by Luke Dorman, Adam DelMarcelle and Rosemary Rae
Anne Burdick writes that “critical introspection can help broaden our understanding of what we accept as natural. We can then choose to accept it as it is, or to change it for the better.” With this in mind, writing is an integral part of the VCFA experience where graduate studies form a crucible integrating research, fact finding, dispelling, collecting and making.
Each month students at VCFA are asked to collect their work into digital “packets” that combine reflective and critical writing with the visual form they’ve created during the past several weeks. This format provides a space for self-reflection and analysis, along with evaluations of design theory and other readings. This follows the principles laid out in Peter C. Brown and Henry L. Roediger III’s book, Make it Stick, which draws on cognitive psychology and other fields to offer techniques for becoming a more productive learner. For instance, they describe the process of elaboration as a memory device suggesting that if you are able to articulate what you’ve learned using your own words, you will better understand and remember new concepts. The synthesis of writing and making that occurs in the packet space develops both critical eye and voice.
Writing is imperative as it encourages designers to develop a voice through analysis and review. Designers become curious, ask questions, analyze research and make connections not only in their work, but in that of other designers in the world around them. Writing encourages reflection and coalesces the creative process — from forming the initial idea, to making and developing concept, to documenting processes and constructing context. Shaping words and thoughts, designers learn to motivate, inspire, persuade, communicate and educate.
The prevailing attitude in contemporary design is that the designer need not engage in critical writing as they are purely image-driven semiotic “graphic builders.” Critical writing does not have the same clear financial benefits of the client-based model of design and therefore is often neglected in a fast-paced design landscape. To expand our thinking and ultimately our role in society, the notion that writing and making are independent needs to be struck from designers’ thinking.
Reflection through writing activates the curious soul willing to document their contributions to humanity, their place in the profession, and ultimately their addition to a larger world view. The graduate students’ obligation to these principles creates a mode of practice that will reach beyond the realm of academia and stretch into the sphere of change.