“Students often come into class thinking that graphic design is about making cool stuff, and when they’re faced with the fact that it’s actually a matter of interpreting and delivering information, a big change takes place. Students end up adjusting their whole understanding of what it means to be a graphic designer when they realize that design is a service industry.”
Theron Moore studied graphic design at Penn State under Kristin and Lanny Sommese, to whom he is forever grateful. He now teaches at California State Fullerton, where his students have launched design careers with companies such as Apple, Atlantic Records, Disney, Google, Oakley, Pentagram, The New York Times, Vans, and Warner Bros. His work has appeared in the Brno International Biennial of Graphic Design, Communication Arts Type Annual, Print Regional Design Annual, and Graphis Poster Annual.
Here’s a snippet from Moore’s interview:
What might be a typical first assignment?
I often have students begin the class with an experimental image-making exercise that involves both tactile and digital processes as a way of “priming the system” and getting their creative juices flowing. I then have students use the images they’ve made to solve a specific problem, such as a series of posters addressing the climate crisis, or “get out the vote” posters during an election year. They must interpret the potential meaning of the imagery they’ve produced with a certain purpose in mind and for a particular audience, and they have to establish verbal context in relation to the imagery in order to unlock the meaning and arrive at an idea. I find this process effective because it sends a strong message right from the start that graphic design, though creative, is not about personal expression and that software will not rescue students. They have to get used to engaging their intellect.
Do you work with students individually or in groups?
I do some of both depending on the project. Having students work independently is good because it means they have to deal with all aspects of the problem and they can’t rely on anyone else to come up with good ideas, perform research, and learn the necessary technical skills. On the other hand, being part of a group is great practice for working professionally in an industry that tends to be collaborative by nature. Working on a team means students have to compromise at times, which is a realistic situation, and they must negotiate with one another, which is an invaluable skill on the job.
How do you develop your student’s visual and verbal standards?
Well, that’s the key to the castle, as they say. After more than two decades of college teaching, I’ve realized that sensitizing students to the nuances of what they’re doing visually and verbally is the main objective and cuts across every aspect of design. Students often come into class thinking that graphic design is about making cool stuff, and when they’re faced with the fact that it’s actually a matter of interpreting and delivering information, a big change takes place. Students end up adjusting their whole understanding of what it means to be a graphic designer when they realize that design is a service industry. During class, I routinely remind students that as designers they’re tied at the hip to language and that they must be effective wordsmiths in order to be successful. This often comes as a shock. Similarly, getting the point across to students that their choice of tools, and how they use those tools in the creative process to directly influence meaning and perception, is quite difficult and takes a lot of repetition. Basically, that’s what we do all day in class: chew the fat on this one fundamental piece of understanding in all sorts of ways. I start by characterizing graphic design as a verb instead of a noun, and challenge the tendency of students to use the same tools over and over again just because they may be familiar.
At the end of the semester, what kind of advice do you give to the class?
When it comes to job hunting, aim high! One of the most important things I tell my students when they graduate is not to underestimate their potential. They often don’t realize how much they actually know and how effective their training is in making them competitive for good jobs.
Read more of Theron Moore’s interview and discover other great artists and educators in Graphis Journal #375, which you can purchase online at graphis.com.