Posts in advice to design students
Mid-Semester Lessons from Capstone

Behold, the Capstone!

Behold, the Capstone!

It’s the end of February, and we’re about at the half-way point through the spring semester. I’ve been teaching the Senior Capstone course at DAAP. The primary purpose of Capstone is for the students to exhibit the skills they’ve acquired during the last four years at DAAP. In that way, “teacher” isn’t quite the right description for my role because the end goal isn’t to learn from me. My job is to help the students express their knowledge and to encourage them through the most extended project they’ve worked on to date. It’s a lot more like the role of a coach. 

I’m new at this, so it’s been my temptation to teach rather than to coach. I’ve been critiquing their work based on where I think it should be on a made up timeline in my mind (i.e., finished yesterday). Likewise, I find myself attaching to projects, imagining where I’d take them, and sharing feedback to that end. If I were to name the fear behind these behaviors, it would be that I’m afraid people (other professors, designers, etc.) will judge me based on student outcomes. Not cool. I’m aware.

It’s dawned on me that the outcome isn’t nearly as important compared to all that they are learning in the middle of the process right now.

Equipped with that awareness, I’ve begun to loosen up. As I walked up the stairs to DAAP before class the other day, I told myself to have fun, get to know the students, and focus less on critiquing the work. They have plenty of avenues for feedback. What if my task is more to cheer them on, over all of the inevitable design blocks, through this daunting design journey? It's dawned on me that the outcome isn’t nearly as important compared to all that the students are learning in the middle of the process right now. Trust and be faithful to the process and the results will work themselves out. That's a lesson I’m continually learning in my work as an adjunct professor and professional designer/business owner. It’s a lesson that I’ll need a reminded of again and again.

Speaking of process, the students are keeping an online journal of their Capstone process in a Medium publication. Please take a moment to check their work so far. If you’re feeling extra generous, make a comment or “applaud” their posts.

Click here to view the publication. 

Advice to Design Students I

Make a more interesting chicken.

Make a more interesting chicken.

I’ve been working with students as an adjunct professor at DAAP, and I consistently find them stuck in the middle of a design block. They’re usually playing it safe. There’s not a whole lot distinguishing their iterations or, there’s not a whole lot of iterations to look at. More often than not, there’s an attachment to a solution (usually a first or second iteration). Their unwillingness to release these early solutions prevents them from doing better work. I’m all too familiar with this situation in my own practice. Here are some ways I’ve gotten out of a design block.

On getting past a design block:

  • Try typefaces you haven’t used before (Fontstand, Adobe Fonts, Klim Test Fonts, Future Fonts). Typography is your secret weapon.

  • Swap projects and have a peer to design a version to get their perspective. It’s not cheating. It’s collaboration.  

  • Print out your screens and take a sharpie marker or Exacto knife to them. They're not precious.

  • Turn off your wi-fi and design without checking the internet or Instagram for inspiration (give your self three hours and see what you come up with). You’ll make more than you ever have before.

  • Limit your self to three or four elements (shapes, colors, type, line). See how far you can push those simple elements. It might be helpful to start an empty Illustrator artboard and play. Be bold. Try different variations. Pull out what you love.

  • Design the wrongest solution. That may help you know what’s right.

Additionally, critique is a fantastic way to get new perspectives and do better work, but you have to go in prepared.

On getting your work critiqued:

  • Bring specific questions that you’re struggling to resolve.

  • Don’t spend the whole time talking about your process and research. Talk about the work you want to be critiqued.  

  • It’s hard to critique a design that’s 10% finished. Try to get it to 60% - 80% and let the critique help you to 90% - 100%.

  • Don’t defend your work. If it’s good, it will protect itself. If it’s weak, it will get stronger the more it’s beaten up.

This is the most frustrating phase of design. You think everything is terrible. But, you’re not alone. It happens to students and professionals alike. Don't give up! It will evolve into something better.