In addition to directing the “Get Your Masters with the Masters” MFA program at Marywood University in Scranton, I also teach graphic design at the undergrad junior level. While the grad program is low-residency independent study, the undergrad is hands-on. Like most classrooms these days for graphic design, I teach in a lab. There are two main configurations of these classrooms, one where the computers face front in rows and one finds oneself teaching to a bunch of tops of heads. Fortunately, our classrooms are the second common layout, where the computers line the perimeter walls, so, other than critiques and when we meet at the table in the middle, one teaches to a bunch of backs. This is further complicated by the amount of earplugs in use, and I’ve startled more than one student in an attempt to get their attention walking up behind them.
I spend a considerable amount of time over the school year trying to get these students off the computer. Handwriting fonts (an oxymoron if there ever was one) are banished in favor of their own scrawl, or cursive. Why would you want someone else’s DNA in your work?
For the first assignment in the spring class, Graphic Design III, handcrafted work is no longer a challenge — it is a directive. The assignment is to design a poster for a play by Shakespeare; the play and venue of their choosing. We then have a critique. This is followed up by the next assignment, to create a poster for a play by Shakespeare on the computer, either the same, or if they so decide, a different one. That critique is a side-by- side comparison of the two efforts.
The payoff for them is a hands-on, tactile experience they sadly don’t usually associate with design, the one for me is watching them interact. Whereas the typical classroom sounds are a series of clicks, they now sit around the center table, laughing, talking, Exacto knives and paper or brushes in hand. That intense blank stare into a glowing screen is replaced with camaraderie.
The take-away varies from student to student. Some learn a new skill set they never knew they had, and create their best work so far. Others view this as anomaly and plan never to touch a pen to paper again. The vast majority vote for technology over the hand. John Henry loses again.
Here are some examples from my spring 2013 class:
Diana D’Achille: Cut paper
Resources for Integrating Handmade Elements in Your Design Work
- “Fingerprint,” by Chen Design Associates, is a reminder that a hint of a handmade element in design work can bring it life in a new way.
- “Typography for the People” will open your eyes to handlettered signage that you’ll start seeing everywhere. Discover the beauty of these unlikely examples of design.
- Find tips and tools for creating custom typography in “Handmade Type Workshop.”