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Thoughts on design practise | Economy
To be a designer in the private sector
What you will find here:
By means of these texts you can find out about my views on occupation in the world of design. Here you can get an idea of how nowadays I see my role as a designer within the area of tension between the private sector, teaching and research.
My design practise today
After my studies of visual communication I worked as an art director in Germany and Switzerland for many years. In 1996 together with Mrs Nicole Husmann I founded the design studio 72dpi in Milan which then became Studio Husmann Benincasa in 1999. With my main occupation as a fixed professor at the Free University of Bolzano, Faculty of design and arts, I had to leave the partnership of the joint studio. Nevertheless, even after my decision to concentrate on the design work in teaching and research within the university area, I have continued to design for the private sector, outside the university.
Today I see myself as a designer, whose work belongs to the three fields of:
- Designer in teaching
- As a designer in research
- As a designer in the private sector
As a designer in the private sector
Nowadays my design work as a designer in the private sector takes up the least amount of my occupied time. Nevertheless my work in the private sector is essential and indispensable especially for my teaching and research work. It is my knowledge and expertise from years of experience in successful design practise that have made it possible for me to be able to teach the design subject visual communication in the first place.
In line with the praxis orientated project study at the faculty of Design and Art I am employed as a project supervisor. As for teaching, I can bring in my knowledge as an expert of visual communication and my long term experience from working in design praxis. Teaching in a praxis orientated project study means that the students have to design a project, hence design an artefact, by the end of the semester. The artefacts from the projects that I supervise belong to the area of visual communication and are therefore print and graphic design, media design and film.
Direct experience with the economy is important for teaching
Design work in the private sector is subject to a totally different dynamic than in the university environment. Technical and conceptual problems and questions within the economy are often subject to a different point of view. Economic, strategic and time factors play a different part in the private sector as in design projects at university. Moreover performance requirements change extremely quickly within the private sector. I am convinced that sustaining direct experience with the economy is indispensable for a professor of design. Only by doing this can the knowledge and impulses of economics be integrated in teaching. Direct feedback with the private sector nowadays is temporary, due to my extensive teaching and research obligations, but should not be cut off completely.
A teacher functions as a role model
In design disciplines a teacher also functions as a role model. His or her creative work and projects from design-praxis produce credibility for the students. Authority is based on authorship and this principle especially applies to design work. On the one hand teachers of design obtain their authority due to their professional competence and on the other hand as an author from good designs which are visible in design praxis or the design market. In my opinion a design teacher’s authority should not only be based on his or her institutional position as a professor. A design teacher’s authority should be based on good design projects. A designer, or rather a project supervisor, who does no longer do any work for the private sector is seen as a “pensioner” by students and will lose the authority as a designer and teacher.
Education and training are two different things
In my opinion the university, or rather the professoriate, primarily has the task of educating the students rather than training them. Education and training are two different things. Training sets the focus on the needs of the market economy. The current market’s demands have to be satisfied. But markets can quickly change. “Training” is therefore a rather short term training strategy, mainly passing on skills which are in demand within the labour market. Education on the other hand is a much more wide-ranging education strategy. It should enable the students to solve fundamental design problems. For the students, education in teaching design has to allow a life-long learning process.
Impulses of the design praxis should be included in traineeship
Training is a responsibility which teachers of design should not entirely evade. After their studies the students should find a job in the private sector. As a professor of a praxis orientated subject I must not teach without taking the market into consideration. He or she has to find to find the perfect mix of educating and training for his or her teaching course. For this reason it is essential to keep in touch with the realities of the private sector and not just by hearsay. This is the only way authentic experiences and impulses are able to play a part in current design praxis.
My main emphasis on design nowadays
Of the three occupational areas in which I operate as designer (lecturing | researching private | sector) my work within the private sector is the area which takes up the least amount of space and time. My main emphasis on design nowadays is no longer within the private sector but in my creative work within the university area of teaching and research. Nevertheless I do not want to totally cut off my work for the private sector as it is essential for my teaching and research work.
Thoughts on design praxis | Teaching
Being a designer is a lesson
What you will find here:
By means of these texts you are able to gain insight in my views on teaching in the design praxis. Here you can form an opinion on how I see my role as designer within the area of tension between the private sector, teaching and research.
Design praxis enables me to teach
In line with the praxis orientated project study of the Faculty of Design and Art I work as a project supervisor. By teaching I can bring in my knowledge as an expert in visual communication und my long term experience from working in design praxis. It is my knowledge of design praxis which enables me to teach. Teaching in a praxis orientated project study means that the students have to design a project, hence design an artefact, by the end of the semester. The artefacts of the projects that I supervise belong to the area of visual communication and are therefore print and graphic design, media design and film.
Art director and coach
My lessons are partly made of fixed lectures in which I inductively teach fundamental knowledge and competences and party consist of supervising and tutoring the projects. In my role as a project supervisor I am primarily a designer. During the students’ project work they ask for my opinion on their decisions or the best way of doing things. So my work as a designer would best be described as a mix between an art director and a coach.
As an art director one has to make decisions for the design oneself. The design is one’s own responsibility and you obtain the agency’s authority which makes you the author of the design. This sustains one’s reputation when presenting to a client.
As a coach the whole club has given you the authority and responsibility of doing everything that is possible to lead the team to success. You get the team and every single player fit. You prepare them for the next game. You give them tips, strategies and help them. Until a certain point the coach is also a part of the team, but on the pitch everyone stands alone. They have to make their own decisions and take complete responsibility for success or failure. As a coach you share the teams anticipation. The coach is happy for every successful move. He or she cheers the team on and is upset or disappointed if a team member does not hold up to his or her potential or is just too lazy to run out onto the pitch and fight and does not show enough effort and motivation. A coach joins the team in the changing rooms during the break appeals to their conscience, motivates or threatens them depending on the type of player or their weaknesses. And sometimes, and this is also difficult and bitter for the coach, one has to take a player off the pitch. These players may have to miss a game and run an extra lap during training but all this is in the hope that their stamina and motivation will improve and that the player will be able to play the next game at the limit of his or her capabilities. And it this does not work then maybe the player might have to find a new occupation as not everyone has got what it takes to be a professional player. And at the end of the season it is the team and not the single players that should be celebrated. It was the team who made the whole thing work. They are the authors of success when they can carry the cup and stand proudly in front of the press. The team members should be able to be happy and feel that all the effort and training have been worthwhile and that at last success is in sight and in reach so when the next season begins the players will be motivated to try again all over. Maybe even with a different coach.
As a designer and project supervisor I am a mix of art director and coach. I try to act as little as possible as an art director and as much as possible as a coach.
When a designer becomes a coach
I find it especially important that students stay authors of their own work and do not become executing tools for my intentions as a designer or art director. As a teacher and designer one is always in some way inevitably part of the students‘ designs. During the project discussion the designs are criticized, taken apart and audited. Project supervisors constantly suggest and point out new proposals and ideas as well as form-aesthetic, typographic and creative corrections. As a teacher one cannot avoid influencing, in an albeit positive way, a student’s design as he or she shares knowledge and skills.
Nevertheless, for me it is fundamentally important that students have to decide the most important and critical questions of their design themselves. To take on the responsibility alone I soften a problem for students in the day to day project life, when they are spoilt for choices but have no other possibility than making a decision. It is not the tutors’ task of taking control. If a student expects this to happen then it is time that the designer and art director has to return to his role as a coach. The student has to be the one to decide when things get critical and has to summon up the authority to be the author of the design.
Shaping designer personalities
This learning method has the consequence of students being able to make potentially poor or even wrong decisions. And in design there are also decisions which cannot be put into a “right” or “wrong” category but in the end are defined as “different”. This “difference” is what makes a designer personality. I try to train designer personalities rather than designers for the labour market. Education can only be made possible and not produced. So space for flexibility is essential and if it were not then I would be giving myself a grade as designer and teacher. This split between teaching and coaching is difficult as well was exciting.
My teaching today
Of my three occupational areas as a designer teaching is one which takes up most of my work. Teaching is working for design and personally this work I enjoy. It is also the reason why I switched my main focus from working in the private sector to working at university.
Thoughts on design praxis | Research
Being a designer is modern research
What you will find here:
By means of these texts you will read about being able to gain insight on my point of view of research. Here you can get an idea of how I see my role as a designer between the fields of teaching, research and private sector.
Research in the discipline of design
Through my occupation as a fixed professor at the Free University of Bozen, Faculty of Design and Art 2005, the field of design research became a new profession for me. Up until then my occupation as a designer was primarily for the private sector and therefore it was not necessary for me to deal with the topic of design research. Although I had been a contract teacher and project supervisor for visual communication at a university from 1996 until 2006 (Politecnico di Milano | Facoltà del Design) teaching in Milan was always a secondry challenge. Then, research was a rather abstract term.
After my appointment at the Faculty of Design and Art, which was only founded in 2003, my faculty went through a self-discovery process which is still ongoing. We are trying to define what the term “research” means for the discipline of design. The faculty internal discussions became pressing due to the fact that the Faculty of Design and Art is not an autonomous academy of art. Together with other faculties we are part of a university community. The other faculties of this community are those of the science disciplines for which, from a historical point of view, it is natural to describe their work as research.
The unity of research and training
The first of the four main basic principles on which the university’s idea is based on, is unity of research and training. This is why a university’s faculty cannot be fully accepted as a member if it does not run research. So the newly founded Faculty of Design and Art was forced to define itself in that we ran research and thus what design research is for the faculty. Moreover the Faculty of Design and Art as well as its members, professors in a personnel role and researches were expected to present concrete research results.
Designers do not do research, they design…
The community of the designers and even more of the artists do not generally see their work as research. If designers describe themselves as scientists and their works as research then they are normally not understood and are smiled at by their design colleagues. In the design praxis design itself is described and titled discipline of design and not scientific discipline. Generally speaking and also amongst designers it is believed that designers do not “do research” but design.
Is design a „real“ science?
The university and other faculties expect a clarification of the Faculty of Design and Art’s position. To what extent does design integrate itself into the universities field of research and where can design be positioned? Thereby, naturally, we were observed by the other science disciplines as they also did not see design as a “real” science. If I talked about research with other professors from the other faculties we had often had a communication problem. I stood in front of a barrier of scepticism and first had to explain that design itself is research. Most colleagues saw design as a kind of pseudo science and could not imagine what design research is. But when I talked about my results of the design research and designs, or rather the results of my research, then their scepticism normally changed to understanding. Ironically I never had any problems whatsoever having the contents of my projects recognized as research work. I attribute this to design research functions by artefacts and the acquisition of things by means of their visual experience. I call this graphic thinking. (Link visual contextualization).
The Understanding of science and education
The second main principle, on which the university’s idea is based, is the understanding of science and education. This point decisively depends on the professoriate of course. The understanding can be seen very differently depending on the professor. Also the professors of the Faculty of Design and Art have different opinions on this second principle that causes debate on principles within the faculty. But this is good, as a university takes its driving force from critical questioning of opinions, predetermined knowledge, complete methods and regulations. A university is a place of deviation and all things recognized. A university is a place where existing borders are crossed. It is a place of impatience and resistance, of curiosity and of astonishment. A public place of community and of cultural exchange. My personal understanding of science, education and university I will explain later on in the text in more detail.
The immanent graphic thinking within design
My colleagues of traditional scientific disciplines refer to research as the reverse problem. They do not have to explain to me first that their work is research. This has cultural and historic reasons. But, however, when they try and communicate the contents of their research it is often much more difficult for them. Research projects from traditional scientific disciplines cannot be recorded by the immanent graphic thinking within design but by abstract thinking.
The third and fourth main principles which the university’s institution is based on, is the freedom of science and autonomy of professors. Both are protected by constitutional law. In this text I will not go into these two main principles. These principles are most important to the university; however, they are primarily political dimensions and are an “indirect” requirement for researchers and teachers.
Research through design and research of design
An important milestone on my faculty’s path of self-discovery was the congress “Design Strategy 2007” which my college Prof. Hans Höger and I curated. I think that one can claim that today all members of our faculty agree on three fundamental principles of design research: Firstly, the difference between the principle of “research through design”, secondly, “research of design”, and thirdly, that a “designerly way” of science exists in research through design.
In past years I have intensely dealt with the topic of research for the sake of clarifying what design research means for praxis orientated design disciplines. I was especially interested in what personal consequences of design research would have for me as a designer of visual communication. To be able to understand research I could not avoid having thoughts on what makes a university and what it accomplishes or should accomplish.
Thought | Knowledge | Research
At the beginning of my vocation in 2005 I had major difficulties, being a designer coming from the field of design praxis, defining my work research. Already the combination of words “research and design” did not go together for me at the time. Even though the historic idea of the terms “research”, “knowledge” and “thought” belong to a vocabulary that is used in the disciplines of design, art, photography and architecture most designers hardly, or not at all, identify themselves with these words.
In connection with their work the design disciplines use different vocabulary, which are all but used as synonyms:
Thinking = brilliant idea, inspiration, creativity
Knowing = gift, ability, talent, intuition
Researching = design, project, representation, shaping
Nowadays I am convinced that the terms: research, knowledge and thought apply to my work as a designer and my design praxis. Why I believe this you can find out in the area of research | visual contextualization.
Studying at university is not school
I understand my job as a designer in research primarily as being obliged to the principle of unity for training and research. A university course is not school. A school only deals with finished, already prearranged knowledge. School secures knowledge and a school seldom exceeds Wikipedia knowledge. A university and the research accomplished within it, have the task of questioning already existing and predetermined and recognized knowledge, and is a place of deviation where methods and regulations should be questioned, broken and rewritten again and again.
In a university teachers and students are like-minded; both are searching, work within science or are obliged to design as we designers would say. Both search for solution to problems and both have to ask questions which have never before been asked. Both have to retain the capability of dedicating themselves to finding the new. For this teaching is the researcher’s device for university studies. Research enables teachers and students to forever teach themselves new and different knowledge. This knowledge may be short or long, current and possibly usable. Knowledge that may be usable only in the future and for this reason may never be used.
As a designer I research by means of my teaching
One should keep in mind what quintessential science and research are. The search for something that has not been completely found and will never be completely detectable. Science and research start with astonishment and curiosity. Science and research require the passion of dedicating oneself to a matter, a project, a design, indefinite knowledge and the altogether new. My interpretation is that professors and researchers who do not feel a spark of passion within their work are not university teachers. And students who have never felt this spark have never really been at university.
As a designer I research by means of my teaching, I research by design. As a teacher, or rather project supervisor for the subject of visual communication, my teaching is characterized by the constant search for the new, of the still visually unknown, of aesthetic unconsumed stylistic elements, of a new way of seeing things, of making the invisible visible, of making things understandable which are inaccessible. Every project I supervise is a search for something. Together with the students I go on a journey which may lead anywhere.
Design is not a discipline in which as a teacher one can merely be a mediator of methods, rules and knowledge. The conventional arrangement of students and teacher figures shifts within design studies and especially project studies. There is not only the figure of an ignorant student but also of an ignorant teacher.
Research, a cultural teaching mission
Science and research means to know that one does not know everything. Research and science do not, paradoxically, carry any knowledge in them. I am convinced that research is not always for a specific purpose. One should not expect research to be subject to only practical applications and foreseeable usability. When research is merely judged based on use, this use is subject to the laws of profit which leads to the economization of knowledge. I do not think that society can afford such a research policy as then there would be the danger of just generating profit promising knowledge. For this reason research needs a kind of funding which does not only come from the request of third-party funds but also from the public sector. For me research is primarily a cultural teaching mission and secondly an economical mission.
I am convinced that research and education are inseparable. Research, or rather a university, is not a company in which students are clients. Those who portray students as clients degrade education to mere training and the university to a bazaar in which everything can be purchased. Even if students have to pay tuition fees for their education it does not mean that the professors and the university is a service institute. In a university it is not allowed to be based on the principle of “you get what you pay for” but “everything that counts is education”. Education has to be of some importance for society. Education is expensive, research is expensive, and this has to be clear to everyone.
Research is difficult to foresee
For me research also means that you do not have to search for that which is already known. In this case the administrative university bureaucracy often does not make things easy for professors and researchers. Those who know that they do not know anything had better not put in an application for research, as a project application has to be written in such a way that one would know what the outcome would be. The tendency emerges of searching for something that is already known.
A university is not allowed to have the aim of producing premeditated professors which correspond to premeditated students who seemly deceptively to guarantee a high degree of measurability, calculability and quality.
Research is therefore difficult to foresee.
Efficiency is not a criterion for education and research
Today I know more than ever that the unity of research and teaching is the condition that enables us to educate. Education is not to be put on an equal footing with efficiency. For me efficiency is not a criterion for education. If students, professors and researchers only do the things which are necessary, if there was no more time and space for the inevitable, the unnecessary and the unimportant, if the minor subject becomes a minor matter, then university becomes a mere institution for education. Education enables professors, researchers and students of outgrowing what is already known and dismiss what is simply mechanical imitation. Education applies to humans. Education is a path and a goal of human’s self development.
From my teaching experience I know that education enables humans to use skills and possibilities as best as possible. It is education that makes students able to constantly improve their skills and thus outgrow themselves. Education is an aggregate of knowledge and abilities, of hypotheses and experiments, of creativity, technique and intuition. Education is seeing and observing. Education lets us understand that there is more to observing than just observing. The same as the whole is more than the sum of its components; education is more than a mere acquisition of skills.
Education encourages the students’ special ability of developing freely. Education exceeds the pure acquisition of knowledge, knowledge which is not useless after three months time. Education is sustainable training which is directed at the future. Education is a lifelong learning and lifelong research process. Education is the societas magistrorum et scholarium, the community of teachers and students in which the professors are proud of being researchers rather than teachers. Education is the base for research and research is more than the professional application of rules and methods.
Research must not be confused with professionalism
From my own long term experience of the private sector and my design praxis I know that on no account must one confuse research with professionalism. Professionalism belongs to the area of the private sector. Third-party research which is highly professional does not belong to the primary tasks of research, which according to my opinion it should. One should not misunderstand this; professionalism is of course a “feature” of research projects, but only one feature. It is legitimate and important that researchers and professors also achieve professional work. But those projects should stay out of university if possible, only in exceptional cases they should be worked on in the university. If professors and researchers want to follow their profession then they should do this in the private sector and not disguise it as research. Because if “purely professional” research projects become the norm then the university becomes an unrecorded company and researchers and professors end up doing illicit work. Then one operates a competitive distortion de-facto as the research and the university become the private sector’s rivals. Nobody would benefit from this type of research, neither the university as it would appoint its research potential nor the economy as it would take away its own customer. If it is foreseeable that the emphasis of a research project is remittance work then the researcher or professor who wants to go through with this project should do this in his spare time within the rules of the private sector.
Research is not allowed to live in an ivory tower
Of course a university its researchers and professors do not live in an ivory tower, the research’s task is of course to let society and economy have access to it. Interaction between university and economy are indispensible as a university is not a sealed box but a public place, a place in which researchers and professors can exchange their knowledge and experiences between themselves. Nobody benefits if professors and students only stay amongst themselves and just reside in the university’s hallways. This is where the idea of knowledge transfer comes into play and as Professor it is my job to transfer knowledge especially within the scientific community of design.
4 areas of responsibility of my research
Research is the most important of all the areas in which I work as a designer. Research is a design orientated occupation which I take very seriously.
For me there are 4 areas of research/macro areas:
- Research through teaching
- Knowledge transfer
- Single or group research to relevant topics of visual communication
- Externally founded research for the economy and public sector