It was a Monday morning, some time in January 1995. There they were, twelve faces looked up at me, some in anticipation, others’ merely giving me a quick hostile glance as they continued to scribble away in their sketch pads as if I wasn’t there. It was awkward, there was silence that seemed to last forever and a negative vibe in general. It was my first day as a graphic design lecturer at Alexander College. This was to be my first challenge, gaining the confidence and respect of my soon to be students. Thoughts and ideas started to trail in my mind, but then panic crept in which wiped away any confidence and self-assurance I had the night before. Was my experience in the design field enough to guide these kids? Was I ready? Was I capable of doing this? The answer in my head was ‘Yes’ I can do this!

I looked around the class and decided to talk to one of the student’s that was smiling at me, which at the time was like a white flag waving in the air. She seemed approachable and had a positive energy and thus she was the chosen one. We talked for a while, she showed me her ideas and I gave her some advice on the project they were all working on. Then I moved on to the next student…and then another, until I had seen all twelve students which made the situation more comfortable for me and for them. This wasn’t so bad after all, I could do this and I really did enjoy passing on my knowledge.

I started to love teaching and researched many areas related to design in depth. I collected data, bought many books and prepared notes, but of course there was no internet back then so this was quite a challenge. The students worked hard, they produced many different ideas and they all had sketch books and art boxes filled with materials from pencils to ink, pastels, marker pens and even lino-cut printing tools. It was fun; students were actually using their initiative. They were experimenting, exploring, photocopying, cutting, pasting, collaging, mixing media and most importantly drawing their ideas on paper! The technology was limited in the late 90’s, but the students were resourceful and made use of what they had. The college had four computers with basic drawing programmes, Photoshop 3 and some office tools. Very few students used the computers and seemed to be more comfortable rendering their typographic headings by hand, producing images and visual effects using paints, marker pens and pastels. This gave the students a more creative approach to solving a design problem and their projects were always original, interesting and varied, even if the presentation wasn’t as highly finished as a printed piece today. There were however many drawbacks. One major obstacle was producing body text, although it was sometimes represented with jargon (scribbles), it did tend to look unprofessional and if it was not rendered with care it looked like one big mess. If a student did not have a steady hand for painting fine areas such as type letters or complicated shapes, this would also let down the presentation of the work.

Over the past 20 years I have seen a decline in creativity on the whole, and in my opinion technology may be the culprit. Everyone has the ability to think of ideas, it’s basically following a method which has proved to be successful for years and all students are guided and taught the methodology many times over. During most of my teaching years, I have come across the same questions; ‘What’s the point in experimenting, Photoshop can do anything’. NO IT CAN’T! It’s a fantastic tool and I love to experiment myself, but at the end of the day it’s a tool, and we, ’Designers’, must not forget this. Maybe I’m just old school, but I’ve worked as a designer with and without computers and producing ideas has nothing to do with technology, some paper and coloured pens is enough to start with!

I walk into a classroom today and art boxes have been replaced with flat boxes… hence ‘The Lap Top’, not a pencil or pastel in sight. Don’t get me wrong, some students love to experiment and are constantly exploring various alternative ways, but the majority of students continue to fall into that pattern of laziness, thinking that the computer will miraculously do the work for them. Some students even come to college without the most important tools, like a pen and they nearly always say ‘I have my lap top, I don’t need a pen’. Others think that research is opening Google and copy pasting a few pictures and when I ask to see their research it’s always in their memory stick. But my favourite has to be ‘where are your ideas’?…they answer ‘In my head’ Ok this is when I get really frustrated and I find myself asking that very first question again, ’Can I do this’?….. Yes, I love a good challenge!

By Maria Pallecaros