Oh, Providence! Between New York and Boston on more or less a Northeast axis, lies Providence, Rhode Island. This spring I traveled there at the invitation of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) to be a designer-in-residence (DiR).
Woods-Gerry, RISD’s undergraduate exhibition space.
Apart from RISD, Providence, in true New England tradition, is home to a number of colleges including Brown, Johnson & Wales, Providence College and University of Rhode Island.
It’s hard to overestimate the influence RISD alumni have had on our art, design, and popular culture. Award-winning author-illustrators David Macaulay (Castle, The Way Things Work), Chris Van Allsberg (Jumanji, The Polar Express), animator, screenwriter, comedian Seth MacFarlane, artists Julie Mehretu and Kara Walker, gallerist Mary Boone, film director Gus Van Sant, cartoonist Roz Chast, graphic designer Shepard Fairey, and even dropout David Byrne, have impressed themselves onto our collective art-music-film-design consciousness. That’s the history, anyway.
In addition to integrating myself into the design classrooms as designer-in-residence, I took part in the school’s annual Design Portfolio Review.
Students register for Design Portfolio Day.
This year’s Design Portfolio Review day was one for the record books: over 160 companies saw nearly 650 students, and conducted 3,479 15-minute review slots at the Rhode Island Convention Center (phew).
Selection of students’ calling cards.
Dimensional illustration, student work.
My weeklong stint as DiR was an intensive one. However, the opportunity to step away from the routine and insert myself into a design education community was welcome.
Wall in graphic design studio.
I have taught at CCA in San Francisco, so I was curious to compare that experience with one a continent and educational philosophy apart. I should not have been surprised to find design-speak is understood regardless of “school” or locale: design problem solving and aesthetics are fundamental to the designer’s art.
The difference that I perceived is that the students in the classes I took part in were more enamored of, and conversant with, digital applications of their book/publication/communication designs than my recent experience had shown.
Prof. Hans van Dijk’s typography class: from print to app.
At the same time, the level of curiosity about the fate of the traditional printed book was high. In spite, or perhaps, because of the ubiquity of digital devices and content, the physical objectness of the book holds a fascination for these young designers. Reassuring news as bookstores are shuttered and readers decamp for the tablet.
At the same time that I was being exposed to designs-in-progress, the students peppered me with questions about the publishing process, the marketability of their concepts, and in some cases, the manufacturing process. For me this was a best-case scenario of an open exchange of ideas while immersed in the daily flow of classes.
Work from critic/instructor Ben Shaykin’s Booklab class: book design becomes interaction… transforming the book into an environment for “Fancy Rat.”
In one instance I had the opportunity to co-lead a workshop in Prof. Jan Baker’s class, “Book and Paper Arts.” To my delight, her students were drawn from across the design disciplines, a construct which reflects my predilection for an interdisciplinary approach to design.
Prof. Jan Baker’s “Book & Paper Arts” class.
The objective of the workshop was to introduce students to the notion that the book structure is an alterable, expressive art form. The results, based on the students’ thesis proposals, transformed their intellectual concepts into 3-dimensional statements, strong in visual content and which had the effect of reducing their theses into a series of illustrative, concentrated tangible forms.
An architecture student’s interpretation of a tunnel book.
Further examples from “Book & Paper Arts” class.
To round out my experience at RISD I gave a talk at the student union (“The Met”) entitled, “Move Over Don Quixote: Pushing the Boundaries of the Book,” something we at Chronicle have a history of doing. The talk was an opportunity to illustrate how Chronicle has embraced the physicality of the book to great success and in the process gave birth to a whole array of products that stretch the notion of what a book is. In that regard, artist Ed Ruscha probably said it best: “I love books, the physical objects of them.” We at Chronicle do too.