The Designer as Producer

by whitewirestudio

I was just rereading Ellen Lupton’s short article, “The Designer as Producer,” last night. It was first published in Steven Heller’s 1998 book, The Education of a Graphic Designer, and while the designer-as-author discussion was pretty hot in the 90s, I find it to still be more than relevant a decade later. (Gosh, was 1998 really that long ago?) In this piece, Lupton takes a cue from Walter Benjamin’s 1934 writing “The Author as Producer” and expands it to what that might mean for designers and design educators. Here’s a little passage:

When Benjamin called for authors to become producers, he did not mean for them to become factory workers alienated from the form and purpose of the manufactured thing. The challenge for educators today is to help designers become the masters, not the slaves, of technology. There exist opportunities to seize control–intellectually and economically–of the means of production, and to share that control with the reading public, empowering them to become producers as well as consumers of meaning. As Benjamin phrased it in 1934, the goal is to turn “readers or spectators into collaborators” (233). His words resonate in current educational models, which encourage students to view the reader as a participant in the construction of meaning.

How can schools help students along such a path at this critical juncture in our history?

*Language is a raw material.* Enhance students’ verbal literacy, giving them the confidence to work with and as editors, without forcing them to become writers.

*Theory is a practice.* Foster literacy by integrating the humanities into the studio. Infuse the act of making with the act of thinking.

*Writing is a tool.* Casual writing experiences encourage students to use writing as a device for “prototyping,” to be employed alongside sketching, diagramming, and other forms of conceptualization.

*Technology is physical.* Whether the product of our work is printed on paper or emitted from a screen, designers deal with the human, material response to information.

*The medium is on the menu.* Familiarize students with the many ways that information and ideas are disseminated in contemporary life. Give them the tools to find their rightful place in the food chain.

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