Pre-Grad Reflection: Never Forget Where We've Come From

In the middle of preparing for graduation, I decided to take a step back and have a little reflection.

One afternoon, a couple of my friends and I were engaged in a lively conversation about how we ended up at Art Center. Most of them had obtained degrees in some prestigious colleges prior to studying here. My story was rather long but out of all tidbits that eventually landed me in “the world's best art school”, I mentioned that I had a mentor long before I even knew Art Center. Although she wasn't quite officially a mentor, her contributions took part in shaping what I am as a person and as designer now.

I met her in my previous internship back in Indonesia. Her position was, obviously, a graphic designer in the company. Back then I was still transitioning to become a graphic design student since I was still in the community college “I'm-not-sure-what-I-wanted-to-be” phase back in the day. I already did throw an interest in graphic design, so having landed on an internship that gave me an opportunity to develop my graphic design aesthetic was a huge privilege to me. So I ended up working closely with her in developing layouts, icons, and graphic elements. Note that at this point, my graphic design skills were limited only at Photoshop. Illustrator was waaaay too hard for me to use, and don't even bother asking me about Indesign because I didn't even know it existed.

I occasionally peeked at my mentor's desk to see how astonishing her commanding skills in Illustrator. One hand set firmly on the tablet, another hand hitting shortcuts on the keyboard. I realized that Illustrator played a big role in graphic design and indeed if I wanted to be one, I had to learn how to use the program. So I started asking her for some tutorials on using Illustrator, which she happily and patiently complied. In a matter of days, I learned how to make simple yet visually engaging vectors. My mentor also showed her her portfolio. Her works mainly revolved on logo, web, and print – a typical of graphic design demands in Indonesia, but they were done quite beautifully. She was the first graphic designer that I ever got to know in person, so I learned that she was a self-taught designer, she didn't attend any design programs, and yet she had plenty of clients and won prizes for her designs.

Fast forward five years later, Illustrator had become my daily life resource, my basic need as a designer. Just a couple of days ago, it crashed due to a bug and I nearly cried. So anyway, going back to my conversations with my friends, I showed them my mentor's portfolio. I praised her as I opened the website, not until...

“Ugh, they look ugly!” One of my friends chirped. “What a poor skills of typography.”

“The logo looks generic!”

Well, upon enrolling at Art Center, I realized that the college heavily focuses at European and Swiss style – which is very typographic driven – and yet these past few years, my department chair has been also promoting transmedia as the future of graphic design. All of this is awesome and that is the main part of why I choose Art Center. “We are the only school that does all these transmedia projects.” That statement has been repeated numerously by faculties.

As cliché as it might sound, I wanted to change the world. I was hoping once I could introduce this transmedia idea to Indonesian design community in a long term. I wanted Art Center to take part in making my dreams come true.

Art Center has indeed changed the way I think of design. Now that we can tell what a bad design is and what good one looks like. Now we realize that not all typefaces fit for all occasions. Now we know the less is good. Now we learn that a good design doesn't merely lie on the engaging visual but the story behind it. Now our heads are wrapped around transmedia. Graphic design is transmedia and transmedia is graphic design. We worship it. We might think anything outside of it as simply mediocre.

We know so much but we forget where we've come from.

Sure, my mentor doesn't embrace Swiss design, nor does she have any idea about transmedia. She doesn't share the same design values as I do now. If I'm saying this from the perspective of an Art Center student, yeah her graphics and logos are very generic. Does it make her a bad designer? If she's won prizes and gained many clients, I bet you she isn't. I tried not to take a one-sided perspective at things lately. There's more than just the visuals. My mentor has an incredible work ethics. She is a self-taught designer and has now earned her living from it. She's truly passionate about her field. Not everyone can even learn Adobe programs from scratch the way she did.

So, for all the fellow upcoming grads, current students, and even alumni wherever you are, when was the last time you thanked your mentor? I'm talking about the very first mentors you had that taught you design. Even though your mentor might not share the same value as you do now, nor did she/he have zero knowledge about the design movement you're embracing now, you wouldn't be where or what you are now if it weren't for them.

Keep standing tall but never forget where you've come from.