Should you pursue Masters in Design?
14/05/20

In this two-part article, our Members share their insights into the Masters programs that they've undertaken.

 

Anda Lupascu RGD 

 

Anda is a visual designer who started off in Toronto. She has taught, freelanced and travelled the world. She is pursuing an MA in Information Design at the Design Academy Eindhoven.

 

Q. Why did you decide to pursue a post-graduate degree? How did you select the school/program?
 
When I was completing my undergraduate degree, I did it mostly because it was a necessity if I wanted a career and a good job in the field of my choosing. I was too young to really understand the implications of my choice. But when I graduated I knew I wanted to pursue a Masters at some point. My undergrad was out of necessity but my Masters is a passion, a deliberate and conscious engagement with the field of design and with the platform of school. 
 
I selected the MA of Information Design at the Design Academy Eindhoven based on seeing the work done by past students and the faculty structure they employ. The program has a deeply conceptual, investigative approach which allows for ambiguity and unconventional outcomes. I chose an MA of ‘why and what’ rather than ‘how’. There were many other options focused on various aspects of Information Design, which is a developing field. I was less interested in programmes with a technical basis in Data Visualization or Research (which are slightly different). 
 

 
Q. Why do you think post-graduate education is important for designers?
 
Our work is too precious to be left in the hands of board directors, marketing execs or the advertising industry. That is not as dramatic a statement as it may have been a decade ago, as design has slowly and surely been gaining a foothold “at the table”, but practising designers can take a much more active role in pushing this change forward. For some, this may mean taking leadership and business courses, MBAs or technical diplomas. For others, it may mean engaging with the academic and philosophical heart of the design practice, but that does not necessarily mean an MDes or an MA. It could be anything - pursuing a skill that is complementary to the design practice, from science to journalism, to which a practising designer will bring their own sensibility and expertise, while gleaning the knowledge of a separate discipline. In this way our practice can grow to be more ubiquitous and indispensable and as designers we can eventually drop the unfortunate label of ‘just making things look pretty’. 
 
Schools, in particular design schools, are modern-day laboratories (that are also changing rapidly). There is a huge emphasis on interdisciplinary practice in Masters courses around the world. They are opportunities to discuss and experiment, to form cross-practice collaborations and to build bridges of understanding between previously siloed professions. I see designers as the forest guides of the working world in that we are taught to understand our environment and guide our charges from one end of the dark woods of a project to the other. We are good navigators. Everyone needs a navigator, some don’t know it yet. We should gear up and make ourselves available. 
 
 
Q. What advice would you give to other designers considering pursuing post-graduate education?
 
I would encourage all designers to consider post-graduate education at some point in their lives. It’s never too late! But it can be too early…. My number one advice would be to wait for the right time and you’ll know when that is - personally, financially, intellectually. In the design industry, post-grad education is by no means a necessity for practice, unless your interest lies in becoming an educator, an academic or a writer. But if you find yourself wondering, after many years in the industry, whether there is more to life... then pursuing a higher degree, with intention, could be the answer. And it absolutely does not have to be in design. It can be in any field of interest that can upskill and further your career in a particular direction. 
 
Initially I was considering pursuing a masters in Architecture or Journalism. It just so happened that Information Design is at the crossroads of my various interests. But it took me a long time to figure that out - 8 years! I believe post-graduate education is a great opportunity for us to deepen our practice as designers, stay ahead of the twists and turns and equip ourselves, technically and intellectually, for the future. 
 
 
Q. Where do you see yourself in 5 and 10 years?
 
This is a tough one as 5 years ago I definitely did not see myself today in a global pandemic. And by all accounts nothing will be the same 5 years from now, much less 10. But I do have some basic expectations and hopes for the future. I am making a conscious effort to position myself in an industry niche I consider to be young and promising, while acknowledging that I will have to keep my eyes and ears open to changes and adjust accordingly. I am investing in my skills, knowledge and network and am definitely angling to have a strong freelance practice…and getting comfortable with ambiguity and unpredictability, because you never know what’s coming next! 
 

Saskia van Kampen RGD

 

Saskia has taught Graphic Design at OCAD University in Toronto, Canada as an Assistant Professor since 2014 and is now Assistant Professor of Visual Communication at San Francisco State University. She is focused on developing research projects that involve students, believing that by doing so she is supporting the next generation of designers to be socially-driven in terms of accessible and inclusive design outcomes. Her research includes critical pedagogy in studio design courses, writing in the disciplines and creative practice as protest. 

 

Q. Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

 
For the better part of my design career I was working full-time in studios and teaching design 2–3 nights a week at OCAD U. The teaching aspect of my life became my passion — for me it was far more fulfilling to support students and watch them grow, not only as designers but as members of our society. However when OCAD became a university, it shifted hiring requirements so that full-time faculty needed to have a Masters. I needed to make a decision and at 36 years of age I went back to school to get my degree.  
 
 
Q. What was the focus of your study?
 
The York University 2-year Masters in Design (MDes) program was my first choice as I wanted to stay in Toronto and continue teaching in the evenings. My original thought was to focus my studies on critical design pedagogy but my supervisor, David Cabianca, recommended that I focus on something else — if I was looking to use my Masters to teach full-time the schools that would be hiring would want to see what I brought to the table as a designer. This was great advice. I ended up exploring how handcraft could be used to disrupt design and how materials could support concept in designed works.  
 
Q. How has your experience with graduate education informed your work as a designer? As an educator?
 
The advice I got to pursue my interests in handcraft opened my eyes and mind to an aspect of design that I was not familiar with. I was taught by modernists; I worked for modernists. But I am not a modernist. I was taught to use a grid for EVERYTHING. I was taught swiss rules of typography. I was told to never to use photography and illustration together. Since so many things were not allowed in design, my true creative spirit came out in the work I did on the side, not in my graphic design work. I will never forget being asked by my supervisor, “who did this to you?” I worked for the first semester trying to figure out who I was as a designer. I realized that teaching design was not about teaching your own aesthetic and your own theories and your own methods—it was about supporting students to find their own voice, to explore the possibilities of what design could be. 
 
Since graduating I have focused my research on critical studio design pedagogy and how to support students without stifling them. How to teach them skills and show them what works without making them afraid of exploring alternatives. I build curriculum that opens up design to a broader range of influences and inspiration than that of the euro-centric canon.
 
 
Q. Share a project that you’ve done that was informed by your education.
 
One of the outcomes of my MDes that I am most proud of is the work I did (and still do) using embroidery combined with mass produced printed ephemera to highlight the two main stereotypes of women. In this series, I take centrefolds from Playboy magazines and embroider clothing onto them to represent the female dichotomy of virgin and whore (More of these pieces can be seen at Galerie LeRoyer in Montreal). This project, where I use material and technique to express my views on sexism, showed me how design could be used as visual protest. In the past I had separated out these types of works as art not design but I now see how that line between art and design blurs. Design does not need a client to make it design — design requires a voice that needs to be heard.   
 
 
 
Q. What advice would you give to other designers considering pursuing post-graduate education?
 
After finishing my MDes, I was hired on at OCAD U for a 5-year contract after which I landed a tenure-track position in the Visual Communication Department at the School of Design at San Francisco State University. The design school here is small but mighty and is growing fast. I am starting in on my second year this fall and I see a bright future ahead of me helping to grow this great program into a spectacular one. I feel as though I have found my people and am where I belong. 
 
Going back to school in your late 30's is a challenge and starting a new career in your 40’s is tough but I have never regretted my decision. I am pursuing my teaching, my personal design work and my research into critical pedagogy, as well as working with students and communities on ways to use creative practice as a form of protest. I love what I do.
 
 
Stay tuned for our next and final instalment where Vincent Galante RGDRosi Petkova RGD and Christina Dery Provisional RGD share insights on their Masters journey. 
 

Certified and Provisional Members who are interested in contributing content to the RGD website via Resource ListsTop 5s and more are invited to email Rushika Shah at .