Form Panel Friday, June 8th, 2018

The Past, Present, and Future of “Good Craft”

Jason Murdock, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, Georgia Southern University
Leigh Hughes, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, Coastal Carolina University
Alice Lee, Assistant Professor, Illinois State University
Omari Souza, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, La Roche College

The definition of good craft is due for an update to better harmonize with present and emerging tools and techniques and the realities of professional practice.

For design educators, a pleasant conversation around the water cooler can quickly devolve into a lamentation over the loss of hand skills in “students these days” when the topic of good craft enters the discussion. After all, craftsmanship should be one of the more objective, unchanging measures of a student’s success—either layouts are trimmed and mounted properly to crisply cut presentation boards, or they aren’t. But notions of good craft may not be as objective as they seem at first, and educators most likely start from different definitions of craftsmanship based on when and where they received their own design education. Whether or not current and incoming cohorts of design students really need to have the same level of hand skills as past cohorts is debatable. Perhaps assignments that require extensive hand skills are more of a hazing ritual intended to make students feel the pain we felt when we were in design school than a way to teach them discipline-relevant competencies. As the paradigm shifts from mechanical-object ethos to organic-systems ethos (Dubberly, 2008), it’s likely that the definition of good craft is due for an update to better harmonize with present and emerging tools and techniques, as well as with the realities of current professional practice.

Delving deeper, does good craft even matter? Has it ever really mattered? Should design students be responsible for the production of their own projects, or should they be encouraged to take advantage of the ever-expanding array of rapid prototyping tools, direct fulfillment services, and production-on-demand options at their disposal? The temptation may be to say that this akin to cheating; but, as professionals, graphic designers are rarely responsible for production and fulfillment. Instead they create simulations and prototypes that are ultimately produced in their final form by someone or something else. Insisting on teaching good hand skills may be a waste of time; and, with an ever-shrinking number of credit hours to work with, that that time is precious.

Finally, peering into the near and distant future of design education—2025 and beyond—to question what good craft might mean if Dubberly’s vision of Design in The Age of Biology (2008) is realized: how will design educators evaluate craftsmanship in a paradigm where “hand-craft” gives way to “service-craft”, and where the stopping point for design shifts from “almost perfect” to “good enough for now”? What will good craft look like when the end state of design projects shifts from “completed” to “adapting or evolving”? Is it possible to bridge the divide Dubberly has identified between individuals and institutions that “choose to focus on either form giving or planning”, or is the schism destined to grow wider?

The panel is comprised of four recent graduates of the MFA in Visual Communication Design at Kent State University. All four have entered academe and are currently wrestling with these issues in very different contexts. Leigh Hughes is Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Coastal Carolina University. Jordan Kauffman is Research Associate of Visual Communication at the University of Notre Dame. Omari Souza is Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at La Roche College. Jason Murdock is the chair of the panel and Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Georgia Southern University.