Spring 2003

Making future history in Chicago

FutureHistory

AIGA Chicago and MeadWestvaco Regional Design Conference,
October 11-12, 2002, University of Illinois at Chicago





For graphic design educators, conferences provide a crucial oppor-tunity to gather, to connect, to share our ideas and information. As a response to this need, MeadWestvaco has provided funding for six regional design education conferences to support the initiatives of AIGA Design Education, a sub-group within the American Institute of Graphic Arts. While professional membership of the AIGA has decreased (a result of the downturn in the US economy) student membership has been increasing.

‘FutureHistory’ featured presentations from Wolfgang Weingart, Katherine McCoy, Philip Burton, Lisa Strausfeld and John Maeda, plus academic papers from design educators. Led by educator moderators, discussions groups were organised around the themes of curriculum, technology, professional expectations and design history.

Weingart opened the general session on Friday morning with a manifesto: ‘The other way to make and think about the subject of design education and life.’ He called for the creation of online design schools, and to reduce the number of existing design schools by 80 per cent: ‘There are not enough ambitious teachers. This fact keeps the classroom a monotonous, empty place. Only good institutions are capable of educating conscientious and responsible designers that will solve our international societal ills.’

The central point of his talk was about changing the way we think about design schools. Weingart attempted to provoke a discussion of what the future design school environment might be. His model proposed reconfiguring classroom dynamics by combining different kinds of creative intelligence within a structural organisation that employed teleconferencing.

Strausfeld’s thoughtful presentation took us on a virtual tour of her work, starting with her student work in Muriel Cooper’s MIT Visible Language Lab. ‘Where is mastery?’ she asked. ‘I don’t believe that mastery is gone. I don’t believe it is tied to media.’

After a break for lunch, the afternoon required choosing from a garden variety of educator presentations and discussion groups. All the educator papers are in PDF format and can be downloaded from the conference website at www.futurehistory.info.

Katherine McCoy, former co-chair of the design graduate program at Cranbrook and more recently a senior lecturer at IIT’s Institute of Design in Chicago, gave an articulate review of her dual roles as designer and teacher. Her lecture ‘Speaking in Tongues: Audience-centered Communications and Cultural Sustainability’, was a survey of three themes: converging cultural sustainability, visual languages, and audience-centered design. ‘As designers, we happily spread a consumer monoculture when we impose our high-culture rarified training on audiences unaccustomed to our languages’. She considered the problems of employing appropriate languages without speaking down. ‘Might not we look to our audiences for new sources of rich ideas?’ she asked.

John Maeda said that ‘Education is like intellectual philanthropy.’ He likened the MIT Media Lab to a shopping mall of ideas, and then confessed: ‘Programming is not as important as it once was. It is so boring.’ After the laughs, Maeda got to the core of his presentation, his plans for ‘a new cultural institution to house a studio on the Web – a worldwide Bauhaus.’ He described Open Atelier [http://openatelier.media.mit.edu], as a new infrastructure for online creation of basic digital content, and the flexible creation and modification of digital content tools. Maeda ended by asking ‘How do we make being alive matter?’ At conferences such as FutureHistory, it is the quality of the questions, not just the answers, that really matter.

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