So I got the official word yesterday that I’m not on the schedule to teach next semester, for reasons that the school wasn’t able to really explain other than saying that they’ve changed their curriculum around. I know a little more about what’s going on than this, but won’t say anything here other than that I’m having a hard time not taking it personally. I work super hard for my students. I’ve developed two custom syllabi, added custom lectures on everything from printing to color to getting a job, and I spend days of extra time off-campus grading and reviewing work. I get good student reviews at the end of each semester. I feel like they’ve ignored all of this, and that hurts.
The new semester is underway, and I’ve got a crop of 16 students. They’re all new to me save two, which is a nice change, and after our fourth class I’m relatively happy with them so far. I’m teaching a slight variation on last semester’s syllabus, having tweaked the timing, assignments, and deliverables a bit based on what I learned in the last class. These students are all graduating in the spring, so I’ll be one of their last waypoints before they reach the outside world. It feels good to be teaching again, and I’ve added a couple of workshop/discussions to the schedule that should help them beyond the assignments we’re covering.
We have some friends who own a digital printing shop in Columbia, and over the break I went down to tour the shop and talk to them about taking on student work. It’s not the most glamorous work, and is realistically a money-loser for them in the short term, but the students have all been limited by what their campus print shop can and cannot do. My aim is to widen their horizons so that they realize there’s more than one place to produce their work. I’m also developing a workshop around the art of ordering a print job, so that they know what to ask for, what the language means, and what questions the print shop will ask them when they call.
Strangely, it sounds like I might not be teaching next semester due to scheduling issues at the school. I don’t know if they’re going to sort things out or not (I have been told on the sly that they will) but my hope is that they do.
I took a pair of Anker bluetooth headphones with me to Paraguay, and I really like them. They are actually wired together but don’t tether to my phone itself, which makes commuting easy–I constantly spend time untangling headphone cables around my messenger bag, so having something that’s up and out of the way while I’m transferring from car to train to office is wonderful. They are also the first noise-canceling headphones that actually stay in my ears during normal usage. I put them in on the plane ride and shut out the entire cabin around me; the only thing I had to worry about was clearing the air pressure in my ears.
After two months of searching, we hired a production manager at work to help keep my team on track and relieve some of the management pressure from me and my senior designer. She’s a transplant from Southern California who worked in the magazine industry for three years, so she brings a wealth of good experience to our team. We’re sorting out the logistics of equipment and seating this week, and she’s been invited to about 100 meetings over the next three weeks to talk with our internal clients and begin to understand how the organization works.
I was never trained as a manager, so this experience is a new one for me. My style to this point has been very laid back, mirroring my personality, but I’m seeing that I’ve got to step up more and become more proactive about a lot of things. Having come from a tense environment of micromanagement, I never wanted to do that to anyone else. What I have to do now is find a happy medium between being more assertive with my team and our clients and not being a domineering tyrant.
The second contractor I had come in for the bathroom ghosted me. I’ve left him two messages but haven’t heard anything back since he came to look things over. Meanwhile I’ve got the estimate the first guy sent us to review, to see where I can cut some costs. Maybe with some tough negotiation we can bring the price down to a reasonable amount. I do know he quoted on 7 very expensive windows when we’re going to reduce the number to 5, and we don’t need top of the line models, which will save thousands. There may also be some prep work I can do to cut costs as well–when the porch was enclosed, the builders put in a thick wall below the windows and a thinner wall above the sills, making a waist-high shelf around the room. I want to shim out the walls to a consistent depth all the way around for ease of finishing and added insulation value, which I can probably handle myself.
I’ve been slacking, I know. I’ve gone back and forth between having a lot to write about and then feeling like it wasn’t worth mentioning, but fuck it.
Jen and I are in the middle of the last season of Penny Dreadful, a series that aired on Showtime up until this summer. It’s a wild, beautiful, gory horror story set in London of the 1890s and it’s absolutely stunning in its production design, writing, and subject matter. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a series this much since Deadwood. I’ve also been trying to sort out my thoughts on Stranger Things for about two weeks now, but I’m struggling to say what I’m thinking. More on that later.
I ran into a friend on the train by chance who shared employment with me in a previous organization, and we caught up on life since we both moved on. He’s doing very well, is much happier, and we filled in some of the blanks for each other–things I was unaware of, but found hilarious and annoying. I’ll just say it was great to have some unexpected validation on a Thursday evening.
Jen and I spent some quiet time on Saturday morning looking through a bathroom remodeling book for ideas. It’s getting closer to reality, which is kind of shocking. Further research on a home equity line of credit took me down a different path to where we’re looking at refinancing the house. I spent about two hours on the phone on Saturday with banks going through the information and getting quotes, and along the way I wound up with a Navy Federal Credit Union account for a $5 minimum deposit and no monthly fee. If the math is correct, and the quote doesn’t change drastically, we could wind up dropping more than a full point, pulling a chunk of cash out to use on finishing the bathroom, and saving a bunch of money each month. I’m supposed to get the final quote by Wednesday (fingers crossed) and if everything looks good, get it on the fast track to close as soon as possible.
School starts up this coming week, and I spent Sunday finishing my syllabus, posting everything online, working on my first lecture, and sorting through admin stuff. I’m starting from scratch again this semester, so I had to work through the schedule and the workload repeatedly to make sure everything balanced correctly. This class is once a week for four hours, so the schedule is compressed, and I hope it works out well.
We went up to Syracuse to visit my folks last weekend and check out their new house, which is lovely. It’s the first time we’ve seen them since Finn’s christening. They bought in a 20-year-old development, so everything is modern, well-kept, and easily accessible, both in the house and in the town. The house itself isn’t huge but the floorplan makes it larger than it is. The basement is easily twice the size of ours. They are happy and comfortable, and that’s the best thing that could have ever happened to them.
The weather has finally broken from Seattle-like rainfall and temperatures to a balmy mid-80’s heat, and the Mid-Atlantic humidity is creeping in as I write this. I’ve got a list of summer prep chores to get to over the long weekend–A/C units in the windows, humping summer clothes around the house, setting up an attic fan–and pulling the top off the truck, which I’m looking forward to.
I’m about 300+ pages into The City Of Mirrors, the final book in the Passage trilogy, and I’m enjoying it so far. The first two books were engrossing and written much better than the standard post-apocalyptic/vampire novel, and I savored re-reading them slowly last month to prepare for this book. That’s about all I’ll say without getting spoilery.
I’m beginning to write down syllabus ideas for next semester’s class, and basing the structure on a couple of books: Alina Wheeler’s Brand Identity, David Airey’s Logo Design Love, and Debbie Millman’s Brand Bible. I’ve got a couple of old syllabi from previous classes and a handful of notes and ideas I’ve written down during the last year. This semester is going to involve a lot more workshop-style learning and hands-on work, which seemed to be the thing that made the light bulbs go on.
Jen and I are at the end of our semester, and making plans for the fall term. The final crit went well, and the work everyone showed was strong compared to where we started. We had a good discussion at the end on how to make the syllabus better for the next class, and I got a lot of good general feedback that will help in the future.
The syllabus we developed was very strong, but we’ve found places where we can make it better and add detail. Through the course of the term, we found our students need more background on conceptual thinking and a refresher on how to write. Conceptual thinking is a hard thing to describe and an even harder thing to teach. Knowing what not to say is more important than giving specific directions in order to point a student in the right direction. It came as a surprise to everyone in the classroom that the outline we had them develop was the single most important part of their assignment, and the process of synthesizing and organizing information was met with resistance at first. Jen and I developed a workshop where we split the class into groups and had them develop outlines together, which helped them deconstruct the problem and arrive at solutions together.
I was scheduled to teach the same class again, at the same time, until last week, when they offered to switch it with a senior level branding and identity class. Jen and I talked it over, and I accepted. It’s offered once a week on Wednesdays for four hours, which could be a nice change in schedule from the previous three semesters. The syllabus is very old, apparently, so I’ll be spending time updating it over the summer to include modern requirements and concepts.
Meanwhile, I’ve been focused on launching the first online report for WRI, which has spent a long time gestating and a short time birthing. I’ve been working on the template since last fall and revising the online workflow to complement our print workflow, but actually building something always highlights the flaws. It goes live tomorrow, and I’m pretty confident in the state it’s in.
I took Finn across town to a playdate yesterday, and used the opportunity to finish up my grading for this semester’s class. Finding myself down the street from Zeke’s, I grabbed a table, a decaf, and a sandwich, and went through projects piece by piece. I’ve been waiting for some downtime to get that done, and it does feel great to be finished. Then I started outlining the syllabus for this spring’s class, which we’re writing from the ground up. I’ve got a fair bit of research to do, but I think it’s going to be a good project.
I’ve spent the last week preparing for today’s class lecture on grid systems. Actually, longer than that: I started it on vacation, after Finn and Jen were asleep and I had a beachside couch to myself and a fresh bottle of Corona. This one has been a challenge, because there’s a lot to cover and I want my lectures to be more exciting than the Whaaaah-whaa-whaa-whaaaaa sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher made in the animated specials.
I’m on the third and final draft, having originally started with an explanation of the Swiss Grid, the Golden Ratio, and then a bunch of boring pictures of page layouts. Instead, I rewrote it last night to include a mention of Adrian Frutiger, who passed on Monday, then an introduction to grids with a real-time demonstration in InDesign, and then back to the deck for a case study.
The example I’m using is inspired by the cache of vacation materials from our family’s trip west in 1981, which included a handful of original brochures from the National Park Service using the Unigrid system designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1977. After doing some extensive research, and being lucky enough to have a coworker bring me back some updated brochures from his vacation this summer, I was able to put together a solid 45 minutes on the utility and flexibility of strong grid systems, biographies on two important design figures of the 20th century, with printed before-and-after materials to show the class.
I also dug up a PDF copy of Vignelli’s design manifesto, a scanned PDF of the original New York Transit System design guide, and a fantastic reference site on the National Park System’s publication history, featuring a ton of pre-Unigrid brochures available as PDFs.
The class itself is going pretty well, but it’s challenging. Typography is a tricky thing to teach, because it’s made up of a couple of loose rules and a lot of individual feeling and opinion. If a student doesn’t have a natural aesthetic for choosing and setting type, how can I teach it to them? My solution has been to review the history of type, try to describe each of the categories and where their influences came from, and then help them learn what to look for and what to avoid.
I’m definitely doing a lot more prep work this semester than I did for Type & Image, and if the students don’t feel like they’ve gotten a decent education out of this class, I sure feel like I have.