2012 College of Design Essay

What is your personal definition of art and your personal definition of design? How do your definitions relate to your portfolio work? Why should design exist at all?

Art aims to stimulate a viewer on an emotional level and to inspire deep thought and contemplation of the artists’ personal point of view and interpretation of the subject matter. Design, however, is distinct from other artistic endeavors because of its aim to clearly articulate a message. While good design can also be seen as good art, and in that sense can trigger the emotions, good design is uniquely defined as having the intended effect in the attitude and behavior of its target audience. Therefore, designers are trained to conceptualize and organize effective visual interpretations of very specific messages.

The similarities and differences between art and design can also be observed in the creative process as well. Art is born from the imagination and guided by intuition with any intended or unintended messages sometimes not being discovered until the later stages of the creative process. In design, this process is literally reversed with the development of a well-defined message as the starting point of the creative process, which firstly seeks to define the possibilities and limitations of a visual interpretation in order to effectively convey the message. Through this process of discovery, intuition and imagination are activated by the interplay of all the carefully chosen elements within the composition, as well as the style and theme, of a design. My portfolio contains a combination of pieces that started with a well-defined message, pieces that came from moments of inspiration, and pieces that were originally inspired by a specific message and were still worthy of development but weren’t considered the best solution for the particular message.

Understanding the culture of the audience is fundamental to effective communication and the field of design harnesses well-established cultural codes, values, symbolism and narrative strategies in order to develop and utilize a visual vocabulary that can be perceived as an intuitive extension of the cultural consciousness. These observations and insights offer a unique vantage point to social and cultural paradigms and have larger sociological and anthropological implications. Therefore, design plays a role as a mantle and signifier of each societies worldview, validating itself as a valuable and significant discipline.

Design doesn’t merely serve to reflect society back to itself however, but through the creative spirit for which it rests, it helps to shape and define its culture by drawing on memory, creativity, and imagination to expand the realities and uncover new possibilities. Design also preserves the integrity of a culture by crafting a focused narrative out of the incessant cacophony of a cluttered world that is all too often oriented towards instant gratification and primitive motivations. As with traditional art, music, and literature, design makes an impact through its creative interpretation of culture and plays an ever-larger role in our consumer society as a force that excites, inspires, and informs each member of the culture to take part in their communities and to endeavor to pursue positive futures for their society.

2011 Application Essay

What is your definition of design and why should design exist?

Design is the study and practice of using form, color, and relationships to develop solutions for visual communication problems with the objective of clearly articulating a message to a target audience. It is distinct from other artistic endeavors because of a lesser emphasis on personal expression. Instead, designers are trained to conceptualize and organize effective visual interpretations of client’s messages that will have the intended effect in the attitude and behavior of the target audience.

Understanding the culture of the audience is essential to effective communication and the field of design achieves this by harnessing the cultural codes, symbolism, narrative strategies, values, and other visual rhetoric of a society. Design engages in an intimate conversation with the spirit of a society in order to develop and utilize a visual vocabulary that can not only achieve a consensus of interpretation and acceptance but can instill in the audience an intuitive sense of interconnection with as well. These observations and insights offer a unique vantage point to social and cultural paradigms and can even serve as a legitimate subject of sociological and anthropological exploration. Therefore, design plays a role as a mantle and signifier of each societies worldview, validating itself as a valuable and significant discipline.

Design doesn’t merely serve to reflect society back to itself however, but through the creative spirit for which it rests, it helps to shape and define its culture by drawing on memory, creativity, and imagination to expand the realities and uncover new possibilities. Design also preserves the integrity of a culture by crafting a focused narrative out of the incessant cacophony of a cluttered world that is all too often oriented towards instant gratification and basal prerogatives. Separating the worthless, trivial, and false from the valuable, relevant, and true and finding within the swirling chaos an underlying substance of surprising breadth and significance. As with traditional art, music, and literature, making an impact through creative interpretations of culture is the driving force of design that excites, inspires, and informs each member of the culture to take part in their communities and endeavor to pursue positive futures for their society.

I am drawn to the field of design not only because of the unique insights and observations that are gained from its intense focus on popular culture from a creative vantage point, but also because of the opportunity to interpret and shape that culture as well. The expectation of the audience for taking the time to look will always fundamentally be to be entertained, but design differentiates itself from traditional art by requiring a specific message and allowing less room for visual stimulation as its own end. I see design as the meeting place of an exploration of mainstream cultures threshold of acceptance for existential authenticity and a search for the sophistication and stylishness of the archetypal hero’s journey in life.

This is my mulligan

It’s been about a week since I received the rejection letter from NC State. I had a good run, I began my studies in a 4 year program at a private university, maintained a near perfect GPA while there, and made some very good pieces for my portfolio that I still parade around to this day. And it was a good school too. The best of its kind that I could find with professional, knowledgeable and attentive teachers, a list of successful alumni with impressive resumes, the appropriate regional accreditation as well as accreditation with NASAD, a peer reviewed accrediting organization that defines art and design education in cooperation with AIGA.

But, like all private universities in this country it was ridiculously expensive, so after a year I rejected the idea of taking on nearly $100,000 of student debt and transferred to a local community college with the intention of fulfilling the extra liberal arts credits that the much, much cheaper public universities require and also to ease the debt that I’ve accumulated from the private university at the same time.

Unfortunately my options were extremely limited; short of uprooting my family it was NC State or nothing. I was nervous about putting myself in that situation given that NC State’s College of Design is notoriously hard to get into and requires submitting a 10-piece portfolio, 2 essays plus one optional essay, an interview and if you manage that they still ultimately only accept around 30 applicants out of thousands for each program. But the only other alternative to this was to spend a fortune on private universities all too eager to let me in and take my money and the shirt off my back too.  Regardless of what I did it was a Sophie’s Choice between backbreaking debt and the premature death of my educational goals.

And here I am without a school to call home. My educational plan was developed to strictly adhere to AIGA’s philosophy on the education of graphic designers. Which is that two-year programs are designed to either allow students to transfer to four-year programs or to prepare students for jobs as assistants in the design and printing industry (AIGA, “How Do Design Programs Differ?”). They don’t mean this to instill a class-system within the design industry but to promote a higher standard of professionalism that will result in progress and development of the field.  If I could explain in one simple sentence the unifying message of the top designers and educators who contributed to the book “The Education of a Graphic Designer” it would be that graphic design education should be based on a comprehensive liberal arts program.

The idea that design is essentially a field of interdisciplinary research is not a new one, but it has only slowly become an academic policy with the recognition of design as a respectable profession and the realization that a robust and cultured education is just as important, if not more important, to the makeup of a good designer as artistic aptitudes, in fact, the old Bauhaus master Lázló Moholy-Nagy had said, “A human being is developed by the crystallization of the whole of his experience… Only when men and women are equipped with the clarity of feeling and sobriety of knowledge will they be able to adjust to complex requirements and to master the whole of living” (Ken Garland, “Anxious about the Future”). More than anywhere else, Universities have seemed to reach this same consensus with design education by implementing rigorous programs in order to create designers who are able to distinguish themselves through their scrupulous and accomplished conceptual work from the scientific backgrounds of computer technicians and the leisure play of bedroom designers that have encroached on the field with the advent of the digital era.

Well, it was never my intention to be an assistant fumbling with color swatches at the wrong end of the desk. I support applying the highest standards for any field, especially for design and have justified my decisions on that premise to complete all of my liberal arts credits at a local community college in order to save money. I’ve taken argumentative writing, critical thinking, literature, political science, economics, environmental biology, foreign language, a half-dozen math courses and more towards that end. NC State’s College of Design states that they consider the potential of a submitted portfolio over the quality of the work, but I can’t help but wonder how much my focus on the ideals of a comprehensive liberal arts education over the last year and a half as opposed to art and design-centric courses cost me in the relative scope and strength of my portfolio. Ironically, I consider that thought to be an optimistic one, I would at least like to think that there is “potential” in my creative ideas. So, while my circumstances have caused this serious hiccup in my educational goals it also instills the hope that my portfolio is merely a surmountable weakness that can be fixed with the redirection of my focus from liberal arts towards the study of art and design. Since I’m finishing that chapter of my education I have a whole year to prepare for my application and until then the only sensible thing to do would be to study, work on my portfolio, and seek out other opportunities.