Education Article :: Chapter 1 :: Introduction; Figure and Ground

Checkerboard Gradation Motion Rhythm Floating

Graphic Design Education Fundamentals
by Michael Kroeger
Especially now with computer technology dominating the design industry we need to establish basic guidelines of study for current university graphic design students. I have been working on this project for the past several years. I developed these projects in my curriculum to guide first year design students through their design education. The students make all designs by hand using cut paper or gouache.

They are unfamiliar with professional design issues. I instruct them in all aspects of business etiquette. They come from all different cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Many are international students studying in the United States for the first time. I use the common graphic language of form and aesthetics to begin their graphic design careers.

In the beginning
The sophomore graphic design students begin with simple formal projects. I introduce the various technical tools and materials in a way that is both comfortable and encouraging. I explain and discuss each step of the design process with them. They accomplish the simple design tasks and move on to complex problems implementing both form and content. The computer is not a part of the initial project perameters. Concentration on design is necessary at this early stage.

Two myths about design education.
01. That schools should avoid their own 'look' and provide a broad education.
02. That practicing designers are the best design educators.
Gordon Salchow 'Looking Closer'
(Cincinnati, 1981; New York, 1994; pg 220)

Figure / Ground Organic
Water Foliage Rocks Compression Layers

I begin with a simple figure and ground exercise. The students use these two dimensional foundations of design throughout their careers. The students must guess about design without a strong foundation in these design fundamentals. Later, they apply these ideas when they must address complex social and political design problems.

I divide the figure and ground projects into two categories: grid and organic structure. I base the grid structure on a ten by ten one inch square format. The students must stay within this structure to solve the problems. For example, these problems include: movement, rhythm, direction, gradation, etc. The second exercise involves the opposite organic structure. The students use flowing organic shapes to express the idea of figure and ground. The black and white forms interact with an equal partnership in the design composition. The students thoroughly explore both the structured and organic aspects of the figure and ground experience. I emphasize the aesthetic and communication properties of their designs.

Project analysis
The students first exercises are the organic and grid figure and ground projects. These exercises encourage the students to become familiar with the tools and materials necessary to get started. Critical analysis, presentation style and formal expectations are introduced in the first weeks of the class. The ability to combine form and content of message is paramount.

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Copyright © 1996-2005 MK Graphic Design. All rights reserved. No portion of this document may be copied, reproduced, or electronically reused without written permission from Michael Kroeger at MK Graphic Design. (06.19.05)