For all those who have been to design school of any kind, the climax of the year is the design juries- the outcome, the finished product presented in front of members of the discipline who have probably never seen it before, and explaining it to them within a short period. In many design schools in India, the final design jury holds as much importance, in terms of evaluation and grading, as the whole semester/ year combined. Beyond Academics, in student competition projects it is expected that the sheet is eye-catching and the design idea is only secondary to it. Is that justified? Has the focus of the design studio shifted from the process to merely the graphical presentation of the outcome?
The idea of the design ‘jury’ evolved in the 19th Century in France, at the École Nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts (National School of Fine Arts) in Paris. The competitive approach to education at the institute led to the development of elaborate techniques for the preparation of final drawings that conformed only to an approved schematic design stage. The students were expected to put in a lot more effort into the final drawings and were sometimes given as long as four months to prepare them.
As the 20th Century began, this system became a model for many North American architecture schools and managed to thrive as the conventional assessment mechanism worldwide. Although this does promote a competitive environment in the design studio, it allows the final graphical presentation to propagate in a sphere of its own, often unrelated to the process of design development.
The problem is not graphical representation itself- design concepts are better conveyed in the form of sketches and visuals. But the interest in graphical presentation has been rarely realized beyond serving the aesthetic appeal of the project. In the postmodernist era, graphical objects have preserved their significance in design drawings only as a style-oriented agenda to compete for visual and aesthetic appeal and many a time deviating the focus from the main design idea itself. Students start worrying about how to make it visually appealing more than if the design serves the intended purpose. With the help of the constantly increasing number of publications and exhibitions, the new image-rendered state of design has drawn the focus to the visual materiality of the presentation.
The graphical representation is important in terms of the public value it adds to the concept and the design idea. It is the first vision of the project. The representation of a design determines to a great extent how it will be received by the people, be it the jury or the public. But as in many examples seen today, the final graphical presentation develops a language of its own which is often irrelevant to the essence of the design. Under the current system which incorporates it silently within itself, without any formal guidance; by simply establishing the basic principles without building on them later, graphical presentations have become a mere aesthetic concern, often diluting the process of design education.
Institutes that offer design education in India do teach what are axonometric drawings, perspective drawings, and the like during the initial semesters, but they often fail to draw the parallels between the process of designing and the means of its representation. It will have a positive contribution to design education only when it is integrated with the process and not just with the presentation. Schools need to have a more comprehensive approach towards both the design process and its expression and develop a system that deals with both of them simultaneously to produce a result that is not just the outcome but also the narrator of the process.
One way to do that could be imparting education through more graphical means- as students come across the various forms of representation in practice, they would better understand their use- regarding their context and their extent. Additionally, teaching through images leaves a lasting impression on the student’s mind which is remembered for a longer period, as compared to textual means. Another way is to formalize graphical representation as a subject and integrating it with the studio subjects.
The graphical presentation is not a tool to simply present the final design idea to an external viewer. It needs to be looked upon as a means of introspection of the design process after each stage by the designer himself- a path to revisit his process and the idea so that he can develop on it to produce the outcome which is not just visible as the whole but also as the sum of its parts.