When you stop and think about it, it is quite a challenge to determine what would be most useful to graphic design students in two or four year programs. History, theory, instruction on production techniques, practice (problem solving) and critique is the basic curriculum of study. Somewhere thrown into the mix is some attention to "type usage."
By necessity, educating graphic design students today is trying to compensate for the loss of several professions that supported the graphic arts in the past. Designers no longer send out copy to typesetting shops, no longer have professional typographers and proofers comb over every detail of copy output, and no longer have the benefit of "on the job" training by seasoned professionals of past trades. In other words, graphic designers are now required to fend for themselves.
So in educating design students, how do we help them to jump back-and-forth from "high design aesthetics" to down-and-dirty production? Personally, I don't think having students practice producing finished samples in a wide range of applications is very fruitful. Besides, students have a hard enough time just finishing work on their current assignments. I feel we need to embue novice designers with the skills and abilities required to face any design challenge in our ever changing landscape of communication and visual experience. The question now is what are those unique and necessary skills, and can they even be taught.
I have been pondering the question of "what do I have (skill, knowledge, experience, ability, etc.) that ultimately helps me to face and solve a design problem or produce a finished piece?" (in print or on screen). Also, how, when and where did I acquire or refined these skills and abilities? Was it through training (school or job)? Was it through sheer experience from years of work? Was it an "awareness" or "understanding" that developed through self-learning or "apprenticeship"?
"SEEING" & Second Sight
"Seeing" is the ability to take in the pure visual experience of an in-progress or finished piece. This "pure vision" is devoid of content, context, association or conceptualization. It's nada, rien, nichts in the mind and all it the eye. Once you can see in this manner, you can then step back and make assessments of the total piece and its individual components.
This is how one can see the color and texture of type, discover what is present in the negative shapes, and see the overall balance and visual dynamics of the piece. You will be able to look at type without seeing words or letters. Once you've done this, then you can start making adjustments, select another head or text face, reshape the massing of text, and so on. If you don't or can't take this perspective, you are then just fussing and fiddling with the piece.
"Second Sight" is the ability to envision the piece in its final state. Part of this ability is an understanding of each aspect of production and the impact or effect they have. If you are designing a six-color piece in CYMK, one spot color and spot gloss varnish on dull coated stock, you can't have any sense of the completed piece without successful envisioning of the end result. The further and further away designers get from the final completed piece, the less capable they become in making both critical and refined design decisions.
"The proof is in the pudding"
No matter how well you have visually and technically examined each stage of prepress on a project, the only thing that really matters is the end result. If you have corrected the "color" and kerning of every text block off your laser printer without ever following-up on each step of production phase up and to the final press sheets, then don't be shocked by the end results.
When a designer is able to "see" the work, envision the printed piece, make a full critical assessment of the final project and then carry the experience forward, then that designer is ready to face most any project head on.
OK, now how do we develop a course of study, projects, assignment or exercises that can help students to develop and refine these abilities?