Kudos to the Alma Mater

It's not often I'm prone to nostalgia, but a recent ranking by a British site that put Kent State University's Visual Communication program in the top four in the U.S. took me back to thoughts of my alma mater.

When I started college, I barely had an inkling of what graphic design was. Upon first meeting with a career counselor to choose a major, I said “I want to do the kind of art where you can make a bit of money.”

His response was “Then you want to be a graphic designer.”

That sounded fine to me, and he signed me up.

Little did I know what I was getting myself into. The program, one of the most rigorous of its kind, was like boot camp without the drill sergeant shouting in your face. There was a high standard across the board and if you didn't meet or exceed it, you were out. No questions, no crying and cajoling of professors was going to change that. The attitude, one I supported then as well as now, was that design programs have no business sending students ill-equipped to deal with the rigors and pressure of being a professional designer.

I don't recall the numbers but of a starting class of about 50, roughly 9 or 10 of us staggered across the finish line of our senior project. Tough as it was, it was an amazing experience. It didn't merely show you how to put together a great portfolio or how to use typography and imagery, although it did both of those things quite well.

It taught you how to think critically and conceptually, getting rid of the obvious solutions and delving beyond the expected to come up with something that you wouldn't consider on your first, second or fiftieth sketch. It taught you to go beyond your own expectations of your thinking and come up with something both new and good. It also landed me my first job in Chicago, one that set me on a path that continues happily to this day.

Martin Amis once titled a book of essays The War Against Cliché. In a way, that philosophic position is my greatest takeaway from the program, one I still aspire to in my work as principal of Substance.

Congratulations and thanks to John Brett Buchanan and j.Charles Walker, co-coordinators of the program for a job well done.