responsibilities, they now must also act as traffic directors,
conductors, and filters.”
On the other side, portfolio schools pressure students to attend to the realities of commercial practice by building a thick and pretty portfolio. Students are pushed into “hot” apprenticeships at name-brand agencies and design firms, and count Milton Glaser and George Lois as their idols. Their portfolios show a dizzying array of theater posters, organic-tea packaging, and fast-food-chain websites. These clean-cut, linked-in young guns can jump in at any agency; deploy ideas, trends, and clip art; play Foosball; network; drink beer; work; drink more beer; and repeat. They can jam out ads that any half-awake subway rider will understand and snicker at. Their portfolio websites are updated daily, while the process-school students are busy choosing a content-management system.
What has changed: The best graduates don’t want full-time employment, which is hard to find.
Like me, most of my students grew up in the 1980s and ’90s and witnessed the internet boom and bust. They know that being adaptable and collaborative is crucial to their survival, and they’ve plotted out careers around their interests with self-initiated enterprises and projects. UnderConsideration, the Feltron Annual Report, and Airbnb are just a few models.
What’s the same: Designers still talk to themselves.
Instead of engaging with the larger world, many students “worship at the altar of the visual,” as Bierut writes. One new culprit is the tools that aggregate visual “inspiration.” Ffffound, Tumblr, and the other design-porn galleries are addicting but tacitly encourage sameness and self-referential practice in lieu of meaningful communication. (Trendlist.org has collected most of these.) A positive side effect is peer-to-peer bonding around mutually agreeable work, but who wants to see diagonal hairlines or black-and-white pictures of outer space on everything?
Even when a valuable site like Brand New attempts to host an intelligent dialogue about a well-executed identity project, the comments devolve into snipes over superficial qualities at the expense of critical thinking about the work in a broader cultural context. The conversation tends to end in naive arguments over good taste. I wince every time an outsider (or a client) stumbles onto one of these blogs and posts a comment like “You guys are a bunch of arrogant jerks.”
What has changed: Cultural literacy is only as strong as the weakest internet signal (or educator).