Professing graphic design in Yantai, China

I spent the last two weeks of December 2011 completing a two-week teaching gig at Ludong University in Yantai, Shandong Province, China. I was asked to teach graphic design there by the Shintaro Akatsu School of Design at the University of Bridgeport, with whom Ludong has developed an international affiliation. I followed an opening two-week visit by a colleague from SASD, Professor Emily Larned. As far as the leadership at Ludong University is aware, this is the first time graphic design has been taught in China by visiting Western professors.

China - Shandong Province - Yantai

Yantai is a city of 8 million people about an hour and ten minute’s flight east-southeast from Beijing. It is a port city on the Yellow Sea, so seafood is plentiful – and wonderfully different. In addition to being a regional business center, Yantai is also renowned for its extensive apple and cherry harvest.

Yantai Seaside

Yantai Cityscape

This is a composite shot of a principle intersection in downtown Yantai: the buildings there are not actually tilted – at least not to this extreme. These photos were taken on a too-long run from campus: I was pressed for time an hour and ten into the run when I finally found my destination, the harbor. Asking passersby for a more direct route back to the university, I was told “too far” by the first two. I eventually got directions and made it back to campus in 35 additional all-uphill minutes. That was a no-rest-for-the-weary push.

Ludong University is a medium-sized Chinese institution of about 25,000 students, half of whom are studying at the graduate level. They draw their students from all over China, though the majority come from Shandong Province, which is a large area – taking about seven hours to drive across from end to end.

Ludong University Teaching

I asked to meet each of my three classes ten times – once per day for the two weeks I was there –  and expected to leave China very tired, but we compromised and I met each class eight times over the two weeks. That provided nearly the maximum number of critique opportunities to discuss the students’ design thinking shown in their homework. This is a very early critique because many of the studies show random abstractions that have nothing to do with the originating letterform nor the intended abstract expressions. But the light approach I try to take with experimental work is plain on the students’ faces. They may have been laughing at my Chinese pronunciation: WOH bu geedoh. Woh BU geedoh? Woh bu GEEdoh… Woh bu geeDOH! Wherever you put the emphasis, it means “I don’t know.” 

Ludong Teaching 2

Ludong University Teaching 3

Paper in China is not particularly expensive, but it is respected as a finite resource. Instead of taking notes, students photograph everything with their phones, including their professor who is holding up a study for discussion. Chinese students do not own their own printers, so outputting studies at the local print shop, which is closed from 7pm until 8am, is part of their homework planning.

Ludong Teaching 4

The two-week course could not have been nearly as successful without the extraordinary skill of Xu Shanshan (or “Sophie,” in the foreground), my graduate-student interpreter and translator. I was talking for two weeks about letterform abstraction, image abstraction, and conceptual abstraction, none of which are especially easy to grasp in English (I know this: I teach it regularly), and Sophie not only translated what I said, she understood and was wonderfully able to express what I meant. This was made evident in the students’ work.

Ludong Teaching 5

Here are most of the students with whom I worked at Ludong with Sophie, who is holding an inscribed copy of my Advertising Design and Typography book. It was important to me that she be presented with this in the presence of “our” students.

Ludong Teaching 5

It was cold, snowing every couple of days, and heat is extremely carefully used. Coats are worn by everyone all the time, outdoors and in. Twice-per-week celebratory dinners with professors, deans, and key administrators were occasions to eat until failure: a brilliant ritual!

There were several opportunities to visit extraordinary cultural sites. This huge Taoist temple is near the town of Guzhen, Qixia City, very near the Mu Family Man­or, the largest (480 rooms) intact feudal landlord manor in northern China and a protected historical site which was begun in 1723.

Posted in Professor

Talk therapy on white space at Pratt Manhattan

Pratt Institute facadeI have been invited by the Graphic Artists Guild to speak at Pratt Institute (14th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues) in Manhattan on Thursday Nov3 at 7pm. The talk’s title is White Space in Design: Two Hours of Talk Therapy

Please join me. The lecture is $20 for Graphic Artists Guild members and $30 for others*. That is a saving of at least $400 over what you would pay for two hours of any other kind of talk therapy in Manhattan, which I am lead to believe is over $225 per hour. By very special arrangement, my students get in free: thank you Graphic Artists Guild!

Lots of Q&A. If you bring an already-purchased book**, I will be delighted to sign it. If you bring a book by another author, I will do my best to disguise my handwriting as I sign it with their name. (My cousin Miguelito introduced me to this idea when he spent an afternoon signing all my LP sleeves in 1972. Each signature was distinctly different. Looking back, I wish I’d kept my fake signed Carlos Santana vinyl.

*If you visited this site earlier, I was mistaken about it being free for everyone. I apologize for not having the facts and for making hasty assumptions. That’s what gets me into trouble as a designer, too. I hope you will consider joining us on Thursday anyway. I will do my level best to help you see differently in those two hours. It won’t be one of those presentations that goes on and on about how wonderful the speaker is and how wonderful their clients are and how wonderful it is to be them. No. My goal is to give you a two hour dose of another way of seeing. Using words. Cool if it works. Come see if it works.

** Oh yeah, about having books for sale there, which was something I also had in the earlier version of this post: the weird October nor’easter we just survived has affected the bookseller who was going to populate the back of the hall. She can’t be there with the goodies. I have tried in the past to sell books while speaking, but it doesn’t work out very well. Either I stop speaking or I don’t move books. So instead of selling books, I have, by very special arrangement, secured covers of my 2011 book, The Elements of Graphic Design, 2nd Edition, which I will be handing out to everyone in attendance. Farrrrreeeeeee. And I’ll sign ’em if you wish. (Another workaround is you can pick up a copy of EoGD2 at Barnes & Noble on Union Square on the way over and I’ll sign it for you at Pratt.)

Posted in Professor

Westport Cinema Initiative names design director

Westport Cinema Initiate logoI am delighted to have been named design director of the Westport Cinema Initiative here in Westport, CT. Under the leadership of Sandra Lefkowitz, our mission is to build two small movie theaters in downtown Westport, in which first-run foreign films and film festivals and accomplished amateur efforts can be seen and discussed. The WCI theaters will be places where the love of cinema is celebrated. Westport has lacked any movie facilities since 1999, when the Fine Arts theaters gave up under perpetually-increasing rental costs. With the exception of a couple of notable restaurants, downtown has suffered from the loss of purpose after sunset. Our intention is to bring a focal point back to town – and to further the already outstanding arts community served by the Westport Arts Center and the Westport Country Playhouse. I am particularly proud to be working with four fine Westport-based designers: Gene Seidman, Jerry Kuyper (who designed the logo), Moshe Aelyon, and Sooo-z Mastropietro.

Posted in Designer

Graphic-Design.com interview

Fred ShowkerMy pal Fred Showker at graphic-design.com sent me ten questions about design and space in readying his book review of my Elements of Graphic Design, 2nd Edition. Please visit his site for the book review. Fred and I met as co-hosts of a design seminar series for the Department of Defense in D.C. Crew cuts and uniforms on many… but definitely not on us. Fred’s questions are below, my responses are here.

  1. What is white space and why is it important?
  2. What are the three raw materials of graphic design and visual communication?
  3. What is the difference between “nothing wrong” and “something right” with a design?
  4. Let’s talk about history: when was white space invented?
  5. Let’s talk about art: what is white space equivalent to in other arts?
  6. Let’s talk about law: is it really a crime to misuse white space?
  7. Let’s talk about food: it is said white space makes a design “tasty.” True?
  8. What is “hidden” white space?
  9. What is wrong with filling in all the space?
  10. If white space is so important, why aren’t there any empty pages in your book?

My responses are here.

Posted in Author, Type & Design