Rafael Fajardo
Director, SWEAT collaborative
Associate Professor,
Emergent Digital Practices
University of Denver


Teaching: Philosophy Statement

I love to teach design. I feel as though I am genuinely working on the future of the discipline in the classroom.

I approach my teaching with a scholarly rigor, attempting to understand the history of the methods of teaching design, and attempting to practice experimental pedagogy in order to continually adapt to changes in tools, media and audiences for design. This experimental attitude challenges the historical methods at key strategic points. It is a personal goal to educate leaders, not followers. Design instruction that mimics contemporary clinical practice will render good employees, but will not prepare any student for visionary practice.

It has been, and continues to be my ambition for my students to become leaders in the field of design. It has simultaneously been important to me that the student want to be pushed. My ambition for them is not normative nor fascist. It has been important to me that the student exhibit desire, hunger, or drive. I have taken it as my challenge to identify and awaken that desire by my passion for the subject matter in the classroom. I feel strongly that the student must be an equal partner in this, or more so, because the drive to excel must be internalized by the student. If the drive is always supplied by external pressure, then the student will not continue after we have parted company.

In the classroom, it is, has been, and will be my interest to see that the student seek, find, and assert their own artistic and intellectual capability. This capability will find its expression in a diversity of forms, visual, verbal, and performative. In my context at the University of Denver this has taken the form of requiring advanced students to embark on meditations of self and process through their work. The theory being that if the students gain self-awareness of their methods, they can then work to create and protect situations wherein they can be lifelong creators. The results aren’t always pretty or beautiful in a canonical sense, but the ethic of the making is so important that it matters more that they continue to make.

As I address the challenge of preparing students to slip into a highly dynamic situation, I continually ask myself the question “what is appropriate and necessary to teach – to pass on – today?”.

I find myself in a critical relationship with the historical methods of teaching. Methods that were formulated and disseminated in the 1920s at the Bauhaus, and which were refined in the 1950s at the HochSchule fer Gestaltung Ulm, and the Kunst GewerbeSchule at Basel, found receptive institutions in the US at Black Mountain College, Yale, MIT, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and at UC Berkeley. At these august centers of artistic learning, the new, modernist methods of making, and teaching about making, were synthesized with methods that were original to the Ecole de Beaux Arts, Paris, from the turn of the 18th century.

It is a special and ongoing challenge to recognize when it is appropriate to draw from this rich history, and when it is appropriate to critique the history and seek another way.

A colleague suggested that we look at Rittel’s definitions of kinds of problems when we are thinking about curriculum in design. Rittel identified three types of problems: simple problems in which the parameters are static and the relationships are known; hard problems in which the parameters are dynamic but are not interrelated; and wicked hard problems in which the parameters are dynamic, interrelated, and in which not all of the parameters nor relationships are knowable. Traditional graphic design teaching – when it defined itself as a problem solving activity – focuses on teaching through simple problems. The logo, the brochure, being known forms that are themselves stable. The practice, however, is not a stable system, but a complex and dynamic one. It is a wicked hard problem and we need to find productive ways of exploring and mitigating the wicked hard situation.

To that end, students, especially at the advanced levels, have not and will not be presented with projects where the form of the outcome is predetermined. In fact the students will be challenged to identify and articulate (visually or verbally) the various treatable parameters and an appropriate solution/ mitigation/ intervention. This approach has the added benefit that it can treat both artistic and pragmatic situations.

It is my belief, my theoretical position, that thus equipped the students will be better prepared to face the rapidly changing circumstances that novel communication and expressive technologies have enabled. They should be more able to analyze and comprehend ambiguous circumstances, and move with relative certainty toward action.

The philosophy is realized in practice by writing extensive explorations of the subject in my syllabi, by sharing my lecture notes, by making extensive diagrams and drawings to illustrate the theoretical points and for use as study guides, by asking hard questions as a basis for projects, and by attempting where possible to integrate the visceral with the virtual in a “hi-touch high-tech” approach. I leave as evidence of the first three points the syllabi themselves, that are included herein. The latter two are evidenced by specific points within syllabi which I will summarize here. Hard questions have been posed at the senior level where the project requires the students to synthesize history and theory as they shape their visual practice. Initially, architecture was the focus, but I have also used digital media as well. The hi-touch hi-tech approach has yielded interesting results in the book-arts and strange artifacts made of steel and electronic components. The visceral has shown a profound impact on continued digital expression.

Summary Teaching Evaluations
Academic Year 2002 – 2003
Academic Year 2003 – 2004
Academic Year 2004 – 2005

Autumn Quarter 2002:
Introduction to Visual Meaning am ARTD 2315/DMST 2000
Introduction to Visual Meaning pm ARTD 2315/DMST 2000

Winter Quarter 2003:
Advanced Design ARTD 3335/DMST 3375
IS: Identity Conceptualization ARTD 3991
Typography ARTD 2345/DMST 2345
Typography (grad) DMST 4345
Grad IS: Typography DMST 4991

Spring Quarter 2003:
IS: Advanced Typography DMST 4991
IS: Micro/Macro Letter Spacing ARTD 3991
Typography ARTD 2345/DMST 2345
Typography (grad) DMST 4345
Grad IS: Typography DMST 4991

Autumn Quarter 2003:
Graduate Digital Design Concepts DMST 4000

Winter Quarter 2004:
Advanced Design ARTD 3375/DMST 3375
Typography ARTD 2345/DMST 2345
Typography (grad) DMST 4345

Spring Quarter 2004:
Grad IS: Typography DMST 4991
Graduate EMAD Critique ARTD 4375
IS: Book Design ARTD 3991
IS: eMAD Graduate Critiques ARTD 4991
Senior Project EMAD ARTD 3365

Autumn Quarter 2004:
Graduate Digital Design Concepts DMST 4000
Introduction to Visual Meaning ARTD 2315/DMST 2000

Winter Quarter 2005:
Graduate Seminar Topic ARTD 4700
IS: Book Making ARTS 3991
Typography ARTD 2345/DMST 2345
Typography (grad) DMST 4345

Spring Quarter 2005:
IS: Adv. Probs Leadership: Design ARTD 3991
IS: Thesis Project ARTD 4991
Internship ARTD 3345
Thesis Project ARTD 4992-1
Thesis Project ARTD 4992-2
Typography ARTD 2345/DMST 2345
Typography (grad) DMST 4345