Throughout this country, there are great schools of graphic design. New York’s Cooper Union; the Design School at the University of Chicago; Savannah, Ga., and others.
Unfortunately, we also suffer with the work of graduates from many other not-so-reputable schools of design. The students at these schools are young and enthusiastic, but receive little real design education. Most often they are self-taught and benefit from little or no evaluation.
Let me identify some of those schools for you:
1. The Cuzican School. The students here are prone to try something new just because they can. A new computer system or application offers them the capability to do things with color and type that they would not have imagined possible a week ago. Its students create bizarre mixed-color gradient screens and stretch or squeeze type beyond the limits of readability. School motto: “I can…therefore, I will.”
2. The Idunno School. Students at this school rarely learn anything—but they’ll try everything… at least a few times. They don’t believe in research and they use the phrase “design creativity” as an excuse to do what they “feel” on a page. None of the teachers here offer guidance. Instead, they provide a steady stream of motivational claptrap and positive feedback—whether student designs are valid or not. School motto: “If it feels good…do it.”
3. The Smorgasbord School. Most of the students of this school are more mature and more traveled. They’ve been to conference after meeting after convention after workshop. From these they bring back to their newspapers a tidbit of typography, a cup or two of color, a smattering of structure. Unfortunately, none of it makes a meal. Instead, it’s an agglomeration of thises and thatses, theses and thoses—none of which helps to make for better design. But the prevailing wisdom among the students of this school is that these elements must work. Somewhere. For someone. School motto: “See it, try it.”
4. The BillyBobDid School. Students here tend to believe blindly. They do not seek to know, only to do. Years ago a free thinker, Billy Bob, slipped through stringent admission screening and was able to create some interesting design elements. Problem is: none of those elements fit in with anything else on the page. But they have remained over the years because no one bothered to remove them. So the only creative elements remaining are Billy Bob’s—and he graduated decades ago. When asked about a stray element here or there, students of this school tend to respond: “Well…must’a been sumthin’ Billy Bob did.” School motto: “Seek not—for ye may find.”
5. The Rapunzel School. Rapunzel Pfremelgarn was the daughter of Helmut Pfrederick Pfremelgarn, founder of this school. Years ago, when Rapunzel was in her first year at the Ostentatious College for Young Ladies in Belgium, she took a course in art history. Upon her return home that summer, she convinced her father that she should be allowed to redesign the nameplate of The Telegraph, which he owned. That nameplate has never recovered from her largesse. To this day, it is characterized by typographic swooshes, swashes, sweeps and swings that continue to challenge the imagination. School motto: “At least…my daddy loves me.”
Unfortunately for us—and for our readers—these schools continue to thrive merely because it is against the law to blow them all into the third millennium.
And their graduates are among us.
Yes, I have worked with newspapers whose nameplate was designed by the publisher’s daughter. I am the father of two daughters, and—while I would fight to the death to defend my right to dote on my daughters—I do not believe it is correct to allow a child who is visually brain-dead to touch a newspaper nameplate.
And…I have met Billy Bob.
And…I have washed the dishes after a smorgasbord.
And…I have visited Cuzican and observed at Idunno.
It’s no wonder I’m warped.