Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Long Winding Path to Communication Design

I'm nearing the end of my first semester as a Communication Design student at MIAD, and although it has kicked my ass to the moon and back, I've enjoyed it and learned more than I thought possible in this span of time. However, based on my semester here, there seem to be three distinctly different types of students in the program... and perhaps I make for a fourth...

The list goes like this: those who love the field of graphic design (or a subset of if) and can't wait to be practicing in the real world; those who are artistic, but want a steady job and are therefore carrying their true passion as a secondary major, or perhaps a minor; and those who have a goal in mind and choose to use Graphic Design as their mechanism to get there (usually they want jump straight to being a creative/art director rather than starting as one of the creatives doing the heavy-lifting).

The possible fourth group I'm within is a little bit of the first two mixed with previous experience in this field and others. But we will get to that in a second.

For now, I want to breakdown what each of the groups do and how they approach projects so incredibly different.

The first group, lovers of design, throw their all into each project. They are in the studio after class ends, late into the night, and over the weekends and breaks. They take critiques to heart and genuinely try to produce the best design, even if that means changing something last minute and not necessarily getting the best grade because perfection is impossible in that short amount of time. They are inspiring to be around, bounce ideas off, and work with in general. Their energy and passion amplifies your own.

The second group, the compromisers, always have their true passion leaking through into their design work. If they are into photo, their projects are heavily based on photography and the composition and layout usually seems almost editorial. If they are illustrators, their work is illustrative. That doesn't make them bad designers, but it does mean their work as a whole feels like that of a photographer, or illustrator, or whatever, who is doing design work on the side; probably to support their true passion. Working with them is fun but can be daunting because they are so good at their other fields that their photos or whatever will always look better than the rest. However, being around them makes me want to tell them to chase their dream without compromise; you live once, so enjoy the ride!

The third group, those using design for a larger goal, are completely portfolio focused. Everything is serious business, has to fit into their portfolio of work, and factor into their endgame. They pick less than exciting topics to focus on thinking it's the most marketable, they obviously don't have as much fun finishing their projects, and their work almost always feels incomplete because they took themselves out of the equation; it's sterile and impersonal. To me, at least, these are a poison to my creativity and inspiration. Although they are perfectly nice people, I find it hard to accept critique from them and just as hard to dish it out to them. Like the group before, I want to tell them to go chase what they love, but most in this group think that's what they're already doing.

And that leaves me; that tiny fraction of a fourth group who is passionate about design, but started out elsewhere, and has dreams of still chasing those origins. For me, those original dreams are a wide array of projects and adventures that went nowhere. Creative writing, radio hosting and programming, philosophy writing and lecturing, cartooning, and game designing/programming/writing. The one thing they all had in common was a creative bend.

And so, as I fell back on a middle school past-time of web design/coding for freelance gigs in college and beyond, I found a decent intersection of passions to pursue: communication design. 

This field is amazing because I can design for a VPN company one day and a restaurant the next. I can work on interactive designs, like websites and apps, or static materials like posters and mailers. I can rebrand a company or create one from the ground up. I can sell a product or a service. I don't have to be nailed down to one single thing forever... I can explore and expand and never settle for just one way of life. 

I can design my work like I do my life: around the things and people that I love. 

And I'm lucky in that this isn't my first time through college. I know what life is like outside of this sheltered, academic environment. I know the stresses of paying all my bills with the money I make at a 40hr a week job. I know how little and how much a degree (and a GPA) can mean in the world beyond this. 

The first semester of my junior year ends in exactly one month as of drafting this. I have six creative projects still due, half of which aren't yet assigned, and two research papers and presentations (one in science, the other in history). This is still far from the end, but I'm already looking back at how I've grown and where this is leading me next, and I have to say: I'm glad as hell to have this opportunity. Not just to come back to school, but to reinvent the entire direction of my life in such a dramatic way. 

And just think... I wouldn't be here if it weren't for learning HTML in middle school and pursuing cartooning after graduating with a mostly useless degree in Philosophy. Oh, the wonders of life.

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