My Road to Creativity, Fifteenth Excerpt: Assistant Professor, Tenure Track:

After the four weeks of being in Europe at the design workshop and in Basel, I was energized to get back to teaching. I had three studios: beginning sophomore level and junior level symbology, possibly sophomore typography . . . it’s hard to remember. At that time we had three or four sections of required studio offerings each semester. All studio classes were in sequence so if a student missed one, he or she would have to wait a year to take it. It wasn’t a perfect system but it was the best we could do with so many sections and limited faculty. 

That fall, the person I was filling in for resigned and the position was needed to be filled permanently. I was urged to apply for it and I did as well as other positions at other schools. I was invited to interview at two other schools as well as Iowa State. I had an offer from Texas Christian and was offered the position at ISU. I elected for Iowa State and was hired as a tenure track Assistant Professor. Somehow, that validated some of what I had given up when I started this adventure three years ago.

Those first years, I had some very good students and some that were not so good. Being so new to teaching, I found it difficult to grade the projects. I tried giving detailed analyses for the grade I arrived at but that wasn’t good enough. It all seemed sort of ambiguous. I constantly had to defend my decisions and received many less that stellar teacher reviews. 

There were no guidebooks or any textbooks on graphic design at that time so I found that I had to make it up as we went along. I worked at creating a syllabus for each studio to give more detail on what was expected and how each project would be graded, designing a matrix that should be self explanatory. And it worked to the degree that the students seemed to be more accepting of  the poor grades that some received, plus it helped considerably that I didn’t have to write out such detailed reports. My student reviews improved.

I also found that so many of the students struggled with what I experienced in suffering from a lack of creativity. I was asked time and time again, “What did I want?” for a given project. My answer was, “Good design.” One thing occurred to me was that the K through twelve years of education did nothing to enhance if not just squelch any creative juices these kids might have once had. I had no idea how to enhance that lost creativity.

The way I learned design was with projects that were simply projects without any major focus other than that they were projects to be completed.  I began to research the elements and principles of design more in depth and started creating projects that would focus on maybe one or two aspects of these elements and principles. The students seemed to understand more clearly what was expected and what they were actually learning. My reviews improved.

During the summers, I continued attending design workshops offered through Kent State at their campus in Kent, Ohio. These workshops were three weeks long and were taught by well known professionals from both the United States and Europe. The workshops were accredited and I was woking towards earning a Master of Fine Arts which was the terminal degree for the studio arts which I would most likely need to continue teaching at a college or university. 

I gained a great deal from these workshops, but the one that really blew me away was the last one I went to in 1987 with Bruno Monguzzi, a designer and teacher in Lugano, Switzerland, the Italian speaking region. He talked about the psychology of visual perception, something that opened an entirely new dimension to my understanding of design. I hung on everything he said or the work he showed. Somehow, everything I had worked on and learned these last years jelled together and I was finally beginning to understand design: proportion, contrast, information hierarchy, tension, to name a few.

Monguzzi was educated as a designer in the Swiss tradition as I was. One thing I learned as gospel was to only ever use one typeface in a design, preferably a san-serif face such as Helvetica. Moguzzi had no problem mixing serif and san-serif faces and his work he shared with us opened another new world of  possibilities for me.

I thought Monguzzi was brilliant. Then it occurred to me that he was a teacher. While all the others designer who taught at the workshop were outstanding designers, they weren’t teachers. I saw there was a definite difference. I even went so far as to ask him if I could come to Lugano for a semester to work with him. He was flattered, but said that he taught in the Italian language and did I understand or know Italian? I admitted I didn’t and the learning curve for Italian was more that I wanted right then. So I settled for what I gleaned from him in the three weeks.

As the final project for this session, after I returned home, I designed and printed a poster for this workshop. It received several awards. It is still one of my best works.

All this transpired over several years as I grew as a teacher. In the meantime, I had remarried and had settled into my life. But my three years as associate professor were coming to an end and I  was due to go up for tenure. 

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