John DeVylder

Teaching Philosophy

My main focus as a design educator is that my students truly understand the nature of the design process. Be it in the skills they are developing, the rules they are choosing to abide or ignore, the history of communication which precedes them or in their research through the lifespan of a project, an understanding of why things work the way they do is essential. Each student understands the elements of design in their own way. Methodologies can be offered up for example or even for appropriation, but in the end it is up to the student to find his or her own path.

Ownership is empowering.

The importance of teaching does not lie in transferring my understanding of a topic to a room of students, but in assigning the necessary challenges to develop their own design sense, their own set of tools. Devising project briefs that are open enough to allow students a sense of authorship and encourage ownership of the outcome is critical in empowering them towards the ownership of their overall education. Fostering and facilitating a culture of open dialog within the classroom is also essential for students to be active participants in their own education.

I believe strongly in teaching from a point of encouragement. Addressing a student’s accomplishment first is a matter of respect for his or her effort and ensures I understand their approach first and foremost. With that foundation laid, we can work together, to help the student find his or her own voice in the communication of a message. Every student learns at different rates and in different ways. Respecting students’ abilities and helping them to grow fosters a sense of personal achievement as well as classroom success. This builds momentum, and momentum is contagious.

Working one on one with a student is critical in making a connection. Pushing solutions beyond the first iteration, suggesting new sources for inspiration, and encouraging them to wards the right questions, helping them abandon misconceptions and preconceived notions. Design, as in art, is a form of self expression. True joy in the product of labor comes with the reflection of one’s own voice or even identity in the solution.

Looking critically

True understanding of the nature of a design solution comes from critiquing not only the work of other students, but by dissecting the work of professionals as well. Lessons in construction and approaches to language are to be found therein. Who are the classes’ design heroes? Whom do they admire in the field? Let’s pick ‘em apart. What’s the overall feeling of a work? The high-level? Now let’s zoom in, by powers of 10, examining along the way. What’s the emotional read from the piece, the nuts and bolts, the aesthetic and organizational choices made, all the way down to the kerning, punctuation, baseline grid. How did the perception or reading of the work change as we narrowed in on the nitty-gritty? Through this sort of dialog, a solid design vocabulary can be built. This is essential for communicating one’s own intentions and becomes the building blocks of strategic thinking through design.

Teaching by example can come from live demos, looking at contemporary work from corporate, arts and experimental sources, as well as from historical models. These examples which act as influences can come from within the realm of design or from the outside. Even across media, crossing the boundaries of the senses.

Education is interdisciplinary

Students take many classes, and the ones I teach are part of the fabric of their education. As projects are assigned, they need to be flexible enough to allow for, but not require outside interests. The interdisciplinary nature of any given semester may bring an excitement for a new interest, this should be embraced rather than ignored within the framework of classroom study. This openness to outside sources needs also to be exemplified by the instructor. Working in the field requires constant learning about the content you will be designing for, be it power tools, pharmaceuticals, a charity organization or a rock band.

Technology has a large (and continually growing) role in the field of design and thereby a large part of a designer’s education. However critical software training is, it is not analogous with design thinking. I firmly believe that ideation is at it’s best, most fluid when pencil meets paper. To the same extent, design education is not just job training. The end goal is not professional practice, it is one suitable outlet for the philosophies, methodologies and know-how which are the fruits of an education in design and the arts.

The host of influential teachers that I have had throughout my own education plays a major role in my decision to teach. It is out of respect for the position of these individuals, and a reflection of the respect they showed me, that I approach my own calling to the front of the classroom.