Those Who Can, Teach!
We have all heard the phrase, “whose who can’t, teach”, to spin a negative view of academics. It is assumed that if you could actually practice what you preach…you would. The visual design and art world in general are fields that have been targeted with this huge misconception of teaching. The question is, why
One reason for this false impression may be that teachers get sizably less money from their teaching than from their doing. A successful designer can make close to six figures a year or more if they have a substantial following, consistent client base or have secured a directorial position in a design firm. Teachers also have to spend more time and resources in University, working towards a Masters or PhD in order to be eligible to teach at all. This is time taken away from developing professional design skills. To some, the academic aspects of design are seen as a ‘cop out’ from ‘actually’ having to ‘be’ creative. Academia is viewed more as developing theories rather than manifesting those theories into visual proofs. While this may seem to be the case on a shallow surface, it is far from reality.
In fact, I have found the complete opposite to be true. Having both taught graphic design at the University of New South Wales and operated as freelancer and junior designer in the professional design arena, I have witnessed how the two professions work in tandem. It is not one over the other, but rather both and. Let me tell you why.
When teaching, you are continually up to date on the latest developments in the design world. Academics will often attend conferences and give their own presentations based on their observations and research in the ever-evolving design field. Similarly, teachers are in constant review of the basics. How? They have to review it over and over again, and then communicate it to their students. The majority of students have to be told 2 or 3 times before it begins to sink in. Multiply that by the 25 + students in a given class, and that’s some substantial repetition. Teachers are privileged in this sense, in that the more they teach, the more it is solidified in their own mind. In my opinion, you learn much more by teaching than by sitting and listening.
Furthermore, teaching is a tremendous platform for inspiration. With the foundation tools of design being continually reviewed and taught, the teacher gets to witness the creativity of others, and encourage it. The core basics of brainstorming, thumb nailing, story-boarding and more become all the more necessary when teaching, especially in a world driven by smart phones and easy access to computers – which can stint the creative process. As a teacher you realize the importance of not skipping steps. I have learned many pivotal tools from my students that have caused me to re-think my approach in my own design work.
When teaching joins forces with hands on experience, the results are glorious. I have found that what I learn in the classroom helps propel me in the design world, and visa versa. Teaching keeps me current, relevant and more importantly, it keeps me inspired. On the flip side, my freelance design work at “Marked By Design” helps me use real life examples in the classroom of how seemingly mundane student projects and course lectures aid them in being successful when people actually pay them for their work. Hands on experience assists in contextualizing the learning’s. It is a vital tool for a teacher, especially when students wonder what the point is of basic “wax on, wax off” projects.
Personally, I think all teachers should be doers of design, and all doers should be teachers, at whatever level that might be. There is always more to learn, and there is always someone new to need to learn it. Whichever position you find yourself in, you will inevitably grow… at least for the designer.