GDD Program Co-ordinator Karin Jager (who is currently the VP Education National, Society of Graphic Designers of Canada—GDC) recently traveled to sunny Honolulu to attend AIGA’s education conference geo/graphics.
Geographics: Design, Education and the Transnational Terrain
A Canadian Perspective
Transnational: extending or operating across national boundaries
AIGA held its education conference in beautiful, warm and sunny Honolulu, December 13 to 15 at the University of Hawai’i Manoa — centrally located for the 150+ educators who attended from around the world. It was an amazing experience to be in the midst of these highly motivated people who shared their research, pedagogy and discourse on the theme of transnational design.
The conference began with a keynote presentation by Ella Shohat (NY), whose research focuses on issues of post colonial and transnational approaches to cultural studies. Ella spoke of indigenous peoples as being a catalyst for our Western thinking, and, of their influence on our cultural geography. With this in the back of our minds, over the next two days, more than 75 papers were presented under the broad categories of design institutions, design ideas and design projects.
It is impossible to generalize the conference, but it is certainly safe to say that design educators have expanded the physical classroom into a virtual world, connecting students across the continents through social media for typography, branding and video projects (Aidan Rowe CGD, AB; Tom Klinkowstein, NY; Christoph Lemmer, Hildesheim, Germany and John Frances, Boise, ID; Aaron Schmidt, Thailand and Karen Gutowsky, Seattle, WA). A focus on process rather than the artifact was a common theme in design pedagogy — but more open interdisciplinary approaches were also introduced — as in teaching interactive design using groups, discovery, iterative, and collaborative methods (Nelson Wei Tan, IN).
As a Canadian, I was particularly moved by the presentations that focused on cultural differences and western thinking, and how communication design is being taught in this context. While Canada has a multi-cultural and indigenous population, I left the conference thinking that the depth of knowledge and tradition that exists within each culture can be addressed more deeply in design education — not only for project-based learning — but also for more meaningful experiences within the classroom.
To bring this into the Canadian higher education context, we see most post-secondary institutions in Canada having an increased international student base with many entering design programs. In a communication design course, student participation, critique and interaction is an integral part of learning and diverse perspectives impact the dynamic of the classroom. They inform the student’s sensibility in creating design solutions, but also provide the opportunity for educators to expand on cultural contexts. For example, several of the conference presenters discussed the differences between the “group” orientation of Asian cultures versus the individualistic orientation of North American cultures (Sharon Poggenpohl, Brooke Scherer, Helena Wong), or the focus on family at the “center” as in Qatar (Peter S. Martin) and how these orientations influence design education and design practice.
Since culture is innate, the presentations that focused on aboriginal themes brought to light the whole notion of heritage and authenticity — demonstrated in design (e.g. names and iconography) — and prevalent in Canada, the US and in Australia with their aboriginal roots (Russell Kennedy, Australia; Myles Russell-Cook, Australia; Angela Norwood, ON; Anne Beekman, OH). At the end of the conference, a proposition for a common design vocabulary resonated amongst educators as a way to bridge gaps for students and educators alike — perhaps a fitting theme for an upcoming education conference?
Design educators and administrators from North American and European higher education institutions discussed how they have expanded their borders into Asia, collaborating with Qatar, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Japan, and Singapore, offering full design programs. New ideas for student exchanges were also introduced as well as ways to engage and inspire students in programs that have localized educational communities.
We were enlightened, challenged and inspired. That’s really what a conference of this type can achieve; a stimulating experience. One that rejuvenates and moves us forward into the new year!
Some of the papers will be published in Iridescent: ICOGRADA Journal of Design Research, a peer-reviewed online journal.
AIGA Design Educators Community
January 08, 2013