’s name has popped up as a likely candidate (I can just imagine him freaking out). I was a bit annoyed by this article, it touched on so many things that I was frustrated with, that I simply HAD to write something!
There are several themes to this discussion, which I think will be productive to keep separate for fruitful examination. These threads are too intertwined with one another that its obfuscating the argument.The article is provoking the tired-old art vs design debate which is also oversimplifying the issue. To me there are three distinct threads which will be productive to discuss separately (though, they are undoubtedly linked). Firstly, it questions the role of graphic design and its positioning as a profession; secondly, it raises issues of the value of postgraduate education and what could be taught to ensure its survival as well as the kinds of graduates it could/should produce; thirdly, a political discussion of ‘how to promote RCA’.
The first thread, on the role of graphic design and its positioning as a profession has been in question for more than a decade. Graphic design has always been the poor-cousin of the other design disciplines and it had struggled to claim legitimacy of its skills, knowledge and contribution it makes to society. The debate in graphic design regarding this continues to be poor, without much energy and vision to challenge how it can evolve and adapt to the current condition of the world. For too long, it has been punished for over-emphasising the commercial role it plays. It is indicative of the low confidence and optimism of this field – it feels like its lost, not sure what to do, and its only comfort is to cling on to its most celebrated crafts, typography and image-making, and the ‘rock-star’ designers of current and past. The innovative, exciting and challenging work done by every-day graphic designers who bring value to, and contribute to their world in meaningful ways is often at the fringes, remain hidden and rarely made visible for all to see. Do we really know enough about what we, and others do? Perhaps we need to start from there.
Postgraduate education in graphic design surely needs to begin tackling some of these questionings that bubble up from within the field – and not be seen as a finishing school or a safe-haven to sort one’s shit out before going out into industry. The author of the article sound confused and ill-informed when he talks about ‘retreating into textbooks, research methodology and critical discourse’ as an over-theorising activity that ‘got it into this mess’. The work done by Helen Hamlyn centre is all due because of the literatures, discourse, critique and research that takes place there. Each of these activities may sound ‘academic’, but what is postgrad education without scholarship? Graphic designers who are willing to challenge themselves, as well as their peers and the broader field need to engage critically with their world. Books, discussions, critique and research methods are ways to fuel and accelerate that process. I would quickly add also, that these activities are not antithesis to art either. Arts-based research is a legitimate field of activity that produces rich, applied, real-world knowledge in a variety of creative, visual ways. Research, whether they are arts based or design method driven, is not ‘navel-gazing’ or a retreat into academia either – there are numerous examples of projects around the world that, through collaborative partnership with industry stakeholders, community members, designers and researchers are tackling serious issues and challenges that people face day-to-day. Again, do we know enough about these, and does that come into the mainstream discourse of graphic design?
The comments posted here indicates a community of designers, academics, postgraduate students who flocked to this space because they care and feel passionately about the future of the RCA. It is an institution that we do all care about, and it is the design community’s responsibility to make sure that it can still be regarded as one of the best postgraduate courses in the world. Good luck to the interviewee panel – and the chosen candidate.