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March 27, 2009 8:28 AM   Subscribe

How designers fail — "During college at the University of Arizona in 1992, I learned with other design freshman that revisions were part of the discipline; if you cried at critique you were a wimp, and the computer was just a finishing tool. . . . But something has happened since I was a college student in 1992: students just don’t believe these things."
posted by camcgee (64 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I do realize it's a bit "damn kids today" — I also don't know if his comments about the current state of design education are accurate (I'm not a designer nor did I have an education in design). They did seem relevant, though, in the midst of a much broader culture of exceptionalism.
posted by camcgee at 8:30 AM on March 27, 2009


This is indeed 100% "Get off my lawn"
posted by Sys Rq at 8:38 AM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


in the midst of a much broader culture of exceptionalism.

Proof? This endlessly-repeated bullshit about how "the Millennials expect to be handed everything on a silver platter!" is just stupid get-off-my-lawn grousing. Until you can give us some hard data about the differences between generations, articles like this will be so much masturbation designed more to reinforce the author's sense of superiority than actually to benefit the Millennial reader.
posted by nasreddin at 8:40 AM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Get off my landscape-architected grounds.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:46 AM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Another college professor complaining that educating students is, like, work.

I've had it up to here with the older generation's sense of entitlement.
posted by MrVisible at 8:48 AM on March 27, 2009 [15 favorites]


Am I the only one that thinks the design on that website sucks?
posted by electroboy at 8:48 AM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Even more unfortunate, and now more than ever, design has become synonymous with fame.

This statement does not connect with reality as I understand it.

I guess I can see where it's coming from, but I don't think it has anything to do with design: probably students in every discipline think they're going to go out and change the world.

That may not be true of every generation in history, but it's certainly not specific to the current generation. And it's pretty much as it should be -- if you don't have that kind of ambition as a college kid, you're never going to have that kind of ambition.
posted by ook at 8:49 AM on March 27, 2009


I think the linked article is interesting as a rant, but it makes the mistake of over-generalizing. There are a few token remarks that not every student is like those described, but the tone implies "actually, they are".

The issue of student entitlement is not confined to students of design. I can't cite any references, but I would imagine the problem is roughly as prevalent in design students as it is in other students.

Anecdotally, via my wife, there are plenty of students who value critique and understand the need for revision in the design process. There are, however, just as many who don't want to follow the process and expect A+ work to spring fully formed from their minds. Granted, she attends only one school, and doesn't work or have class with every student, but her experience(as a student) is that the entitlement issues are not as widespread as the linked article makes it seem.
posted by owtytrof at 8:50 AM on March 27, 2009


I think most new web designers fail because they're lazy fucks who think knowing some Photoshop commands and some HTML tags is equivalent to having design skills.
posted by autodidact at 8:51 AM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


University of Nebraska?

Man, I lived in Omaha for six years, and it's not a hotbed of brilliant or even competent design. And I don't know if the author selected those illustrations to go with his or her story, but they undermine every thing the article says. HEY! HERE'S A STORY ABOUT HOW YOUNGSTERS DON'T KNOW JACK ABOUT DESIGN, PRINTED ON AN INDIFFERENTLY DESIGNED WEB PAGE AND ACCOMPANIED BY ILLUSTRATIONS THAT LOOK LIKE THEY WERE FOUND IN A GRADE SCHOOL LITTER BASKET!
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:51 AM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


What an ugly web site.

And I share some sentiments with the author - but do I really need to be told this crap from somebody who went to college in the early 90's? Good god, the early 90's were the very pinnacle of slacker culture - what precisely is this person smoking?

At least our grandparents were telling the truth when they told us that 'it was so difficult back in my day, you punks have no idea' or 'you don't know what real suffering is like, you ought to live through a great depression or a world war.' At least they actually lived through some shit. But when our older brothers and sisters tell us, 'oh, you young punks have no idea, we worked so much harder when we went to college in the 90's' -- !? Oh, gee, I'll bet it was awful; Nirvana can be very depressing, and all that pot can really take away your motivation.
posted by koeselitz at 8:53 AM on March 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


This is indeed 100% "Get off my lawn"
posted by Sys Rq at 11:38 AM on March 27


I disagree, and this is a problem in lots of professions. Talk to any seasoned lawyers who deal with first year associates or veteran surgeons dealing with first year residents, and you will hear stories of how people who are in their late twenties don't understand the importance of high-quality perfect results, and the complete unimportance of your effort or process.

The objective is to accomplish the objective, not to try to accomplish it. In order to achieve that, you have to have the ability to look at your own work and see the mistakes, the weakness, the amatuerishness of it. You have to ask yourself why you did what you did, if you even had a reason for it at the time, or if you just did it out of habit.

I don't really think that praise is the problem here, the problem is being praised. The praise should be directed to the effort packaged with constructive criticism of the results. Good job working so hard, is there something you wish you could change or do better? When they tell you, respond with "Oh, yeah, you're right."

I think parents don't do this much because (a) they themselves don't know how to do it with their own work, and (b) they themselves don't have the emotional stability that constructive criticism requires in order for it to be useful.

That said, the easy way to turn this around is to have a senior person throw the students
work back at them and say "This is garbage and totally unacceptable. Fix it or you're out." Then the person will agonize for hours trying to figure out just what needs fixing, they'll try and fail, try and fail, each time getting screamed at, but they'll learn. Or they'll learn they aren't cut out for it.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:55 AM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


GrumpyOldManFilter.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7ms7d_saturday-night-live-grumpy-old-man_fun

http://snltranscripts.jt.org/89/89qupdate.phtml
posted by edheil at 8:57 AM on March 27, 2009


I suppose I can lay claim to being even older and crankier than this gentleman, seeing as how I started college in '88. Therefore, I'll just point out that my generation of students didn't believe these things either, no matter how much we academic types like to dream nostalgically of the good old days when students worked hard and took all their grades on the chin. Not the humanities people, not the scientists, not anybody. Students had entitlement issues at the turn of the century. Students had entitlement issues in the Victorian era. Heck, while visible helicoptering seems to be new, behind-the-scenes helicoptering is older than dirt.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:00 AM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


One more thing about the current crop of new web designers: They loves 'em some templates.
posted by autodidact at 9:03 AM on March 27, 2009


Pastabagel: I'm not sure that constitutes constructive criticism.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:04 AM on March 27, 2009


I disagree, and this is a problem in lots of professions. Talk to any seasoned lawyers who deal with first year associates or veteran surgeons dealing with first year residents, and you will hear stories of how people who are in their late twenties don't understand the importance of high-quality perfect results, and the complete unimportance of your effort or process.

Yeah, you know, if you asked a stonemason circa 1450 AD about his apprentices, he would tell you the same thing. This isn't about generations: it's about self-righteous "industry veterans" with no sense of perspective.
posted by nasreddin at 9:05 AM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


This isn't so much "damn kids" or "kids these days" so much as it is "children today, as products of their praise-lavishing helicopter parents."

Teens in good schools routinely have curriculum vitae. The Gentleman's C no longer exists. Mastery has been refocused around the tools, rather than the products. "I'm good with Photoshop." Great, can you make anything at which I would like to look?

When young adults, now averaging twenty-two or twenty-three, come tumbling out of the vast assembly line of education that has been going on since preschool, propelled each step of the way by an long belt of mechanical hands patting them on the back, not only are many unprepared for adult choices, their parents now, ever-fearful of specters of drug use, Failure to Launch, and bad educational investments either expect to continue making decisions for their children or demand that some other grownup pick these newly-minted adults up and set them down in a snug nesting place.

This is not just happening in design, although design is certainly more vulnerable than many other professions, due partly to the Rise of Computer as Tool and partly to the squishier nature of what a "good job" looks like.

Children are simply not expected to make decisions of any consequence. Teens, when they attempt to assert independence, are more often railroaded than advised. Of course teenagers often make lousy life decisions — that's how they learn. Instead, it's far more routine to yank these choices out of their hands. Parents now have the lovely option of tossing kids into bootcamps, frequently on the slimmest of rebellions. Or you can stay home, do what you're told, and await the predictable "Isn't Billy wonderful at that?" for your predictable A. It's an easy path.

These aren't the expectations of the spoiled; Millennials are behaving precisely as they have been taught: show up, do something flashy, listen for the oohs and aaahs, and await your next assignment.
posted by adipocere at 9:05 AM on March 27, 2009 [11 favorites]


I took classes at Art Center but couldn't afford a degree so I don't have any kind of college diploma... most of my design experience and skills have come from work and self-teaching. In some ways it's made me a better designer, in other ways it was a hard road because I was insecure for a long time about my abilities. Point being this... as I entered the design field in the early 90s, I heard a lot about how Art Center graduates walked into offices expecting to be Art Directors on the first day, *shocked* when they were asked to make copies instead. (A lot of people I knew at ACCD ended up just having their parents send them back for advanced degrees because they didn't know how to acclimate to the workforce and the rejection it offered.) That stuff has always happened... because trying to be a creative professional of any kind is FRIGGIN' TOUGH.

Being a designer is not a normal job. Think about it... when you're an accountant or something you do tasks that have a specific beginning, middle and end. If you're manufacturing something, you have a tangible thing. But as a designer you have to create something that doesn't exist and preferably isn't like anything anyone else has done... it has to fit a specific need... and a whole bunch of people with different tastes have to AGREE that they like it. It's shocking we ever finish ANYTHING!!! I mean... on a regular basis you're given two hours to make something and often are given the following direction in regards to your goals: "I don't know what I want. I'll know it when I see it. So just give me what I want." What the HELL!!!

And young designers are ALWAYS stuck in their own heads... especially if they make the mistake of reading the Fountainhead in art school like I did. I would go home and cry and cry if someone ruined my "vision" for some brochure for a client I now don't even remember. "Clients are making my work ugly!!!" I would lament. I would think about Howard Roarke destroying his building and want to torch my comps. That'll show them!!!!

Then time rolls by. You get older. The drama fades. You learn to pick your battles. You learn that the sun comes up tomorrow and nobody's going to give you a medal for fighting for PMS 300 on the client's logo instead of another color. It doesn't matter. If they want PMS 298, I give it to them and then I put another version in my portfolio. If they're happy, I'm happy. If I can pay my bills, do some work I'd like to put in my book here & there, get through my workday without anyone annoying me and go home to relax, my day is golden. Go home, walk my dog, have a nice evening... life's good. I don't think about PMS 300 over dinner.

Moral of the story... nothing's really all that different. Young designers will ALWAYS have thin skin and go home to cry over portfolio reviews. They will always start out thinking they know better than everyone else when they don't know crap. It's just that the idea of "everything" and how young people think the design world should treat them is different from one generation to the next, one person to the next. There will always been young people who are either too obsessed with every single design detail that doesn't matter... or who think the world should find every single fart they make to be brilliance and never require a single alteration. As people mature they have to come to terms with balancing their creative goals with a lifestyle, and they either adapt so they can stay in design and make a healthy living or they crash and burn.

Since we're creatives it's just against our nature to want to think every generation of us is a special snowflake. Our special snowflake-ness is supposed to be why we BECAME designers.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:10 AM on March 27, 2009 [20 favorites]


here are the facts: working very diligently for 8, 10, or 20 hours may still result in barely average work; and in some cases, putting in twice that amount of labor for 30 or 40 hours may only get a D or F

...

Rather than learn from the critiques and repeated suggestions to change one thing or another, they leave for another major


I somewhat agree with the assertion that the first part of a university education involves a lot of trial and error, but unfortunately for students GPA starts getting calculated right away and can have real consequences. Aside from the final GPA that ends up being part of a resume, many students are at risk of getting kicked out of programs or losing their financial aid if they fail to meet relatively high GPA requirements, especially in classes within their major. My roommate in college got put on academic probation and eventually ended up having to switch to a junior college for a semester due to poor grades that he received in his difficult major. In hindsight, although he did well at his small rural high school, he just didn't have the skills required to compete with his peers (and it is a competition when most of the classes are graded on a curve), so staying in it for as long as he did resulted in a lot of serious problems for him.

I personally had my share of tough classes, including one where I spent around 10-20 hours every weekend in a study group to work on the notoriously insane homework assignments, but spending 30 or 40 hours on a project and receiving a D or F would have probably resulted in one of the nervous breakdowns that the author alluded to. During most of my college career, the number of students who spent 30 to 40 hours on any one project was very small, and the amount of students who got lower than a C on something that they actually turned in was also quite a low percentage. Ending up in both groups simultaneously would have resulted in a feeling that I was never going to be able to succeed no matter how hard I tried. I know that according to the author failing is just fine, but if it meant dropping out of college and not being able to find a job with health insurance, it wasn't really an option.

the university has become a vocational training ground

This might sound cynical, but what other purpose does it serve at this point? Anyone with an Internet connection has access to more information about any given field than the average college student had with their textbooks and libraries in the past, and aside from direct contact with experts in the field most people could recreate the important aspects of a university education on their own for much less than the cost of tuition. The independently wealthy might consider going to a university without any consideration for the knowledge gained and degree earned resulting in better job opportunities and pay in the future, but for working people the time and money spent on going to college usually comes with those expectations.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:11 AM on March 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


This might sound cynical, but what other purpose does it serve at this point? Anyone with an Internet connection has access to more information about any given field than the average college student had with their textbooks and libraries in the past, and aside from direct contact with experts in the field most people could recreate the important aspects of a university education on their own for much less than the cost of tuition. The independently wealthy might consider going to a university without any consideration for the knowledge gained and degree earned resulting in better job opportunities and pay in the future, but for working people the time and money spent on going to college usually comes with those expectations.

Absolutely. People inevitably trot out some handwringing bullshit about liberal educations, but they're wrong. College is what high school used to be: a way of artificially limiting the size of the workforce by arbitrarily increasing credential requirements. Claiming that the non-vocational "liberal education" is superior to narrow vocational training is the posture of class privilege--and what is really distorting the educational system is the continued dominance of obsolete assumptions founded on that same posture.
posted by nasreddin at 9:21 AM on March 27, 2009 [10 favorites]


But as a designer you have to create something that doesn't exist and preferably isn't like anything anyone else has done... it has to fit a specific need... and a whole bunch of people with different tastes have to AGREE that they like it.

Science is kind of like this too, except the time pressures are nowhere nearly as intense.

the university has become a vocational training ground

This might sound cynical, but what other purpose does it serve at this point?


Perhaps for some majors it's a vocational training ground, but I imagine that for most of them it's more like a socio-economic class training ground. It has been for at least the last 50 years. You don't go to college just to have access to information, you go to college to get socialized in such a way that you can isolate and analyze the information that's relevant to your situation.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:21 AM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


man, beaten to the punch again
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:22 AM on March 27, 2009


I'm a millenial and I totally expect everything to be handed to me (on a silver platter, if available.) I really thought I was exceptional in high school and early in college because I got A's easily in classes I liked. (D's in math just proved that my math teacher was a jerk and/or that I was a fragile liberal-arts flower who Just Couldn't Do math and thus shouldn't have to. I was charming in high school.)

Has it always been like this, to various degrees? I dunno. Probalby. But I definitely think of "kids" approximately my age (I'm 26, high school class of 2001) to be generally endowed with massive, hilarious entitlement complexes. We're not all jerks or anything but it doesn't occur to lots of us, at least when we're shiny and fresh out of school, that we're not automatically entitled to the same levels of consideration as the veterans in our fields. (I'm generalizing like crazy, obviously.)

Anyway, I believe it's usually good to encounter a certain amount of fist-shaking and "Get off my lawn, you backwards-hat-wearing pierced-up jackanapes!" from the people we want to be like. Wish I'd had more throughout life, really. I'm uncomfortable from reading the linked-to screed because I recognize so damn much of myself in his examples.
posted by Neofelis at 9:25 AM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Until you can give us some hard data about the differences between generations"

In general terms I agree with you but I have a sneaking suspicion that despite these things not being measurable in any real way other than a preponderance of inherently unreliable anecdotal evidence (and, yes, I know that the plural of anecdote is not data) something is changing.

Pastabagel's comment feels true to me - even in just under seven years as a lawyer I've noticed a change in trainees' attitudes. The "kids of today are [x]" articles that I've read generally go on (and on and on) about how the kids want to be spoon-fed everything and can't be arsed to take the initiative. But that's the opposite of the views expressed in this article where the author seems to be saying that the kids are, in fact, too hard on themselves these days and don't have the mental fortitude to cope with the fact that they might not be very good straight away. It's not that they won't work hard, it that they're not prepared for the fact that the outcome of their all-nighter might be crap.
posted by patricio at 9:29 AM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Because the university has become a vocational training ground, students believe it’s the instructor’s duty to get the student a job. At one senior’s graduating exhibition, a parent approached me and asked, So, now you just have to get my daughter a job. This was not a poke in the tummy joke, nor light-hearted teasing.

I do want to say that this is way, way outside my experience or that of anyone I've known. That's, uh, crazy-pants.
posted by Neofelis at 9:31 AM on March 27, 2009


I think most new web designers fail because they're lazy fucks who think knowing some Photoshop commands and some HTML tags is equivalent to having design skills.

The thing is, in the design profession there actually is a "you kids these days have it so easy" argument to be made. The difference between putting a layout together in photoshop and, like, paste-up boards and hand-cutting linotype blocks or whatever, is vast. The profession is nothing like it was in those days. And I can see how to that trained skilled generation it must have felt like the hordes of newly-empowered amateurs were going to ruin the profession forever.

But that transition is ancient history by now. It was over long before this guy went to design school, so I don't get where he's complaining about it now.


The one part of his rant that rings true is that design students don't get critiqued heavily enough. Too many of them seem to enter the profession without ever having been taught that design is in the service of the client, it's not art.

There was an Ask Metafilter question posted, quite a while ago, by a recent design school graduate who was asking, basically, "I can't find a job, and I'm starting to think my instructors weren't hard enough on me, will you look at my portfolio and tell me what I'm doing wrong?" (I'm not going to dig up the link, no need to humiliate the guy.) It was pretty obvious that this poor kid had never been taught a damn thing about serving the client or coping with revisions or any of the other stuff that actually working as a designer requires: "make it pretty" was as far as they'd gotten with him. Even the designs that worked, it was obvious that he didn't know why they worked.

(The really sad part is that I checked his site a year or so later, just to see what he'd made of our advice, and he hadn't changed a word or a pixel. I hope it's because he found a job and abandoned the portfolio, not that he gave up on the profession, because he did have some innate talent. His school just completely failed to prepare him is all.)

So -- perfect demonstration of what this guy is talking about, and certainly not the only one I've seen.

So my question is: is that the student's fault?

Or should we blame the teachers?

Like for example the guy who wrote this rant?
posted by ook at 9:32 AM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel: Wait a minute, I thought that "Generation X" was supposed to be the entitled offspring of overly-nurturing parents who protected their offspring from the harsh realities of the working world. Or was is the Baby Boomers who frittered away the hard work and sacrifices their hard-working depression-surviving parents on liberalism and a sexual revolution?

Someone else: the university has become a vocational training ground

Um, when has this not been the case in the United States? Back in the 19th century, most of the state Universities were explicitly teacher's colleges or farm & mining colleges, tasked with meeting the management, education and research needs of the industrial revolution. It certainly was true of the massive expansion in Liberal Arts programs after the passage of the GI Bill in order to fill the needs of newly-international businesses. Sure, there may have been some times that university departments mouthed some big words about the need for education of theory qua theory. But at the same time, they were delivering thousands of grads directly into the hands of industry and government employers.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:33 AM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Until you can give us some hard data about the differences between generations, articles like this will be so much masturbation designed more to reinforce the author's sense of superiority than actually to benefit the Millennial reader.

You're undoubtedly correct that "generations are the same" is the right null hypothesis, but if one is interested in having a scientific-ish examination of the "Millennials possess a sense of entitlement to a meaningfully greater extent than did the prior generation," how and where, exactly, would one look for "hard data"?
posted by Kwantsar at 9:35 AM on March 27, 2009


Overall, this article seems to consist mostly of grouchy generalisations, but I heartily concur with this:
...design isn’t about fame—it’s about unfame. Servicing the client is one of the most unfamous things you can do because it’s their name and their dollar.
Amen, brother. In my experience, most of the time design is all about taking a deep breath, binning your genius concepts, giving them what they want, and thinking "there's another one that's not going anywhere near the portfolio".

And then cashing the cheque.

If that's failure, then I'm happy to be sat on a fifteen year mountain of fail.
posted by bokeh at 9:41 AM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


You're undoubtedly correct that "generations are the same" is the right null hypothesis, but if one is interested in having a scientific-ish examination of the "Millennials possess a sense of entitlement to a meaningfully greater extent than did the prior generation," how and where, exactly, would one look for "hard data"?

Well, assuming that there are no such instruments currently available that can be adapted, say from looking at cross-cultural or gendered attitudes regarding success and work, you would start with something along the lines of grounded theory to come up with some indicator variables, construct some basic survey or interview questions, use those questions in a couple of ways to establish both reliability (results are generally consistent) and potential validity (results actually point to something), and then, and only then, you can run a study with a sufficiently randomized sample and start reporting some results (with the caveats that your range may dwarf your level of significant differences.)

Of course, there will be some fools who will argue that such research can never qualify as "hard data" being mushy and accompanied by averages and estimates of variance. But on the other hand, temperature is an equally mushy concept, and yet physicists get by with the understanding that it's merely an estimate on the average kinetic energy of particles in an object.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:45 AM on March 27, 2009


You're undoubtedly correct that "generations are the same" is the right null hypothesis, but if one is interested in having a scientific-ish examination of the "Millennials possess a sense of entitlement to a meaningfully greater extent than did the prior generation," how and where, exactly, would one look for "hard data"?

Kwanstar, there are about sixteen masters' theses out there that are just about to use your post as their thesis. This sort of blather is what keeps sociology and psychology departments afloat.
posted by MrVisible at 9:46 AM on March 27, 2009


You're undoubtedly correct that "generations are the same" is the right null hypothesis, but if one is interested in having a scientific-ish examination of the "Millennials possess a sense of entitlement to a meaningfully greater extent than did the prior generation," how and where, exactly, would one look for "hard data"?

I don't know, and it's not my job to figure that out--it's the job of the people making the claim that the generations are meaningfully different. One would certainly not look for it in subjective intuitions, though, no matter how certain they might feel.
posted by nasreddin at 9:49 AM on March 27, 2009


"there's another one that's not going anywhere near the portfolio"

Yup. Experienced web designers learn that for a certain type of client, it's best to have some glaring errors and poor design choices in early drafts in order to distract clients from changing the things the designers really want to keep. Put a hot pink background on the page and the client will spend half their misguided need to "contribute" on setting you straight. That way maybe you can keep a sensible navigation scheme and not "have every link appear as a drop-down and come up in a pop-up window."
posted by autodidact at 9:53 AM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, assuming that there are no such instruments currently available that can be adapted, say from looking at cross-cultural or gendered attitudes regarding success and work, you would start with something along the lines of grounded theory to come up with some indicator variables, construct some basic survey or interview questions, use those questions in a couple of ways to establish both reliability (results are generally consistent) and potential validity (results actually point to something), and then, and only then, you can run a study with a sufficiently randomized sample and start reporting some results (with the caveats that your range may dwarf your level of significant differences.)

Another important caveat that needs to be made: a survey of Baby Boomers vs. Gen X vs. Millennials is not going to cut it, because you won't be able to effectively control for the effects of age rather than generation. A 48-year-old in 2009 will give different answers from a 21-year-old, but that same 48-year-old in 1982, as a 21-year-old, might have given answers that were substantially similar.
posted by nasreddin at 9:54 AM on March 27, 2009


Put a hot pink background on the page

The problem with that technique -- which I've used myself -- is that the client will inevitably fall in love with the bait and ask you to rework the entire design based on it.

Which can be an entertaining exercise, actually.
posted by ook at 9:57 AM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


nasreddin: Another important caveat that needs to be made: a survey of Baby Boomers vs. Gen X vs. Millennials is not going to cut it, because you won't be able to effectively control for the effects of age rather than generation. A 48-year-old in 2009 will give different answers from a 21-year-old, but that same 48-year-old in 1982, as a 21-year-old, might have given answers that were substantially similar.

Well, that depends on exactly what your question is. If your concern is developing a theory of differences in generational cohorts as they exist right now based on their attitudes right now then teasing out those potential factors isn't that big of a deal. If you really want to understand developmental psychology from age 18-80, you'll probably want to do longitudinal studies anyway. (And for a variety of reasons, we understand how people develop at the start of their life much better than we understand how people develop in the middle.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:01 AM on March 27, 2009


This isn't about generations: it's about self-righteous "industry veterans" with no sense of perspective.

It's a telling statement when someone considers being able to look back at an entire career with the perspective of experience and hindsight to be "no sense of perspective."

For the record: that's what perspective is. No sense of perspective is when you're sitting at the bottom of the pile looking up and have no idea why the guys on top think they're so great. No sense of perspective is what amateurs and newbies have: it's what makes them amateurs and newbies.

If there's a field where I think they still instill a sense of perspective in students and beginning professionals, I'd say it's cooking. My brother is a pastry chef, and he graduated from a decent insitute a few years ago. I recall him telling me about his teachers as though they were monsters. Thankfully, my Dad gave him some perspective on things. "You're there to get yelled at. Don't take it personally, and don't assume it's over nothing. They're telling you when you're doing something wrong. Get as mad as you want, but put that anger and energy into improving your skills so they can't yell at you for it next time." The one thing I remember most from his graduation ceremony was some executive chef from some hot shit restaurant reminding them that this was only the beginning of their education. From now on, you REALLY start learning. The institute was just so to prep you for the real education. Now he works for chefs who make his teachers look like the Patron Saints of Tenderness and Sympathy. But he can handle it, and he's still improving. Why? Because he's picked up some perspective. And he knows, more than anything, that experience teaches and he has more to learn.

So you're right. It isn't about generations. It's about ignorant newcomers with no sense of perspective. It's a problem as old as time.
posted by shmegegge at 10:02 AM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


So you're right. It isn't about generations. It's about ignorant newcomers with no sense of perspective. It's a problem as old as time.

The ability to see things in this light is precisely what I mean by having a sense of perspective. Someone can be very very experienced and yet not possess this ability at all. We aren't disagreeing.
posted by nasreddin at 10:11 AM on March 27, 2009


There is a change coming down the line for young people entering the creative, designing profession. We see it in our work quite a lot. (Although my magazine is more focused on product, furniture, industrial and fashion design.) There is a mega-proliferation of media devoted to design at the moment. Design websites and blogs are appearing in numbers that make the last great design magazine boom look paltry. Ever-increasing competition has made websites and magazines compete ever more fiercely to attempt to find the next hot young talents, and the end result is that designers are being exposed younger and younger, sometimes when they have achieved nothing more than their graduation project or a few renderings. In the office, we have sometimes discussed it as a fisheries problem - there are ever-more trawlers, and to maintain fresh content they're not throwing back under-developed fish.

This is all just a cultural transition, I think. In the long term the ecosystem will settle down again. But at the moment you can see how a young designer seeing their renderings spread across a dozen design websites could think, wow, instant fame. And they didn't even have to make the product.
posted by WPW at 10:12 AM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Proof? This endlessly-repeated bullshit about how "the Millennials expect to be handed everything on a silver platter!" is just stupid get-off-my-lawn grousing.

The culture of exceptionalism isn't millenials -- it's got nothing to do with generations or what decade you were born in. It's telling kids that their every squeaking fart is a sonic masterpiece.

The exceptionalism comes in the belief that when you produce something of quality, it's because you are a superior person. For example, kids are told that they succeed because "they're smart" can be less inclined to try difficult tasks or put themselves in a position where they might fail. Internalizing a message of personal exceptionalism means that failure and criticism can constitute personal attacks on their identity.

But exceptionalism, as an American cultural trope, is more pervasive than just the habits of some collection of young people and their performance in jobs or school.
posted by camcgee at 10:32 AM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hi. Professional designer here.

About the only thing that struck a chord with me in that whiny essay was the sometimes backasswards relationship with technology some of the younger fry seem to have.

My method is this: I come up with a design, then I execute it with a machine.

Their method is this: I fart around with the machine for a while, exploring its possibility-space in hopes of stumbling on a nice design.

In my opinion, this is highly inefficient. I have arguments with junior designers about this fairly frequently. "The computer doesn't dictate the design -- YOU do!" They often reply, "But what if the design I come up is impossible?"

These are the same kids who look at me sideways when something they want to accomplish can't be done via a cheap short-cut (plug-in) and I suggest they go about it manually. "The computer isn't in charge, you know."

Designs aren't in the machine, they reside in the mind of the designer. I do find that younger designers (especially those who lack an educational in "traditional" arts) have a very hard time appreciating this. Their greatest tool is also their greatest crutch.
posted by Construction Concern at 10:37 AM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I didn't go to design school. I majored in English in a top-10 undergraduate English department. What amazed me there was the "get off my lawn" attitude was combined with a shocking laziness on the part of professors when it came to evaluating student work. Most of the time professors couldn't be bothered to comment on student papers. The most comments I ever got on a paper was a third of a page. Often these comments were clearly slapdash and poorly articulated. I was one of a few students who would follow up by going to the professor's office hours - and it was only then that an actual critique would begin. Seeing that I was really interested, the professor would often read over the paper again and actually consider it, typically proceeding to say entirely different (and more valuable) things than the ones written on the paper.

I also took a couple of poetry workshops, and I was continually frustrated by the distracted and unvaluable advice coming from the teacher/students during workshop. The pretence that "everyone's input was equally valuable" usually meant I had to sit through four idiot student comments to get a drop of valuable advice from the professor. And again, going to office hours was the only way to get a genuinely considered response even from him/her.

I don't know if design school is the same, but this article didn't dovetail with my sense that the real problem, the ORIGINAL problem, is with the humanities academy itself - where teaching is never rewarded and any desire to work hard as a pedagogue is beaten out of new faculty. People often blame this on the pressure to publish, but the fact is, we should admit, there is a culture of laziness in humanities education and a race to the bottom when it comes to standards. The real reason standards are so low is not student entitlement, but because professors have enough shame to realize it is unfair to set high standards when no effort will be put into actually evaluating and articulating how and why students come up short. Or in explaining what the standards are in the first place and why.

If students expect A's and are shocked to receive criticism, much of the time it's because it seems unfair to them to be called out in such a half-assed way. And in feeling this way, students are spot on. There is no moral authority in simply telling a student "That's bad. Go fix it," as some posters have suggested here. You must tell them exactly how and why it's bad, and that's work. Work that most professors cannot be bothered to do.
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:43 AM on March 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


If you've got enough water left in your body after an all nighter to cry post crit you're doing it wrong AMIRITE???? break it to me gently
posted by doobiedoo at 10:45 AM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm a millenial and I totally expect everything to be handed to me (on a silver platter, if available.) I really thought I was exceptional in high school and early in college because I got A's easily in classes I liked. (D's in math just proved that my math teacher was a jerk and/or that I was a fragile liberal-arts flower who Just Couldn't Do math and thus shouldn't have to. I was charming in high school.)

Hate to tell ya... but I was 1984's you. I went to art school to avoid math.

Has it always been like this, to various degrees? I dunno. Probalby.

Yes.

But I definitely think of "kids" approximately my age (I'm 26, high school class of 2001) to be generally endowed with massive, hilarious entitlement complexes. We're not all jerks or anything but it doesn't occur to lots of us, at least when we're shiny and fresh out of school, that we're not automatically entitled to the same levels of consideration as the veterans in our fields. (I'm generalizing like crazy, obviously.)

ALL young people are like that!!! Yeah, it's a generalization... but for a REASON. I was lucky (?) enough to learn early on what hard work felt like from an early age (my first job was at 14, mucking stalls in a stable and cleaning saddles) and I *always* knew I was different. While my friends were being handed the keys to Porshes on their 16th birthday, I knew I wasn't going to be handed a damned thing... I was already paying for my own schoolbooks. So I moved to L.A. at 19 by myself and slept on couches because I wanted to go to design school. So I saw things from a little different perspective and was *intimately* aware of how spoiled 90% of my friends were. I'd go back to San Diego to visit and listen to my friends moan about how unfair it was that after three years of paying for their kids to be perpetually drunk at SDSU, their parents were pressuring my friends to get part time jobs.

What cracked me up was when my friends would finally cave in and get these jobs they didn't want... and be pissed that they weren't made manager after two months. Happened almost every time, "I can't believe they promoted that guy. He's an idiot. I know I just started working there, but it's obvious I could do a better job."


What I WILL say is a big difference is this... I've gone back to my high school art classes to teach Photoshop and they had better computer systems in the art room of my high school than many of my CLIENTS have. There I was in the same room I took art class in... same teacher... same everything. Only there's no more tempera paint. There's Photoshop. Now, I don't know of anyone from my art classes who went on to make a living using tempera paint. But you sure can build a career utilizing Photoshop. So these kids have REASON to be a little arrogant in one way... they've actually been learning to use something that people DO use to make a living. The thing is, they just don't know the difference between what they do and what I do. And since the difference is years of experience, it's not something they want to think about because they want to rule the world NOW.

It's like American Idol... there are a lot of people who think they can sing. Some can carry a tune and some can't. But then there are the people who are gifted and can really put something special out there. A lot of people think they're that person and aren't. It's finding out how to channel yourself into being THAT person... that's the trick. AND it's about figuring out what works for clients in the real world. People have to make money off of what you do if they're going to have money to pay you. I mean, when I first started out I did some spectacularly overambitious stuff that couldn't have ever been printed so in the real world it wasn't going to impress anyone.

What maturity tells you is that it doesn't matter how many high notes or trills you hit, in the long term it won't help if you don't have the genuine goods and interest in what makes something work and be good. In the end, it's all about making what does the job and is pleasing at the same time.

But when you start out... it's about you. Plain and simple.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:50 AM on March 27, 2009


If anything has changed, it's that students no longer buy into the fiction that it is their job to work harder than their professors do. People who wish for the good old days really wish for their students to be as masochistically worshipful of them as they were of their own instructors, for no good reason. But young people intuitively understand how power works now, and they know that merit is way down on the list of reasons people get ahead in the world - particularly faculty. My sense is that they automatically and intuitively seek out and respect professors who invest in them - which is healthy.
posted by macross city flaneur at 10:52 AM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is no moral authority in simply telling a student "That's bad. Go fix it," as some posters have suggested here. You must tell them exactly how and why it's bad, and that's work. Work that most professors cannot be bothered to do.

Depends on the field. My impression is that in graphic design, the imperative to Go Fix It could actually be pretty helpful, at least sometimes. Go tinker with it, go improvise, go beyond what you originally thought was the "end" of your work.

In a history class that would just be overwhelming and unuseful. I agree with a lot of what macross city flaneur says about the humanities, but I don't think it's universally unfair to make students muddle through to the better version of a mediocre first attempt.
posted by Neofelis at 11:03 AM on March 27, 2009


My impression is that in graphic design, the imperative to Go Fix It could actually be pretty helpful, at least sometimes.

No. Maybe in fine art a koan-like "do more" would be helpful. Not in design.
posted by ook at 11:25 AM on March 27, 2009


The truth: it takes years to master Photoshop; in fact, you will never master Photoshop.

"Master" it? I would be satisfied with a merely amateurish, workmanlike understanding of it.
posted by blucevalo at 11:50 AM on March 27, 2009


macross city flaneur: There is no moral authority in simply telling a student "That's bad. Go fix it," as some posters have suggested here. You must tell them exactly how and why it's bad, and that's work. Work that most professors cannot be bothered to do.

This is absolutely true, and it draws out the biggest thing wrong with the sentiment expressed in this essay: if there is something wrong with education (and I have a feeling there is) then it is by definition down to the teachers, not the students, to fix it. They're the ones who are supposed to be teaching; it may be difficult or even impossible to teach certain people, but ostensibly students come to them because the students don't know yet and want to learn. Isn't it a little laughable that a teacher complain that his students not know how to approach design?

Socrates mentioned a funny story about this once. He said there was a certain sophist in Athens who claimed to be able to teach justice; he took on a particular student who learned with him for several years. But at the end of the time, the student refused to pay him, and ran off before the sophist could get his payment through legal means. The sophist publicly derided his student; but, Socrates pointed out, isn't it a little ridiculous to complain of injustice from someone who asked you to teach him justice?
posted by koeselitz at 12:07 PM on March 27, 2009


There is no moral authority in simply telling a student "That's bad. Go fix it," as some posters have suggested here. You must tell them exactly how and why it's bad, and that's work. Work that most professors cannot be bothered to do.

Well, the fact is... a lot of times the fixing comes from the designer's own brain. So a big part of teaching design is getting people to find their own solutions that work. Sometimes you just can't tell someone what the fix would be... since it would be different for each person. What one person thinks would "fix" something might just not be something I would ever do.

And when you're at a client's, if you get *any* direction you're ahead of the game. Becoming a designer is all about channeling your visual and creative instincts... those take time to develop and nobody can tell you what they are if you want to be any good. If you just design what people *tell* you to design, you'll never get anywhere and you might as well just stick to production. Nobody wants to babysit you, they're hiring you to forge a path.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:08 PM on March 27, 2009


And sometimes it's really hard to tell someone exactly *why* things are bad. Sometimes they just ARE... but without a trained eye people can't understand the thoughts behind why it's not working even if you explain it a million times. Especially if they designed it and are in love with it.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:10 PM on March 27, 2009


So a big part of teaching design is getting people to find their own solutions that work. Sometimes you just can't tell someone what the fix would be...

And sometimes it's really hard to tell someone exactly *why* things are bad.

I admit that when I said "tell them exactly how and why it's bad", I was eliding a lot of complexity in the teaching and critiquing process. I totally agree and understand that a big part of teaching is leading students to their own solutions to problems.

And yet, the basic problem is a lack of faculty engagement. How ever they engage students, they need to engage them more vigorously than they are. Putting more effort into teaching is the start of a solution to the problem, not the end of it.

It's complicated in other ways too, because I can't help but feel that the oft-touted "subjectivity" and "difficulty" of the creative process are the major culprits excusing a lack of rigor in design training. Presumably we "know", better than the Renaissance mason or ancient Greek architect, that telling students exactly what to do is the wrong approach. Really? That must be why those cultures were so short of individual geniuses, while ours is overflowing with people who refuse to live inside the parameters of someone else's design sensibility. I'm being sarcastic, of course - because it seems to me exactly backwards.

Sometimes teaching craft is just about telling students what to do, and yes, dare I say it, telling them "do it my way". In fact, at some point in every student's career, they're begging for that, but our enlightened educational culture assumes it is doing students a favor by being consistently vague and coddling their "individuality". I sometimes wonder if it isn't just an excuse for more laziness. And not just laziness - our ability to articulate why we do things in aesthetic arenas may be so atrophied that teachers genuinely don't know how to talk to their students about their work. Perhaps they're afraid of being exposed as inarticulate in addition to being lazy. The supposed need to nurture hundreds of little individual fragile design sensibilities is a convenient cover for a multitude of pedagogical inadequacies.
posted by macross city flaneur at 1:03 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I tend to agree the first goal of a good design ANY teacher should be to slap the self-importance out the students.

Design meant to serve the needs of the client, not impress other designers. Save the self-importance when you get tapped to deliver the keynote at the next HOW conference.

Now will you excuse me while I go back to photoshopping the crows-feet out of the creative directors headshot.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:11 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


macross city flaneur, just a point to your earlier post about lacking feedback from profs.

I'm a design and coding teacher. My classes just went through a series of crits. Less than 3% of the presenting students tried to capture or record, in any way, the feedback they were being given (including feedback from me). Similarly, I've spent hours correcting work, pointing out areas of improvement in assignments, only to have the feedback sheet literally thrown in the bin at the end of the class.

The majority of students don't care. They look at the grade. Thus, the amount of feedback I give has fallen over the years. I am happy to sit down with students to go over their work individually if they want me too... but I no longer to bother type out long and critical feedback that will likely be ignored.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 2:06 PM on March 27, 2009


I never studied design per se (liberal arts B.A. with a concentration in postmodern art history & criticism) and am self-taught in most of the the industry-standard authoring tools (practical mastery of which is not that difficult to achieve).

What brings me all the "design" work I can handle is a willingness and desire to collaborate and meet deadlines. It's the same problem-solving skills that we started developing as toddlers playing in the sandbox that give us value as creative professionals.

Is the work I produce astounding or brilliant? Not really. Is it attractive, attention-getting, and delivered on time with no excuses? Always.
posted by squalor at 2:41 PM on March 27, 2009


Get off my lawn light table AND LEAVE THE SPRAYMOUNT CAN.
posted by _dario at 3:54 PM on March 27, 2009


Bah. Designers today with their "Photoshop" and their "colors" and their "machined tools" have NO IDEA what real work is like. Back during the war, we were carving posters onto rocks with other rocks, under heavy fire the entire time, and we didn't go crying to mommy every time the Archies lobbed a shell at us because our kerning was off. No, we took it as constructive criticism, because they were the enemy, and we were the allies, and the 32nd combat design brigade wasn't about to let any low-bid contracts go to them, by god. We were a tight team - me, Ox, the Professor, Ethnic Guy, the whole crew. I remember one time the New Kid was weeping silently in the trench, up to his ankles in festering mud, because the swatches he ordered had come in robin's egg blue instead of periwinkle. Five good men died because of that mistake, and the New Kid felt responsible. Did I tell him it wasn't his fault, that he'd ordered the right swatches, and that periwinkle would've saved those men's lives? No, I told him to buckle down, man up, and redo the whole design from scratch. And he didn't have a laptop or anything fancy like that - no, I made him do it with his own blood on a wooden fence, because THAT'S HOW IT'S DONE. Twenty minutes later, he threw himself onto a mine. Guess he couldn't take it.

Anyway. Kids today.
posted by kyrademon at 4:22 PM on March 27, 2009 [10 favorites]


And sometimes it's really hard to tell someone exactly *why* things are bad. Sometimes they just ARE... but without a trained eye people can't understand the thoughts behind why it's not working even if you explain it a million times.

There's lots teachers can do to help students to realise their intentions that isn't just raising or lowering the thumb, they can come up with interesting precedents that have enough in common with students' ideas to be recognisable but different enough to leave development open to new influences, they can introduce new tangents into the design process that offer oblique views on what might appear to be deadlocked issues, they can also offer complete reversals of approach to throw prejudices into relief. Think Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies, linked with examples tailored to your design predicament, injected when you most need it. Judging design intentions and how students intend to realise them, which parts of the movement between self-analysis and manifestation are promising or problematic and pitching the right advice - this is what teachers should be doing, this is how they offer authoritative guidance, by committed, concrete engagement with their students goals and aims. I don't see it often enough.
posted by doobiedoo at 5:39 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


This might sound cynical, but what other purpose does it serve at this point? Anyone with an Internet connection has access to more information about any given field than the average college student had with their textbooks and libraries in the past, and aside from direct contact with experts in the field most people could recreate the important aspects of a university education on their own for much less than the cost of tuition.

This is only true of those who have squandered their opportunity for a good education. (as seen in Good Will Hunting :)).

Pretty much none of the really useful things that I learned at university were things that I could have learned from the internet + self motivation, and even that is assuming I would have had sufficient self-motivation, which I can tell you right now would not have been the case :) Though my schooling wasn't in the USA, in case that has any bearing.

Also, I have found that compared to a library, especially a 14-story university library, the internet is broad but shallow. The internet has more of the information you need on a regular basis, and as such is far more useful far more often than a library, but the library has the extensive depth on subjects that the internet doesn't deliver when you need to really drill down deep in a specialized field.

Presumably the internet has a massively strong showing in CS and IT information that a library would be hard pressed to match, but in subjects with less demographic overlap, the internet is often not a lot of help, other than by allowing you to get in touch with experts and beg their help.

Also, when you're on your own, you're at all kinds of disadvantage. For example, you don't know when you're re-inventing the wheel, and so a huge amount of your time and motivation that would otherwise be gainfully employed bettering yourself, gets wasted on rudimentary solutions and shoddy workarounds to problems that have already been elegantly solved with far greater study than you can bring to bear, instead of working on problems that haven't been solved. (I'm self-taught in some fields, and find this to be a constant drain on my progress)

If a university is no better than the internet, something is wrong. Maybe wrong with the university, maybe wrong with the student, maybe third party influence. Maybe many things. But something is massively wrong.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:17 PM on March 27, 2009


I initially got into web design as a hobby, and I still have a hobbyists passion for it. Thus, I keep my skills sharp by following what's going on in the field and trying to adapt along with it. My coworkers, who received traditional design training and actually have degrees in the subject, don't.
posted by sciurus at 6:21 PM on March 27, 2009


This is only true of those who have squandered their opportunity for a good education.

I hear this a lot as a defense to that argument, but it's very vague. I'm not convinced that there are very many aspects of a university education that can't be replicated outside of that setting. Unless a good education involves a lot of things other than learning things about a field and putting that knowledge to use, it's possible to get a good education without a university.

a huge amount of your time and motivation that would otherwise be gainfully employed bettering yourself, gets wasted on rudimentary solutions and shoddy workarounds to problems that have already been elegantly solved with far greater study than you can bring to bear, instead of working on problems that haven't been solved

I'm not sure learning outside of a university would necessarily mean that you would have no idea what problems have already been solved. Although as you've said, there is more info online in Computer Science than other fields, one could easily access books and research papers in any field outside of an actual university.

If a university is no better than the internet, something is wrong. Maybe wrong with the university, maybe wrong with the student, maybe third party influence. Maybe many things. But something is massively wrong.

Personally I don't see it as a bad thing. It's not as if a university education has become worse, but rather that advancements in technology have ended up matching or exceeding a university in many aspects. What are the goals of a university? Storing knowledge for future generations, passing knowledge on to new people, acting as a gathering place for experts and novices in various fields, fostering new research through collaboration, etc. The Internet reaches a lot of those same goals on its own, and its only been around for a few decades.

There's nothing magical about a university that makes it superior to any possible competing method of education. At its core, a university is little more than a collection of things (people, books, equipment, etc.) that could come together outside of a university setting to do the same thing. And really, that's happening more and more every day on the Internet. Although as you said it's not perfect, someone from anywhere in the world, without high test scores, money for tuition, or the ability to physically attend a university, can learn as much as I learned in an undergraduate degree program by using an essentially free resource. I wouldn't call that massively wrong, I would call it a huge leap in technology that benefits everyone.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:56 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Servicing the client is one of the most unfamous things you can do because it’s their name and their dollar.

And their dick in your mouth.

By way of saying: "To service" is the wrong verb. The writer should've said "serving the client"—then gotten off my lawn.
posted by limeonaire at 12:01 PM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think "servicing" is the boner mot, myself.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:33 PM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


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