Our friend and colleague Brooke Johnson from Chronicle Books in San Francisco is working on a new title with Jennifer Tolo Pierce called Design School Wisdom, a compilation of quotes from teachers and students. Brooke asked us to submit some quotes for possible inclusion in the book which we share below.
Being self-taught as a designer, I didn’t attend design school. I did, however, work at a few jobs during and after college that exposed me to some workplace wisdom.
One of my jobs in college—around 1982—was to work for Wasserman Silk Screen Co. in Santa Monica, California. Jeff Wasserman set up the original screen printing shop at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, and has printed for a number of well-known artists, including Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg, Claus Oldenberg, Frank Stella, and Billy Al Bengston, among others. His work is extremely precise, and he is a master at what he does. Nonetheless, one of the maxims Jeff often uttered to me was, “Don’t make a religious experience out of it.”
A few years later, in 1985, I worked for the designer and illustrator Michael Schwab in San Francisco who is especially well-regarded for his poster work. Michael has always been successful—or so it seemed to me!—and his oft-repeated advice usually followed negotiations with clients. He would say, “There’s always more time and more money.”
This is my twentieth year teaching courses in graphic design at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. I give my students no end of advice, I’m sure, but the one question I continually ask them that seems worth sharing is this: “Where does your eye go?” If you know where the eye goes when you look at work, and why, then you understand true hierarchy—regardless of the design intention. If you remain unaware of hierarchy, of what the eye sees and in what order, your work will remain indistinct and forgettable. [MF]
If you have to ask the question, you already know the answer. —Michael Manwaring
Michael Manwaring was my Graphic Design 2 instructor at the California College of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco. Michael’s pedagogic model seemed to be based on questioning—he deliberately responded to our questions with more questions. While this resulted in a dialogue of evaluation, it didn’t necessary yield a definitive answer—at least not immediately.
Needless to say it was maddening at the time. Ultimately, though, I learned from Michael how to actively—and critically—distill my ideas and formulate my opinions.
Work hard—the rest will come in time. —Steve Reoutt
I entered the CCAC graphic design program in 1993 and had the good fortune of having Steve Reoutt as one of my first instructors. For Steve, the discipline of working steadily and making progress every day was more important than the “success” of our final work. Steve made us sketch in large pads of newsprint every day, whether we felt like it or not. At the end of every assignment he would take the time to meet with us individually to go through our newsprint pad.
Final crits were led by students: we would put our work up and the students would choose which pieces to critique. More often than not my work would be the last to be chosen for discussion—or sometimes, not at all—leaving Steve to monologue about my project. He always managed to tease out some positive aspect (like the thoughtfulness of my approach) despite the awkward final form.
During one of his reviews of my sketch pad he looked at me and said, “You’re a good problem solver and you work hard. I know form-making doesn’t come easily for you, but no one has it all. Work hard, and the rest will come in time.”
His faith—and the rigor of his approach—had a profound impact on me as a student. It encouraged me to be patient and it allowed me to grow as a designer at my own pace. I have been teaching Typography 1 in the graphic design program at CCA for seven years now and, like Steve, I collect and review my students’ process sketches at the end of every assignment. [AW]