What Makes Designers Want to Teach? by Shillington Teacher Amy Prus

From sharing new skills, to helping steer designers in the right direction and actively educating students—teaching is a fundamental part of any designer’s job description. Many well-known designers such as Michael Beirut, Lance Wyman, and Stefan Sagmeister have turned their hands to the profession, eager to share their experiences and bestow wisdom onto the next generation.

This dynamic of the designer as a teacher both in and out of the studio has always been curious to me so I wanted to explore this transitory idea further —with a specific spotlight on Shillington teachers. We’re a mixed bunch at Shillington, but our one uniting front is that we’re all practicing designers. We offer an eclectic mix of backgrounds, and within the bunch a few of us began our design journeys at Shillington. That’s right, amongst the team are in fact some Shillumni. Talk about inception.

I graduated from Shillington Manchester in early 2009 and returned to the London campus on the other side of the fence last year. In between the two halves of my Shillington sandwich I led a varied design career. It began in a small studio where I wore multiple hats and in a short space of time was solely responsible for the trajectory of a project. This helped me understand the importance of building good relationships and ultimately the importance of collaboration. Feeling the need for a change of scenery I upped sticks to the sunnier skies of Melbourne, Australia. It was here that I then started freelancing in different studios, where I had to quickly adapt to different situations. My freelance career eventually led me back to the United Kingdom where I grew hungry for something different, a chance to change my outlook and switch things up a bit. Step up, teaching!

Now that I’ve been teaching for a year I’ve identified three core areas that educating others can feed back into my design practice.

The three areas which keep coming into play are collaboration, adaptability and enlightenment. I spoke with my fellow Shillumni teachers to shed a bit more light on why we’re glad we got the call to pay our design skills forward and how this has fed back into our design careers.

Collaboration

It’s something all designers need to excel in. Whether it’s when working with other designers in a studio, an external practitioner or the client themselves—collaboration is key. As designers we’re fundamentally educators, whether based in a traditional learning environment or not. As senior designers we mentor interns and juniors, leading them in the right direction. While teaching we are always learning. Collaboration is a cyclical process, just as we nourish the talents of our successors we’re also given the opportunity to learn from them.

“Asking better questions will always result in creating better work. Ask questions of your client; it helps them clarify their uniqueness… ask questions of other designers; learning is fun, people like to share and your skills will be sharpened, everybody wins! And ask questions of yourself; how am I adding value to the studio I’m in, the client I’m working for, or to the world around me. You have the skills to communicate beautifully to the world around you, so think about what you want to say.”
—Ed Baptist, Full-Time Teacher, Manchester

Adaptability

Studios are notoriously busy environments. As designers our jobs include so much more than just the creative responsibilities. Time management, communication and efficiency are all just as important. Our time as teachers presents the opportunity to strengthen these aspects of our skill sets. The classroom is an ever changing playing field—teeming with various scenarios to tackle and puzzles to solve. We’re constantly centre stage, figuratively and literally, which forces us to adapt to the situation in hand rather than hiding behind our computers.

“Efficiency is a key skill to being a successful designer. I thought I was pretty efficient before teaching here—but the nature of the course and having to manage a class of 24 means that I’m constantly finding ways of improving my own personal efficiency. From learning new quick keys on the programs, to faster and more varied idea generation to helping direct a vast and varied number of design responses to the same brief.”
—John Palowski, Course Content Coordinator

Enlightenment

One of the reasons a lot of designers are drawn to teaching is its undeniable source of vitality—without sounding dangerously hyperbolic it’s in many ways the elixir of (design) life. As designers working solely in a studio or agency we’re all slightly guilty of growing a bit complacent to our industry. It’s easy to fall out of touch with the latest developments, stop attending exhibitions as frequently or watch as the sketchbook full of personal project ideas once poured over, gradually grows its sixth skin of dust.

The advantage of teaching is that we’re constantly on the front line. Being surrounded by hungry-to-learn students makes sure that creative hunger doesn’t get a chance to diminish.

The curiosity of the students fuels our own desire to self educate.

“The students keep you on your toes with loads of questions, sometimes I know the answers and other times we work it out together. You’re always learning. Working with a room full of individuals from varied career backgrounds has also pushed me to articulate myself in a way that is clear to everyone and not just a fellow creative.”
—Glen Swart, Part-Time Teacher, London

I’d wholeheartedly encourage all designers to give teaching a go. Aside from the aforementioned benefits to your own career—watching someone develop and succeed in their chosen discipline is unequivocally rewarding.

This article was originally published within Shillington Post 06—The Shillumni Issue which you can read in full online on Issuu or pick up a physical copy at one of our Info Sessions

If you’re curious about teaching design at Shillington get in touch with us via our website on the Work With Us page.

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