Tips for Teaching Graphic Design

Success in the digital age means communicating in visually rich and interactive ways. Visual and interactive communication is what graphic design is all about. So how do you effectively prepare students to become tomorrow’s successful graphic designers and storytellers? We asked Matt Dombrowski to share his thoughts with us. Matt is an Associate Professor of Emerging Media at the University of Central Florida and the Creative Director of Limbitless Solutions.

“Teaching design is a lot like building a house,” Matt said. “The tools do matter, but how you pour the foundation and how you design your house’s layout really make the difference in the long run. Establishing a strong artistic foundation and giving our students lots of experience is crucial for success in teaching graphic design.”

Get advice from Matt on how to build up the next generation of graphic designers.

Advocate for 21st Century Learning Spaces

Close your eyes and picture a classroom. What do you see? Rows of desks and chairs. A whiteboard up front with a teacher lecturing. The traditional classroom set-up hasn’t changed much. But shouldn’t it?

Studies show that physical environments have substantial impacts on creativity. Matt is all about shaking up the traditional classroom structure. “How can we ask them to be creative when our learning spaces are not? We need to create learning spaces that are conducive to creativity, and mimic what they’ll encounter in the workplace. Breaking the cycle of what students are used to for learning spaces is the first step to authentic student design outcomes.”

Find what works best for your students. Split the classroom physically to allow for collaborative spaces and areas for solo work. Short on funding? Research grants in your state that cover classroom supplies. You can also talk to your district or department about classroom improvement budgets. Maybe even explore corporate sponsorships. There are so many options for how to fund and create a unique learning space for your students.

Scaffold the Technology

When teaching design, it can be tempting to dive right into all the tools. Your students want to express their creativity as much as possible, and the more tools the better, right? Not necessarily.

“I always dial it back to pencil and paper first. Technology offers so many unique ways to express creativity, but students can get lost in the weeds. Traditional analog materials offer the fastest way for my students’ minds to design a creative product,” commented Matt.

Once students have mastered it on paper, you can slowly introduce the technology. Start with using free tools like Adobe Express and build toward their design field of interest. “While tools like Adobe Photoshop are great, they can overwhelm learners with so many different functions, and it can distract students from the “why” of their design,” mentioned Matt. “By starting with simpler tools, students can focus on the main idea without being overwhelmed by the technology.”

Once you’ve built your learners’ design foundation, it’s time to help them find the right tool for the right job. The Adobe Creative Cloud suite has expansive resources, and students need to know which application works best in any given scenario. Dive into our exam objectives here to find which applications meet your course and students’ goals.

Lecture in Shorter Sessions

In the era of scrolling, sound bites, and TikTok, it can be hard to get your students to focus for an entire lecture. Rather than fight the attention span, lean into it. Break up your lecture into shorter sessions. You’ll have more time for hands-on learning, ensuring that students are more likely to retain the information you’re teaching.

“When possible, I try to avoid simply walking my students through a slide show or software. Breaking things up makes things more engaging and fun. I try to introduce low-risk activities early in the session, which helps to reduce my students’ risk of failure and allows them to try out what they’re learning as we go,” said Matt. “You can also break up your lectures with discussions on their own experiences or related anecdotes. Stories and applications to the real world help them retain and understand the concepts.”

Introduce Timed Design Sprints

Not every class needs to start with a lecture. Why not kick-off your day with a design sprint? Make sure it’s a simple design, like a postcard or poster. Give them practical guidelines, such as dimensions, bleeds, and margins. Then set the clock and see what they can do!

“Students need to know how their skills stack up in a real-world scenario, when they won’t have weeks to submit a final piece. I always remind them, ‘You’re not as good as your best work. You’re only as good as your worst work.’ But your worst work isn’t a bad thing. Your worst work shows you what you can create under pressure, under a time crunch. It shows you where you can improve,” said Matt.

Matt also encourages post-design reflections. Ask your students what went well, what they would change, and what tools or functions would’ve made their design better. By asking these questions, you can create a lesson around topics that are relevant to their design processes, which will keep them engaged and excited to learn.

Find Your Community

Matt’s last piece of advice? Find your people. No one is an island, and it helps to have other creatives with whom you can brainstorm. Check out the Adobe Education Exchange or the CERTIFIED Educator Community and find educators who can help you improve your teaching in the classroom.

Want to learn more from Matt? Check out his full webinar recording here.