My students and I co-create opportunities for primary visual and scholarly research, a rich and iterative process, and expansive narratives of design praxis.

As tomorrow’s design researchers and practitioners, today’s students need experience with social design practice and respectful community engagement; encounters with global design histories and recuperative, more-equitable narratives; and engagement with wicked problems and complex design ecosystems. By co-creating individualized educational opportunities with my students, I facilitate learning that meets their goals and prepares them for their desired futures. Simultaneously, I expand my own understanding of how design plays an integral role in personal, social, cultural, and political contexts, and I continue my own lifelong learning process.

Document & Disseminate

Students in the seminars, studios, and lectures I teach always engage primary research as the principal investigator in a question, problem, or project brief partly or fully of their own creation.

For beginning students this might be as simple as photo-documenting the vernacular typographic landscapes of their everyday lives, choosing a focal letter or style. For advanced undergraduates and graduate students, it typically involves self-defined research questions and systems-level, multi-platform design solutions. Students in most of my classes design a series of spreads representing their design research for the semester, and I write a forward then compile these into print-on-demand books for sharing with friends and collaborators. When printed books aren’t feasible, we create online deliverables instead, like this digital publication featuring the work of 75 first-year design studies students “exploring how design works.” By narrating their own practice, my beautifully diverse students contribute to a future with more equitable documented narratives of design than we’ve had in the past.

Images: documentary books from the University of Florida, 2019-20.

Love Letters

In the undergraduate studio, I emphasize understanding typography as image information, at the systems level, and within cultural context.

I experience typography as the backbone of design practice. In my mental model, wide-open curiosity and active listening are design’s vital organs, but type gives these the ability to stand upright. My own typographic education, heavily influenced by Bauhaus-rooted Modernism and Massimo Vignelli’s maxim that “we only need five good typefaces,” left me with an enduring love for Beatrice Warde‘s crystal goblet, Robert Bringhurst‘s Elements of Typographic Style, and Univers as the humane alternative to Helvetica. But as I teach type now, I emphasize cultural context and contextually appropriate solutions. How do we navigate differences between printed pages and screens? Who reads the text, and why, and how? What dialogues does type facilitate or discourage among writers, designers, readers, and texts? What kinds of power structures hide within the idea of “invisible” typography? Why is the phrase “non-Latin typography” so insidious? Who decides what makes typography good or bad? Long after I’ve internalized the difference between em and en dashes, or widows and orphans, or Arial and Helvetica, these questions continue to perplex and fascinate me – and to structure my design praxis.

The pictured case study is from my dissertation research on “reading maps, writing landscapes” within the tourist landscapes of Arizona. Later to form the basis of my first book (University of Arizona Press, 2013), my dissertation documented and deconstructed cartographic images of Arizona during its first half-century of statehood. Though the graduate college required Times New Roman 12, I took great joy in designing a printed copy for my dissertation committee, chaired by Dr Beverly Brandt at Arizona State University. (hi, Dr B!) Within the dissertation, typography and lettering played an important role in how I analyzed the pictorial maps under consideration.

Images: type as image, system, and cultural object in Reading Maps, Writing Landscapes (PhD dissertation, 2010)

Practice Process

Few beginners automatically engage a design process characterized by cross-disciplinary collaboration, open exploration, active iteration, and purposeful evolution toward shared goals.

Instead, these learned practices often require learning new skills and they always flourish more fully with deliberate cultivation. Like most design educators, I work with my students to create studio learning environments that encourage process and demonstrate its rewards. One way I do this is by sharing my own iterative engagement with design and writing: on social media, on my blog, and by asking for student feedback on drafts. I share my process and engage with students’ on Slack and other digital feedback tools, in classroom discussions, and sitting beside individual students to sketch with them. I type notes in the Zoom chat while my students talk about their work, transcribing their best thoughts so they have a written record. For students who struggle to write, sometimes I do this while they talk through their research during the drafting process for papers, too. I’m passionate about process, even when it’s uncomfortable to experience or difficult to share, and I’ve observed that students find it easier to engage process when I model it for them through my own work. We also practice process together by having regular check-ins about the shared work of designing and experiencing the classes I teach. What’s working as-is, what should we change and how, and what should we pause or stop? These questions make design, writing, and teaching more effective.

Image: sharing the messy process for my book Type Specimens with students.