First in an occasional series of blog posts about design teaching with design practice.
It’s the middle of the night, in the middle of the week and I just spent three hours pouring over projects from a freshman Color and Composition class I’m teaching at Wentworth Institute of Technology. I am both practitioner and professor of design. Many of my colleagues on both sides wonder why I choose to pursue both at the same time. After all, running from a morning client meeting, hopping on the T, delivering a lecture to a hundred students by noon, back on the T, followed up with project meetings and 28 urgent emails, is not exactly for everyone.
Why do I do both? I strongly believe in the value of academia inspiring practice and practice informing academia. The classroom setting offers opportunities that do not transpire at the office.
Before we learn to talk, we are taught the act of sharing. We understand its value to both the recipient and the giver. But how do we share in our adult lives? Teaching is my way of sharing. Imparting learned experiences from my design training as well as the LLM Design studio, I try to inspire and inform from a personal point of view.
Students reciprocate this by bringing me up to speed on social, technical, and cultural inferences of their generation. Shifts in technology, language, perception, and trends all get assimilated into my knowledge base to better inform LLM Design project development and decisions. Teaching keeps me young, while I (hopefully) am instilling a strong work ethic and creative sensibility to the next generation of designers.
How many books have you downloaded or bought that you’ve been meaning to read? Are there creative projects and activities you’ve started, but never have time to finish? Teaching is my platform for studying, exploring ideas, and sharpening skills. It offers a safe (non-client) space to dig deep into a design challenge and investigate multiple avenues of approach. Introducing and explaining design theory to students, allows me to find meaning behind form and in turn deliver purposeful design to clients. And finally I can sharpen my HB pencils and finish my sketchbook, while my students are doing the same.
Did I mention that I’m usually running from studio to classroom and back again? Being in two different places back-to-back calls for some physical exercise. But that’s not the only exercise I’m referring to. Teaching keeps my mind sharp and communication skills acute. Consistently switching from the conceptual to the practical promotes swift reactions with unique solutions. I am constantly looking for relationships of how one design exploration can inform the other. A few weeks ago I explained to a client why a particular green color looked the way it did on the large wall with natural light. After a few questions, I realized her dislike of the color was that it appeared too bright and yellow. Taking theory from the Color and Composition class I was teaching, we edited the color and scale of the illustration that would be applied to the green wall. Once installed, the client was satisfied and actually loved the green color.
Having two separate jobs isn’t for everyone. But I don’t see being either a creative director at LLM Design or a professor at Wentworth Institute of Technology as a job. These are simply two hats I wear that together build my character as a designer. And I am better for it.