Excerpt from “Re-framing Design: Engaging Form, Meaning, and Media” 

by Jennifer Bernstein

From chapter to be published in forthcoming book
Kinetic Emergence: The Theory and Practice of Motion Design, R. Brian Stone and Leah Wahlin (Editors), from Common Ground Publishing

INTRODUCTION: The Need for a New Framework

Maybe because of a background in theater, once I began to study graphic design, I was drawn to one of its most experiential modes: design for time and motion. The limits of technology in the early 1990s when I was in graduate school, caused me to abandon the computers and software current at the time, in favor of a bizarre mixture of Super 8 film, 35mm slides controlled by a “dissolve unit,” combined by re-photographing their superimposed projections back onto Super 8 film before splicing and taping a final edit.

Years later, here we are in a completely changed design landscape. The profession has evolved along with changes in technology and development of a global culture, resulting in an expansion of what designers actually do. (And it keeps changing.) Where once the terms “graphic art” and “graphic design” were a fitting name for a profession that primarily dealt with static representations, many design programs have adopted the more open terms “communication design” or “visual communication” to reflect the discipline’s evolution. 

Design practitioners and educators have been working through the many issues raised in design criticism over the last twenty to thirty years, such as the role of form and content, objectivity and subjectivity, audience and user, artifact and system, solution and parameter, designer and co-creator, individual expression and distributed collaboration.

Undergraduates in many design programs today still begin their studies as many of us did — learning the fundamentals of composition and typography, looking back to pioneers of design and formal theory, along with contemporary examples and ways of thinking. Design for motion and interaction has been integrated in many cases, but often as the subject of a specific course or elective, rather than as another core design literacy being addressed at the sophomore (or even foundation) level.

The scope and nature of design has changed tremendously. The question continues to be raised: has this sufficiently influenced design pedagogy and practice? Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips’s Graphic Design: The New Basics (2008/2015) directly addresses the need to change design fundamentals, but does not do so in a transdisciplinary way that also explains how these concepts relate to one another.

With all of these changes in mind, young designers still need to learn how to “see,” create a composition, build a visual hierarchy, and work with typography. Design educators are challenged to prepare designers for a wide range of possible paths, while also making them aware of the constantly evolving character of contemporary design practice.

Many design educators have wrestled with these questions within our design studios, professional conferences, and enacted potential solutions in our classrooms. The speed of technology has also had an impact, with design educators grappling with the question of how (or if) to incorporate software tools and coding into design fundamentals. But we can address many of the changes we see in design practice while focusing on principles. Because motion design — one of the key drivers of change in design today — crosses disciplinary lines, we must look to other spheres to understand the medium, and utilize its strengths and affordances toward a more integrated pedagogy. To understand, practice, and teach motion design in the twenty-first century, we need to develop a theoretical framework that acknowledges its interdisciplinary nature and integrates it into our design fundamentals. This challenge is not new. In 1965 Armin Hofmann wrote:

Adding a new dimension means an extension of the principles of design, not merely in the sense of a numerical increase of existing disciplines, but rather in the sense of completing a constantly expanding unit.  (Hofmann, 1965, p. 10)

If we consider the scope of design education and practice as beginning with an understanding of formal principles (structure), expanding to address the creation of meaning (message), and finally addressing how all aspects (form, message, and media), can this assist us in integrating theories from different disciplines, and starting to build a more coherent framework?

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