Graphic design is a rewarding and enhancing career choice, but it can also be much more than that: it can have positive and beneficial impacts on colleagues, fellow citizens and the wider community itself. In particular, the profession of graphic design has much to offer the young people of the country, over and above what it has to offer as an academic or commercial pursuit. Graphic designers use skills from a wide variety of domains, and demonstrate behaviors that are a model for life; that can apply to all regardless of career choice. There are many aspects of the graphic designer’s work life, and professional circumstances, that are somewhat unique and therefore valuable. The purpose of this article is to explore some of the reasons for design education in a little more detail, particularly from a psychological perspective but not entirely so.
While many graphic designer work as freelancers or independently, there are countless opportunities to get involved in the wider community, utilising their professional skills. The first and most obvious way to contribute to the wider community is to utilise graphic skills pro bono, or in other words for free, and there are several ways to do this. One might volunteer for a design organisation and volunteer at their events, or become an organiser in your local community organization. Alternatively, there are always countless charities and activist campaigns who require graphic design, but lack the financial ability to do so. Any spare time can be donated, as much or as little as you desire, to a cause that chimes with the individual’s own world-view. The potential benefits are thus incalculable.
In addition, community run design education workshops can be an invaluable source of free or low cost learning and support: a graphic designer has many skills that can be offered. Most obviously are creative and graphic manipulation skills, but a designer is also likely to be somewhat proficient in web design, and even more technical IT tasks like coding. Supplementary technical and practical tools often form a component of graphic design work, such as photography or illustration; the list is theoretically endless depending upon the unique skills set of each designer. A graphic designer is usually to be found at the forefront of new professional technologies, and the imparting of this information to those that might not otherwise be fortunate enough to learn it, is invaluable across a myriad of professional and personal development domains.
Relatedly, to be a truly successful graphic designer, requires as do all modern professions, a large and well maintained network of colleagues. There are many ways to do this, as designer’s meet other professionals at college, universities, conferences and professional organisations. Yet adequate networking that successfully leverages the skills of a wider social group requires deliberate time and effort, and these are also skills that can be passed down to the younger generation. Indeed, it is often the case that young people from more deprived backgrounds are even less likely to possess the social capital or technical skills that can be a hidden requirement in the job market. Passing on skills that some graphic designers might not even realise they have, can be invaluable.
Beyond professional skills, there is much from the psychology of learning that can be drawn upon to demonstrate how graphic design might be particularly useful for the education of young people.
Every young person learns differently, something that is apparent from personal experience and now increasingly attested in psychological science. Though there has been some recent controversy, it is well recognised that there are distinct styles involved in learning: Kolb for example distinguishes watching, feeling, doing and thinking. It is, as the recent controversy suggests, unlikely that an individual is exclusively one type or the other. Rather, each individual is likely to benefit from a variety of learning approach, but will most predominately benefit from learning in one mode of thinking.
An alternative conceptualisation of the different learning styles is the distinction between visual, auditory, reading and tactile (Fleming & Mills, 1992). However, the specific model is irrelevant, what is meaningful is the distinction of separable styles: a graphic designer is likely to be of particular help to those that benefit from visual or watchful learning styles. Neuroimaging studies have suggested that visual learners convert incoming information into visual forms in order to understand, thus the predisposition to use visual forms of learning is fairly fundamental to thinking (Kraemer, 2009). As experts in the visual domain, theoretical understanding that goes alongside may be crucial in developing methods to improve graphic design education for those with an observational learning style.
In addition to helping those of a specifically visual turn, graphic design education can be useful to all young people as a model of how to solve complex challenges. The work of design education involves the translation of abstract wants and needs into concrete physical properties. To do so well involves following rules, theories, subjective definitions of what looks good and when. These are the cognitive processes of problem solving, a skill that is often particularly difficult to teach those who do not immediately grasp the turn of mind required. Psychology suggests that the use of concrete examples can aid thinking and problem solving with complex tasks (Ormrod, 2013). This puts some flesh on the bone as it were, allowing the young person to approach the problem often with their own unique learning approach, rather than be restricted to abstract thinking. Graphic design education, as suggested above, is itself a case study in the application of complex thinking to real world examples – it is more probable than not that you will face a different obstacle each day. Providing worked examples of a graphic designers’ professional life can enhance young people’s’ understanding, and provide concrete opportunities’ for problem solving, in maths and finance; social skills, personal presentation and politeness; and self-marketing and professional skills, project and time management.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, graphic design education can help to unlock the unique potential of each individual, and support them to fulfil their own dreams. Indeed, it can support them to identify and crystallise those dreams in the first place. A graphic designer is someone who is pursuing their passion as a profession. There are unfortunately too many jobs which do not allow this; many young people have not even begun to think of what their dreams might be let alone how to achieve them. Role models are crucial guides for the next generation concerning what life courses are permissible; a graphic designer is the incarnation of a life course guided by one’s own abilities and goals. They can be, in this sense, a powerful role model – not only for those youths who also seek a career in the visual arts, but for any who want to follow their passion as a career. A graphic designer is further likely to be of a pragmatic mindset, having put the work into their making their dream a fundable reality, and are therefore doubly important as realistic role models. They can provide a blueprint, of how way young people might begin to awaken and follow their dreams.
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
Fleming, N. D., Mill, C. (1992). Not another inventory, rather a catalyst for reflection. To Improve the Academy, 11, 137-149.
Kraemer, D. J. M., Rosenburg, L. M., and Thompson-Schill, S. L. (2009). The neural correlates of visual and verbal cognitive styles. Journal of Neuroscience, 29, 3792-3798
Ormrod, J. E. (2014). Educational psychology: Developing learners. University of North Colorado: Pearson