- Process v Portfolio Schools
There are several ways in which design can be taught, with two main schools of thought ranked highest among design professionals. I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced both and have put together a short comparison:
Swiss / Process
‘Swiss’ schools are built on principles originally developed in Basel, Switzerland, and tend to focus on the design process rather than the outcome. The course at Teesside University where I studied for my bachelor’s degree followed this method of teaching, championing ideas and experimentation.
The first semester consisted of exercises and experiments with different media while actively avoiding any work on computers. We were challenged to look for design around us, have an opinion on it and its role in today’s society. That’s not to say that the end portfolio was neglected, rather that the journey to the finished piece was just as an important part of our learning.
One fault however with this method of teaching was that projects were often not relatable to real world briefs. Too much emphasis was put on experimentation and idea generation with no real time constraints.
Slick / Portfolio
The exact opposite can be said for ‘Slick’ schools and their way of developing young design students. The course I have just graduated from in the States consisted of several very short briefs. This may be due to the fact that it was actually a short course, but we were often given one-day briefs, which mirrored more the working environment in an actual studio or agency.
With quick turnarounds however there became less time devoted to developing an idea. Focus was instead turned to developing software skills to a professional standard, allowing us to ‘mock-up’ these quick projects. Unfortunately this method for me missed out on what I thought was one of the most beneficial parts to my degree back in the UK. Liaising with printers and paper suppliers while producing a project was a very useful exercise, one which I profited from when I got my first job.
While coming to an end of my time on the course in New York I decided that the formulaic approach to design taken by these slick schools felt at times rather arbitrary. I don’t always take the same route to a design solution, so creating a set of rules to follow each time didn’t work for me but it may for others. It also took some of the enjoyment out of the process as I began to feel I was merely contributing to consumerism rather than creating work that was thought provoking or problem solving.
Some employers would prefer to see a polished book as it makes it easier to imagine that graduate working for them in the future, others are more interested in the ideas behind each piece. I've learned a great deal from both experiences, each serve a purpose and I feel a combination of the two has resulted in me being a more rounded designer. Being both slick and swiss seems to work for Federer but for me, at this point the Swiss has the advantage.