DDT: Devotional Design Trauma

Published:  March 7, 2014

Think you want to study design? Jane Connory, of Billy Blue College of Design, offers you the perspective of a design teacher when introducing ‘Devotional Design Trauma’

Words by Jane Connory

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 5:48

I can still remember this topic being discussed during Bible devotion at the Christian High School I attended as a nerdy kid. It caused me to squirm, crossed legged on those scratchy carpet squares in that musty portable multi-purpose room. Those carpet squares were laid in a haphazard, un-uniformed pattern. The clock on the wall, showing the painfully slow passing of time, was hung crooked. The Bible quote written on the board wasn’t sitting on a straight base line.

All these things disturbed me. They were far from perfect and I liked perfect. In my mind that school needed to pull up its socks a little to get in line with the heavenly Father’s expectations.

I often wonder if it was my religious upbringing that sparked my love of order, symmetry and pattern or whether it was just something I was just born with. What I do know is that this innate personality trait drew me to study ‘graphic design’ and pursue, in my mind, the perfect career. One where I could lay things out on uniform grids, set up typographic hierarchies and design systems. It was a place where I could create order in an otherwise random and chaotic world. I found a saviour in the scent of the printed page and a divinity in the creative process.

With ten years of industry experience under my belt, my career moved to the education sector and I now find myself in the privileged position of encouraging these eccentricities in the next generation of designers. A large percentage of our new students love finding like-minded souls when they begin their higher education. They find it reassuring that they are not the only freaks who obsess over moving something in minute, unnoticeable ways. They no longer hide the fact that they re-order their household pantry according to the colours on the labels and hoard bizarre collections of interestingly textured, found objects.

It is an absolute joy drawing out the designers in these students and directing them toward their dream jobs. The truth is though, that the education landscape has changed and not all students come to us with these compulsions. Some of these kids just like tattoos and Manga or have had mum in their ear telling them that their drawings are ‘good’. As a college we no longer have students fighting to be a part of our design courses, in fact we have to fight to get their attention.

My attitude though is that these students just haven’t figured it out yet and it’s my faculty’s job to turn them around. And then I start to worry, not because of them but because of us. Are we causing harm to these innocent enrolments? Are we infecting these unsuspecting students with Obsessive Design Disorder? Should a disclaimer be published in the ‘Course and Careers Guides’ for these poor year twelve students?

WARNING: Decide to enrol in a communication design course and it will consume your entire waking and sleeping life. Most of the time you’ll love it, sometimes you’ll absolutely hate it. Sometimes you won’t want to get out of bed because the thought another critique in front of your classmates will be too much to deal with. Ridiculous deadlines, new technologies and unreasonable briefs will make you nuts. You have to engage your brain, think outside the box, collaborate and then do it over and over again. You’ll be encouraged to make mistakes and never, ever give up or drop out. Then one day, when you least expect it, you’ll sit down and contemplate what you want to do with your life and you’ll realise there is nothing else you’d rather do.

Design educators are in a tiz about the increased intake into design degrees. They worry about the lowering of ATAR scores and the quality of entry portfolios. But the reality is, that it’s up to the soldiers on the front: the lecturers imparting their knowledge and wisdom and the course writers making the content of our courses relevant and up to date. We need to keep our expectations high and the students engaged. They may not be perfect – which undergraduates ever were? But we can only hope they experience the perfect resonance that good design can bring to their lives.

Jane Connory is the Program Manager for the Bachelor of Communication Design at Billy Blue College of Design, Melbourne.

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