Easy as ABC? Pt. 1 of 2
The Client as Visual Decorator

Easy as ABC? Pt. 2 of 2

80 Works for Designers

Being a designer is about continual reinvention. About knowing the range of your talent, and playing to both your strengths and your weaknesses. About promising to create what hasn't been created before, and being comfortable with going through the process over and over again, drawing on the confidence that you will succeed no matter what the obstacles at hand may be.

In every designer's career, there's a point where you can't just rely on your education and your computer skills. A paradigm shift occurs in how you view the design profession. During this transition, you move from developing your hard skills -- software savvy, technical expertise in various artistic mediums such as illustration and photography, methods of hand-printing or coding your work in the appropriate delivery technology -- into a more nebulous space. A place where you're asked to achieve goals instead of tasks. Instead of retouching a photo or improving a logo, you may be standing in front of twenty clients, your knees quaking nervously while you attempt to sell them on why Logo 1A is better than Logo 3C. The client may be asking you for your opinion on subjects that range far from your realm of expertise: proper colors of blouse for the photo shoot, whether mahogany or cedar makes more sense for the bar-top, and whether it's a better idea to spend $100k on a Web site overhaul or just go put some more ads in the local newspaper.

Clearly, you can't learn all of this in design school.

You had to sop it up by listening your teachers share war stories, or seek out bold assignments that gave you a tiny taste of what a real client critique may do to your self-image.

You had to learn it in the real world by watching your bosses do the tap-dance in front of their clients -- and seeing how the clients reacted when work tripped and fell over.

You had to bluff your way through business challenges and unfamiliar design tasks until you'd absorbed enough learnings from your clients to gain the appropriate lingo and the street smarts to keep up, let alone get ahead.


What if you could rewind the clock and go back to school, but when you walked into the classroom, your class resembled something more like the real working world, warts and all? And by the time you were done with that class, you'd know what kind of designer you were going to become?

This is the kind of class I've been developing in my free time. "80 Works for Designers" is a brief, intense seminar crafted to help students and aspiring designers gain broad exposure to a wide range of design disciplines and develop the depth of skills necessary to excel as a working professional. Over several all-too-brief weeks, seminar participants will take part in a dozen projects a week under time constraints that match the pace of most professional creative agencies.

Laced into those assignments are some of the "greatest hits" I've either experienced in school or solicited from teachers and fellow designers. Perhaps you have some you'd like to share?

Here's the one I described at the start of this post:

"Easy as ABC"

Assemble a 26-character alphabet using only found objects. Letters may be documented for presentation to the class through collage, photography, photocopying, digital illustration, and other appropriate mediums. Bonus points will be doled out for punctuation such as ampersands, exclamation points, and the like. You may not merge examples of computer typefaces out in the wild, document elements of existing signage, or pull in anything that may be considered a complete letterform. Your alphabet must be crafted by hand.

Here's another:


A hat is passed around the class. Teams of three students pick out a slip of paper with the name of a major nonprofit organization. For the next class, each team member will be required to bring a redesign of that nonprofit’s Web site home page, including recommendations for use of interactive elements such as video or Flash.

In the next class, those teams will regroup and critique the work... with a twist. One person will be the designer, while the other two are the client. The designer presents the first “round of creative”, which consists of all the Web site designs. Each client picks out of a hat a constraint that governs the changes they want made to the work: “I don’t like any of these,” “My budget just got cut,” “Pick the most dominant color and say you don’t like it,” “The designer cut you off in traffic this morning,” “When you get done with this meeting, you are laying off 25 employees,” and other drivers for their behavior. The clients and the designer then negotiate which design they like the best and draw up a list of revisions they would make to the work. At the end of their creative presentation, the students share their experiences, motivations, and lessons learned.


If you're interested in trying out 80 Works at your school, drop me a line at dksherwin at msn.com.


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