THINK INTERNATIONALLY, ACT LOCALLY: INCORPORATING INTERNATIONALISATION IN GRAPHIC DESIGN CURRICULA

Carole Goodman

The following case study was published in the book, The means by which we find our way, compiled and edited by Andrea Wilkinson and David Gardener. The book records the experiences of international design educators, which challenged their understanding, location, language, style and design features. The author, Carole Goodman, seeks to portray the effect of internationalisation on her classroom experience at Queen's College, throughout this case study.




Figure 1. The Museo Nacional Bellas Artes invited me, along with 99 other graphic designers worldwide, to participate in a poster exhibition on cultural diversity. I wanted to make a connection between the rich culture of the Borough of Queens in which I live and Cuban culture. My image relates to the famous Cuban cinema poster, "Soy Cuba." Collaged inside my version are translations of the movie title that are handwritten by my students in their mother languages.

Wikipedia defines internationalisation as recognising "that different peoples, cultures, languages, nations, borders, economies, and ecosystems exist" (fig. 1). This differs from globalisation in which the goal is to bring together all nations as a singular entity, negating individuality (fig. 2) (Wikipedia, 2008). With technology making travel around the world more accessible, more students are choosing to study outside of their home countries. Educators need to recognise this increasingly multi-cultural dynamic in their classrooms. Incorporating aspects of local and international life (internationalisation) into the Graphic Design curricula communicates to this wide student audience and makes them better graphic designers no matter where in the world they may eventually live.


Figure 2. Word/image assignment for Graphic Design I. Students paired a word with a variety of images to explore meaning creation. This student’s poster is an ironic take on the word, “diverse” through pairing this word with a variety of photographs he took in midtown Manhattan.

Five years ago, I was hired to help found the Graphic Design major at Queens College, one of several 2- and 4-year colleges within the City University of New York that are located throughout the five boroughs that comprise New York (Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island). Queens College is a 4-year liberal arts university located in the Borough of Queens. Ever since its founding in the mid-seventeenth century, Queens has been a colourful quilt of working class first and second generation immigrant communities. On my bicycle commute to Queens College, I pass through communities from India, Greece, North Africa, China, Eastern Europe, and South America to name a few.

When I first started teaching at Queens College, I assumed that I would use the same syllabi, lectures, projects, and reading material that I used in the other schools at which I taught; however, it became immediately apparent that the students at Queens College are different from those at these prestigious, private art schools and that my teaching strategies needed to be adjusted for this particular student body. While many schools are international these days, Queens College seems to be exceptionally multi-cultural. In a college-wide survey, 9,502 out of 10,332 students are originally from another country, 127 countries are represented at the university, and one out of four students count English as their second language (City University of New York Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, 2007).

Also, most students who attend Queens College are working-class and do not have the finances required to attend private art universities. The annual tuition at Queens College is about USD $5,000, which is inexpensive compared to the average cost of a public college in the United States, about USD $13,000 (The average cost of the United States at a private college is USD $30,000.) (CNN Money, 2006). As a result, Queens College is an affordable option for students from other countries because they can live near Manhattan while remaining closely connected with their cultural and/or religious background by living in a corresponding community in Queens. In general, most students enter the Graphic Design major with little exposure to the field of graphic design (and art in general) or its implications in communicating messages, making a societal impact, or creating visual trends. Despite this lack of knowledge, the Graphic Design major at Queens College has grown 200% in the past two years, with a total of 100 majors.

While developing the Graphic Design major, I have discovered that in order to communicate effectively to a wide multi-cultural student body, it has been necessary to incorporate internationalisation into the curricula. This has helped students understand how graphic design operates within a variety of cultures. Internationalisation creates an atmosphere of understanding and tolerance. It also aids in idea incubation. While my research is ongoing, I have strived to incorporate internationalisation in the following ways by:
  1. Allowing students to work in their mother language and creating projects that allow students to express their cultural backgrounds and beliefs;
  2. Participating in projects with other universities;
  3. Organising community internships where students can explore the intersection of their cultural beliefs and classroom education with real-world projects.




Figure 3. Example of postcard book with one-point binding for Graphic Design III. Students took a series of photographs of a commonplace object based on Johannes Itten's principles of design. Afterward, each student wrote a story that connected to the images with the goal of exploring how the objective and the personal overlap. In this example, this student from Taipei designed a book with images she took of oil crayons. Her story is about one of the first drawings she remembered creating as a child. She originally wrote her story in English, but had trouble expressing herself, so she switched to Mandarin.

Projects

Internationalisation benefits all students, whether they are from another country or from the United States educational goals are the same for all students, although the teaching approach may vary slightly because of language barriers and cultural differences. With some projects, I give students the option of working in either English or in their mother language (fig. 3). Allowing students to work in their native tongue builds bridges between that which is familiar and that which is new. Students externalise the images in design projects that they have internalised from their childhood: packaging, toys, magazines, movies, billboards, etc. French philosopher Henri Bergson believes that in trying to make sense of new situations, "the brain can be seen as ever advancing between the future and the past" (Bergson, 1988: 78). I have observed that many students have found success in understanding graphic design if they are able to explore composition, scale, rhythm, symmetry, negative space, etc. in a language with which they are comfortable and through incorporating their perception of the world into assignments. This builds confidence for them to work on other projects in English and creates openness to learning about and experiencing a design culture with which they may be unfamiliar. Even if students do not speak the language in which another student is working, everyone becomes inspired by how that student works with letterforms, how they choose colours, etc.


Figure 4. Text compositions for Typography I. Students were asked to write a paragraph in English on a childhood memory and then create two compositions. The first composition was created using a 3-column grid, incorporating basic ideals of typography. In the second composition, shown here, students threw out the grid and created layouts that evoked the emotional qualities of their stories. Themes from the above examples (L to R): a Chinese student receiving an English name; speaking English for the first time; working in the family’s Chinese restaurant; first experience eating watermelon; what is not seen through a window; and a Croatian student’s first haircut.

Language barriers become apparent when a project is assigned where all students need to work in English. I work with students individually who have trouble with writing, first by giving them examples of writing that illustrate my expectation for the assignment and through hands-on assistance, such as proof-reading and critiquing. In order to create a connection between students and assignments that require English, I try to construct projects that are personal rather than objective (i.e. a corporate newsletter). Assignments may range from students writing a paragraph about their views on a topic or from their childhood to selecting their favourite candy package for examination (fig. 4). I have noticed that when students reveal a personal aspect about themselves that they feel more engaged both in the design and critique processes. It is always enlightening to learn how people from other countries, cultures, and backgrounds see the world and this has broadened the students' learning experience.

There can also be culture adjustments for some students. On a field trip to Manhattan (a 30 minute subway ride), it is not uncommon for a student to be escorted by a family member since she may be from a tightly knit religious community or culture and is not allowed to travel outside of her local neighbourhood alone. The critique process also reveals cultural differences. Some students are taught never to disagree with a professor or to not speak directly to someone of respect. I do not force students to speak but hope that they will eventually feel comfortable to participate in my informal conversational discussions, after having observed how the critique process is structured and watching their fellow classmates interact. Whether students are from the United States or another country, these differences are exciting, enriching, and should be embraced.


Figure 5. Magazine for Publication Design. Students designed a special edition design publication called, 'Difference.' This cover portrays this student’s connection to her homeland and to her life in the U.S.

Another reason to bring internationalisation into the classroom is that students may move to a new community or back to their home countries after graduation. Learning about themselves through exposure to other students' backgrounds helps create productive designers able to cope with and adapt to new environments (fig. 5).


Figure 6. Prof. Claudio Sotolongo's Web site for the cross-cultural project "Viva la Diferencia."



Cross-cultural projects
Cross-cultural projects enhance the learning process by exposing students to a variety of viewpoints within the confines of the classroom. This year a group of my students participated in a project called Viva la Diferencia that was organized by Claudio Sotolongo, Professor of Graphic Design at the Superior Institute of Design in Havana. He asked a variety of universities around the world to respond as to whether individual cultures are disintegrating due to globalisation by technology, corporations, media, and government. Participating universities were from Canada, Columbia, Cuba, United Kingdom, and United States (New York and Virginia). Educators from each university took the challenge presented by Prof. Sotolongo and developed their own project for their students. While the university in the United Kingdom created masks, my students designed self-portraits. Over the course of four weeks, there were discussions on why a graphic designer would create a self-portrait, the intersection of artist and audience, materials, identity, and methods of communication. The process and work by all of the universities can be viewed at http://designingtheworld.blog.com (fig. 6).


Figure 7.

Cross-cultural projects illuminate similarities and differences among students in their cultural perceptions, methods of communication, and design approaches. My students examined their identity through a variety of concepts and forms. One student came to class devastated because her computer crashed (fig. 7). She had no work to show that week and was extremely upset. I challenged her to see this limitation as an opportunity to work off the computer and to observe the process of creation by this method. Her final self-portrait included Japanese calligraphy, origami, and other elements in a collage, expressing the challenges of being from Japan and raising her children, two first generation Japanese Americans, who feel more assimilated into American, than Japanese, culture.


Figure 8.

Another student's self-portrait was about how her identity was affected when she learned that she actually has two names (fig. 8). Growing up, she was always called a Hebrew name, which appeared on documents such as her driver's license and high school diploma. Upon applying for college, her parents informed her that she also had an American name, and this was the name she should use on her application since it was on her birth certificate. Stunned to learn this, she started using this American name on documents. Her final portrait contains two blank nametags, as she will readily respond to either name since she has friends and family who call her by one name or the other.


Figure 9.

Only one student, who happened to be born in the Philippines, designed a portrait that joyfully embraced all of the stereotypical aspects of American pop-culture and technology: iPods, PlayStation, Urban Outfitters, etc. (fig. 9). His portrait was very successful even in the medium he used to create it: a Macintosh laptop.

Throughout the process, students were interested in learning about each other and discovered that, while all of the portraits were unique, everyone had the search for identity in common. Although the world is a lot more global than it was a generation ago, it seems that individual cultures are still intact. As of this writing, Prof. Sotolongo is currently posting the projects on the blog he created. I recently received an email from one of my students who is impressed with the masks from the U.K. She was intrigued by their working method of sketching and creating several iterations of masks in a sketchbook in order to seek out the best way to express a concept rather than immediately using a computer to create something that looks instantaneously finished.

In his book, The Evolution of Useful Things, Henry Petrowski describes the development of the contemporary fork as seeming to have come from the knife, which may have developed from the chopstick. Good design comes from exposure to all kinds of ideas from all places and cultures, for ideas "do not spring fully formed from the mind of some maker but, rather, become shaped and reshaped through the... experiences of their users within the social, cultural, and technological context in which they are embedded" (Petrowski, 1992: 20). Paper was developed during second-century China and its movement to Europe via the Middle East in the twelfth-century, allowed Europeans to develop their own method of using the pulp from linen rags to make paper. It is this kind of cultural interchange that has helped the development of individual societies.



Community internships

Internationalisation in the classroom makes better designers in the workplace and exemplifies the phrase, 'think globally and act locally'. Community internships connect personal viewpoints with the greater world. Professor Kathryn Weinstein, an adjunct at Queens College, works full time for the Fund for the City of New York (FCNY), a government agency that supports community non-profits within the five boroughs through funding and other resources including graphic design. Prof. Weinstein organized an internship at her workplace for Queens College students to resemble an experience that a freelance graphic designer might have. Interested students must apply for the internship through portfolio submission and interview. Once selected, they are paired with a non-profit with whom they sign a contract that outlines the scope of the project including a project description, timeline, and fees. The intern is responsible for seeing a project through from start to finish: They attend all meetings, present design proposals, incorporate revisions, and oversee the project through to manufacture. The non-profit pays a minimal fee to the intern in order to enforce that design has value in the marketplace and also to stress to the interns that they are working on real-world projects and need to work in a responsible manner by doing all of the required work, meeting deadlines, etc.


Figure 10. Projects by Queens College interns at the Fund For the City of New York (L to R): Chima, from Nigeria, 
designed a logo for an organisation that assists former prisoners in their re-entry into the community; Sarah, from 
Guyana, designed a variety of print materials for a non-profit that helps local film makers; John, from the Philippines, designed a brochure for an organisation that provides health care to needy children and their parents.

This community internship is the ultimate intersection between their cultural backgrounds, design education, and real-world projects. For example, one intern, originally from Hong Kong, was shy about speaking English. She was assigned to design a logo for a public school in Brooklyn. Noticing her shyness, the principal of the school, originally from Tanzania, spoke to her in Mandarin in order to make her feel more comfortable. Eventually, the student became more confident speaking in English at meetings through this simple gesture by the principal. In another internship experience, a student designed a project for a non-profit that provides services to those on the welfare system. She was originally from Korea and did not know what welfare was, but upon studying the non-profit's Web site, she realized that her family was also on welfare. Students are typically enlightened in this manner through this experience, and it has created a relationship between the interns and the greater New York community (fig. 10).

Conclusion

The field of graphic design has changed drastically since its development. Design has gone from being merely about style to something that is influenced by labour, markets, consumption, and ecology in an international context (Drucker and McVarish, 2009: 338). Our universities are becoming increasingly international due to technology making moving around the world more accessible. It is incumbent upon design educators to adjust our curricula in order to communicate with an ever-changing student body, fostering graduates who will be able to work productively in the field to wherever they move after graduation. Creating classroom projects where students can explore the overlap between where they are from and the country in which they are going to school is one way of achieving this. Organizing and/or participating in projects with other universities opens up even more possibilities for students to learn about themselves and others as designers. Finally, applying their knowledge within the community gives students a context for bringing their backgrounds together with their classroom knowledge. In an increasingly global society we need to enhance our understanding and appreciation of one another. Internationalisation expands students' understanding of oneself in relation to the world, not to mention graphic design.

References

     Bergson, Henri, 1988, Matter and Memory, New York: Zone Books.
     City University of New York Office of Institutional Research and Assessment. 2007. CUNY student data book. www.oira.cuny.edu.
     CNN Money. Average College Costs Breaks $30,000.
http://money.cnn.com. 2006.
     Drucker, Johanna and McVarish, Emily, 2009, Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
     Petrowski, Henry, 1992, The Evolution of Useful Things, New York: Vintage.
     Wikipedia. Globalization.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globalization. 2008.



About Carole Goodman

Carole Goodman is Assistant Professor or Graphic Design at Queens College at the City University of New York in Flushing, New York, United States.

Carole Goodman
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