NYC College of Technology, CUNY

Category: Teaching (Page 1 of 2)

A Brief History of Failure

The road to innovation is paved with failed designs.

Sterling Engine is being revived and tied to solar panels to power a small business or a rural village.

What follows is — depending on how you want to think about it — either a gallery of technologies we lost or an invitation to consider alternate futures. Some of what might have been is fantastical: a subway powered by air, an engine run off the heat of your palm. Some of what we lost, on the other hand, is more subtle, like a better way to bowl or type. As new standards emerge, variety fades, and a single technology becomes entrenched. (That’s why the inefficient Qwerty keyboard has proved so difficult to unseat.)

We can take heart, however, in the fact that good ideas never disappear forever; the Stirling engine didn’t pan out in the Industrial Revolution, for example, but it can keep the lights on for a small village. As you look through the images, then, please consider not only what might have been but what could still be again. — RYAN BRADLEY

A Brief History of Failure | New York Times Magazine

Drawing needs to be a curriculum essential

Drawing has creative, expressive and educational value; it remains fundamental to translating and analysing the world– Anita Taylor

“Drawing remains a central and pivotal activity to the work of many artists and designers – a touchstone and tool of creative exploration that informs visual discovery. It fundamentally enables the visualisation and development of perceptions and ideas. With a history as long and intensive as the history of our culture, the act of drawing remains a fundamental means to translate, document, record and analyse the worlds we inhabit. The role of drawing in education remains critical, and not just to the creative disciplines in art and design for which it is foundational.”

“As a primary visual language, essential for communication and expression, drawing is as important as the development of written and verbal skills. The need to understand the world through visual means would seem more acute than ever; images transcend the barriers of language, and enhance communications in an increasingly globalised world.”

“If we really want to move the STEM to STEAM agenda, drawing could be the connector at the heart of it all.”

From “Why drawing needs to be a curriculum essential” Anita Taylor, 29 May 2014 :


Science Wonder Art ven diagram

The Imaginary Foundation

“The neurobiologist Antonio Damasio has written about Descartes’ error that, to put it in shorthand, “I think therefore I am.” Damasio instead makes the compelling argument, empirically based in neurology, that feeling and emotions as expressed in art and music play a central role in high-level cognitive reasoning….. much of the focus in education these days from Singapore to Shanghai to American schools is on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. As important as that is, it is short-sighted. We need to add the empathetic reasoning of the arts to the mix — STEAM. The values behind arts integration — collaboration, flexible thinking and disciplined imagination — lead to the capacity to innovate.” Behind The Cello, Yo-Yo Ma – adapted from a conversation with WorldPost 

Link Between Art, Perception, and the Self

Lithograph of the brain (via Wellcome Library)

Lithograph of the brain (via Wellcome Library)

“When you look at a painting and feel that somehow it was made just for a person like you, it might actually be true. New neuroscience research shows that deep feeling of personal resonance from some works of art is linked to your brain’s sense of self.” Neuroaesthetic Research Probes Link Between Art, Perception, and the Self by Allison Meier

“‘…certain artworks, albeit unfamiliar, may be so well-matched to an individual’s unique makeup that they obtain access to the neural substrates concerned with the self—access which other external stimuli normally do not get. This mediates a sense of being “moved,” or “touched from within.’ This account is consistent with the modern notion that individuals’ taste in art is linked with their sense of identity, and suggests that DMN activity may serve to signal “self-relevance” in a broader sense than has been thought so far.” Art reaches within: aesthetic experience, the self and the default mode network by Edward A. Vessel, G. Gabrielle Starr and Nava Rubin

Workshop: Designing Digital Projects for ADV1100

On Wed. January, 23rd I will be facilitating a workshop for all faculty teaching ADV1100: Graphic Design Principles 1.

After teaching Web Design for my first six years at City Tech and observing that only a minority of students appeared to have grasped basic design principles and concepts by the time they reached their concentration classes, I asked the Department Chair if I could teach the foundation class Graphic Design Principles 1 (formally known as Design and Color).

My aim was to explore how this course was taught and try to find ways for our students to successfully translate the basic design principles learned in ADV1100 in upper-level courses. It was a mystery to me how some students could produce strong hand work in their first semester and weak digital work in subsequent years.

What was causing this disconnect?

  • insufficient exposure to digital tools in their foundation courses?
  • a focus on a “fine art” rather than “design” approach in foundations?
  • lack of consistency across the course curriculum? ie: each faculty was teaching a different set of principles?
  • the principles were not being reinforced in upper-level courses, beyond foundation year?

These are things I have been trying to explore for about two years. My attempts to actively collaborate and collectively explore this challenging issue have been slowed by OpenLab directorship duties, a year-long sabbatical, and the challenges of coordinating adjunct ADV1100 faculty meetings during a busy semester. I set up the ADV1100 Instructional Resource project on OpenLab to encourage faculty to contribute, but with only a few digitally-confident faculty, I haven’t been able to jump start a dialog.

At the start of this workshop ADV1100 faculty will discuss the course goals and learning outcomes, foundation principles and skills, and pedagogical practices that they are currently using and compare those with the department’s master syllabus. Together I would like to propose a set of learning outcomes based on our current curriculum, student needs, and lack of computer access and work together over the semester to improve the master syllabus.

Next I will present some small digital tasks that faculty can introduce into their class assignments throughout the semester. Rather than ask students, many of whom are not yet skilled in digital tools, to complete an entire assignment in Photshop, Illutrator or InDesign faculty can introduce the basic use of these tools as part of a larger project. Other faculty members are encouraged to post their example tasks to the ADV1100 Instructional Resource.

Examples might include using Photoshop or Illustrator to:

  • create proportional color inventory
  • recreate a simple paper collage project
  • scan and trace a sketch
  • create Simultaneous Contrast pairings

Lastly, we will work together to propose pedogogical solutions that still allow basic design principles to be explored through experimentation and traditional  skills, but also find ways of creating a “bridge” to real-world design projects. I would like the group to come up with two digital bridge assignments that will act as stepping stones into the next course: ADV1200 Graphic Design Princples 2.

These projects should address the following principles:

  • Structural Thinking (ie: Organizational Frameworks, Planning Systems, Visual Filling Cabinet, The Grid)
  • Visual & Information Hierarchy (ie: Classification, Data Chunking, Visual and Conceptual Order)
  • Proportional Color (ie: Schemes, Palettes, Inventories)

EXAMPLE: Ask students to deconstruct a magazine layout, web page, game interface, etc. and reduce the structure down to a grid framework and limited color palette. Essentially a page of hierarchically ordered colored boxes. Ask students to identify the information hierarchies and explain how they are supported by the visual design choices (color, proximity, scale, balance etc.). Ask students to create a proportional color inventory of this deconstructed framework and show how the palette is used to reinforce information hierarchy and create a unified composition.

I strongly believe that students NEED a course that gives them the freedom experiment and fail- to think creatively and challenge their beliefs about what is possible. This is hugely important for the majority of our students, many of whom come to us from the public school system and have never been asked to “invent” a solution to a problem and partake in a collaborative design process. ADV1100 is only class that allows that freedom to experiment and fail.  I hope we can allow this exploration, but also find ways of translating the basic concepts of design to the real-world practice.



Fostering Friendships with Collaborative Projects

One of the greatest joys I get from teaching is seeing friendships develop in the classroom.

I always ask my students on the first day of class to look around the room and introduce themselves to the person sitting next to them, because “these strangers will someday be your colleagues, partners, bosses, clients.” They always laugh, but the people they meet in college and graduate school often become the colleagues they will turn to when they need a job or collaborator.

Recently, I ran into a former student from my Graphic Design Principles 1 course from several years ago. I joked with him that he seemed all grown up now. He acknowledged that there is a big difference between age 18 and 22. I was happy to hear that he had stayed friends with several of the other students in that class.

That was the year that I began to incorporate a number of group/collaborative projects in my classes. The increase in the classroom camaraderie was dramatic. Students worked together to solve design problems, offered help to students that were struggling, and contributed to a much happier classroom environment.

Another thing that improved was the verbal project critiques. Students went from painful, sullen, teenage silence to confident, mature vocal interactions. One of my primary goals when teaching freshman is giving them a chance to speak freely. I repeatedly encourage them to use the course vocabulary, but when they are at a loss I ask them to share their impressions about what they see in whatever words or associations work for them. This relaxed approach gives me a much better gauge of how well students are comprehending and connecting the vocabulary with design principles and helps me to make corrections and repeat concepts as needed. This relaxed critique environment paired with a feeling of comfort among their peers often allows them to take risks and express themselves without fear.

Recently, through the use of OpenLab messaging and discussion forum, I have observed students requesting feedback from their peers if they miss a class or are stuck in their design process. Holding critiques or collaborations in this medium also supports those students who feel self-conscious in person, but less inhibited online.

Creating a classroom environment that fosters friendships though multiple modes of collaboration gives students a safe place to learn (and fail) and prepares them for their future collaborations beyond the classroom.

MTA Field Trip

Field Trip (taken by a kind police officer)

I often bring my ADV1100 Graphic Design Principles classes down the street to the A Station at Jay Street-Borough Hall where artist Ben Snead has a permanent glass mosaic and ceramic tile artwork called Departures and Arrivals.

While all students benefit from research in the field, I find that it gives Freshman/foundation students a chance to connect the course concepts with real world experiences and challenges their process, which after 20+ classes starts to get a bit stale. Much of the work produced from this Saturation Studies Free-Study was technically weak, but many students pushed beyond their safe, formal work process and produced some interesting conceptually-compelling compositions.

And we got a nice photo out of too!


The Big Test


OpenLab Discussion Forum

Today I gave the OpenLab discussion feature a run for its money. I held my ADV1100 class online on the OpenLab using the discussion form for one of the critiques of the second class project: Aural Topographies (Pattern Mashups)

The students did an excellent job given the challenging discussion interface (we’re working on that) and time delay.

I’m really impressed with this group of foundation students.

I will let them weigh in on the experience, but my observations are:

  1. Normally less vocal students jumped in and expressed their ideas
  2. Students were more expressive, supportive.
  3. I sensed a camaraderie not felt in in-person crits.
  4. Viewing and discussing work required students to clearly explain the specific image or part of image they were speaking of in writing- a challenge for some.
  5. With 25 students, the posts came in fast and furious –  the limitations of the forum made it a bit hard to keep up.



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