Apr 16 2010
Few days go by that I’m not reminded of the roots my design thinking has in my education. Sometimes I can almost smell the Plaka paint and feel the brush in my hand, and in my mind I am back at RIT in Lorrie Frear’s Typography course doing hand work (in black only).
I try hard to remember the lessons I learned in those classes as I consider the work I do now. In so many ways, though, my work now seems a bit distant from the approaches of the designers we studied at RIT and the projects I completed back then as a student.
Needless to say, however, that I was delighted to see two seriously ambitious and inspiring initiatives launched by my Alma Mater to help quickly snap me back to those times of being immersed in design history, classical methodologies and those luminary design masters of the grid:
RIT’s GDA is a historical record of the influential active designers from the 1920s to the 1950s as well as some select contemporary practitioners, curated by RIT’s Massimo and Lella Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design R. Roger Remington (RIT School of Design’s first endowed professorship). The GDA is part of the RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection and builds on an already enormously expansive collection of documented graphic communications and printing history. The GDA contains original work, source materials, sketches, sculptures, architectural models and more — even audio tapes and video, and is searchable online.
An educational resource, the Vignelli Center for Design Studies at RIT functions to advance the state of practice for design and design and design education (at RIT and beyond) through exceptional programming and extensive archival resources (see GDA above!) from the Vignelli Center’s website:
The Vignelli Center for Design Studies is a place for design education, research and critical examination. The key concept in all areas of the Center’s work is the rigorous reflection of Modernism–the discourse of Modernism, which forms a bridge between the history of design and the Vignelli design tradition. The Center’s aims therefore are to conserve, research and extend this cultural heritage and, at the same time, investigate current design issues.
Not only do these impressive resources represent a massive show of ambition and dedication on the part of RIT and their committed faculty, but it makes me proud to have come from this institution, reaffirming my belief that a solid educational foundation and a commitment to design history can create strong connections to influence the career of a designer.
I am struck by how many times over my career as a designer that I have turned back repeatedly to tug on these connections, generating ideas and forming revised opinions on my own work and new approaches to the projects I work on. By examining things through the lens of my design education at RIT, I can see that I was undoubtedly shaped by what was (at the time) the very beginnings of these now well-organized and influential resources.
So, I also believe these resources should be explored by anyone interested in design history, design’s historical influences on our culture, a way to explore “where we are…and how we got here” and practitioners who seek a vast library of inspiration to inform their own work.
“Well done RIT,” I say.
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