In the first interview of this series, I interviewed Nathan Shedroff, an educator and design professional about the expectations and experiences surrounding design education. Now, I welcome the thoughts of Dina Ravvin, a fourth-year design student at The Cooper Union and an aspiring art director who has learned the importance of perfecting process before the outcome.
When you began at Cooper, what were your expectations for a design program? And what has your experience been? How has your experience evolved since your first year in the program?
I knew that Cooper’s design program would be somewhat unconventional in comparison to other schools’ agendas, so I was not actually sure what to expect. I was told from the get-go that you went to this school for the experience and not for the portfolio you walked out with. Beyond keeping an open mind, I had hoped to learn about the history of design and what separated the most commonly agreed upon “good” examples from the poor (and how to create something that fell into the former category).
Like most other programs, the first year at Cooper is foundational and requires its students to complete courses across various fields of art. This taught me how to structure my own methods of working, like time and stress management, but also reassured me that design was what I came there to practice. Initial projects involved some of the basics—to give us a sense of typography, use of imagery, symbols, etc. The more advanced classes focused on learning to discover, source and analyze information, create systems through which to fuel the findings, and use visual means to effectively communicate an idea to a large audience.
It seems to me that the underlying core to most of Cooper’s classes was to perfect the process before the outcome. I was taught the necessities to methodically undertake any project, regardless of whether it had anything to do with design. Overall, the program curriculum I underwent was extremely rigorous and fast-paced, but the resulting experience was truly worthwhile.
In your opinion, what qualities and skills cut across disciplines and should be core to design education?
The ability to think conceptually and communicate with purpose.
Thinking back to when I was in design school, a lot of incoming students think that being a designer means knowing how to use design software. I frequently hear other professionals complain that recent graduates don’t have any of the critical “soft” skills in areas like client communication or strategic thinking, or in areas like research and business analysis. What has your experience been like? How has your program helped you develop these “soft” skills or how have you found ways to develop these skills outside of your program?
I think that these “soft” skills are significant to learn but maybe secondary in undergraduate study. Most professors at Cooper steer away from lengthy discussions on the commercial aspects of the industry, but I found that a select few are increasingly eager to help if you simply ask the right questions. Since classes are small and intimate, professors tend to slip in stories about their own work on projects and how they handled situations that arose, which are both a privilege to hear and helpful as reference of what to do in a similar setting.
What would you encourage incoming freshman to look for in a design program? Any red flags students should be aware of?
A program that provides the basics but pushes you to look past the very things you learn. I would encourage freshman to look for a program that does not focus on production, but rather on teaching the tools and methods that could be used to successfully transform an experience into a piece of design. A school that holds a distinct place and reputation within the design community, as well as providing connections to the field post-graduation, is very determinant. I think that any program which restricts the mediums or subjects you can take on is counterproductive. I would be wary of what a school boasts as well. For instance, if it highlights its technological resources, then its design program might not be the best at teaching students to think critically about a problem prior to jumping onto the computer (but that might just be a personal preference).
Now that you’re wrapping up your undergraduate studies, where do you see yourself going forward?
After years of leaning towards making books, magazines and printed pieces—and loving the tangibility of such design matter—I knew I’d found my niche in publication. I’ve been interning at Print magazine for some time and really enjoy the work I have done there. My next step? To art direct a major title. One day soon.
About Dina Raavin
Dina Ravvin is a graphic designer finishing her last semester at the Cooper Union. She was born in Moscow, raised in Brooklyn, and is now based in Manhattan. She has worked and interned with Print Magazine, Studio Kudos, Made Her Think, Studio 5in1, and Vitaly Komar. Dina speaks almost four languages fluently and avidly color coordinates all her bookshelves. You can view her work at www.dinaravvin.com.