A Part & Apart - June 1, 2023
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Statement of Practice as a Design Educator

By Rachael Paine

In my experience as a creative director, I found unleashing the talents of others the most rewarding aspect of my position. I took opportunities to create intense working environments that required peoples’ best thinking and doing. I am motivated by helping others to see obstacles as opportunities. After thirteen fulfilling years in the business realm, I decided that teaching and mentoring are significant drivers for me. With my passion for creative leadership and direction, I have a solid understanding that the purest form of liberal, creative thought happens in education. 

I view both intelligence and talent as continually developing. I believe that an individual’s intelligence and skill can grow in circumstances where they are challenged. As an instructor, I find opportunities to push students to open up new possibilities within their work. I work individually with students to draw attention to areas of potential investigation, prompting them to dig deeper and push harder in developing their final projects. These methods came directly from my work as a creative director where I devoured business leadership books. Leadership in business helped prepare me for leadership in the classroom.

Under my instruction, students are encouraged to focus on their process over the final product. I’ve led several typographic workshops where I facilitated an “iterate towards discovery” approach. I prompted students to find visual surprises to exploit in future iterations with statements such as, “Look at what you have made and respond to that.” 

In the studio environment, I practice guiding students to discuss their work with a simple four-step lead-in (one I learned from watching Professor Denise Gonzales Crisp): Here is what I was interested in. Here is what I explored. Here is what I discovered. And here is where it might go next. By encouraging students to remember that design is never “done” and to embrace the process, the work is richer in concept, depth, and delight. Students report unexpected results that they would not have produced if they focused only on the end goal. 

Also fundamental to my teaching philosophy is the principle that design education should train students how to think and problem solve in addition to how to make and visually design. I guide students to think critically about visual design decisions by asking, “To what end?” and, “How will this enhance the experience of the user?” I encouraged research of precedents and plenty of concept mapping to hash out ideas. 

I see learning to give and receive critical feedback as an essential skill in design education. Each semester I offer a lecture on “collaboration within the classroom.” I encourage students to be fully invested in each other’s work and to give constructive feedback. I discuss the concept of critiques on the premise that if anyone loses, everyone loses, as it reflects poorly on the class as a whole if a peer gets all the way to critique with less than satisfactory work. In addition, I emphasize that critical feedback is a gift. I remind students to separate discussions of their work from their self-worth. Class time is given for informal discussions with peers to encourage the regular habit of talking about ideas and working with each other through all phases of the design process.

I see design as being an investigative study with classrooms full of curious minds. Instructors should give adequate room to students to ask questions and self-direct. I encourage students to be invested in creating expectations and serving as both learners and contributors. By allowing for this cooperative, flexible approach, students feel free to express themselves within the classroom and have opportunities to engage in activities that are meaningful to them. I strive to create learning environments that foster independent, self-motivated, creative pursuits.

Student Work

Spring 2023: If you take an 11×17 piece of paper and fold it as small as it goes, you get 64 squares. I have students sketch 64 iterations within the spaces. This method of iterative sketching helps students move past the first, most obvious solution to the design problem. Here, the student was creating a typographic mark for a novelty hotel brand.


Fall 2020: This typographic workshop, originally modeled after a workshop conducted by Denise Gonzales Crisp, has students lay out typographic material on physical 3D structures and then digitally manipulate photos and videos of the type. This photo comes from a remote version of the workshop performed during Covid.


Spring 2020: In this typographic workshop called “Type as Image”, students combined letters into figure/ground arrangements. This workshop was conducted with Type One students as an exploration of Gestalt design principles (such as closure, continuation, repetition, and figure/ground). In this image, these are the student’s initial sketches for the project.


Type One Spring 2023: One the first day of class to introduce students to seeing type as shape and form over simply having meaning, students were provided with typographic material and given scissors and glue, and instructed to create new typographic marks.


Rachael Paine is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design and Human-Centered Design at Virginia Tech. She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Graphic Design and a Ph.D. in Design from North Carolina State University. Rachael has worked as an adjunct instructor at NC State and as a full-time user experience designer for a multinational analytics software developer. Various design research publications have featured Rachael’s work, and she has presented and participated at conferences both nationally and abroad including the International Conference on Design Principles & Practices, Surface AIGA Design Conference, MODE ReConnect Motion Design Education Summit, and Architecture_MPS Education, Design, and Practice. Rachael’s most recent work was her study conducted for her Ph.D. dissertation at North Carolina State University. Her study addressed how rare disease caretakers search online for health information and how interfaces can respond to a user’s cognitive state. Her research interests include user experience design, health communications, responsive user interfaces, and interactive information design.





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