By Frank Brault, Product Marketing Manager – Entertainment
One of my favorite things about design is that it gives you the freedom to express your ideas — to articulate solutions to design problems. But when you have a design tool that can do anything, it’s difficult to decide how exactly you should go about bringing your vision to life. How do you communicate a feeling in your heart through a series of keyboard clicks? This is especially true for young designers who often have to temper their creative inspiration with a lack of experience in technically executing on a design, which is something we need to be cognizant of as mentors, whether we're teaching formally or working with interns and young employees.
This issue has led to a dichotomy in the design community these days between creativity and technical skill. I find this very apparent as a professor when I see educators rushing through the artistic part of the design process in order to ensure that their students have the practical skills they need to “succeed in the workplace.” Or vice versa, where the creative process is emphasized without worrying about the practicality of a project. That’s why, when I’m teaching design, I try an approach that’s a hybrid of these two goals — a balance of inspiration and execution.
Rather than teaching the technical skills for the sake of knowing them, I explain each technique in a purpose-driven way. Instead of telling you that a certain combination of commands results in a specific action, I discuss a possible design goal and then explore the ways in which you can do that with software. This approach allows for young designers to express their creativity, as well as helps them explore the principles of design. I find this approach helpful myself. When I have an idea for a lighting concept in my mind, if I immediately jump to thinking about fixtures, channels, and dimmers, I lose the intent by thinking solely about the tool. By focusing on developing my design solution first, and then exploring how I can achieve each of its respective elements with the software’s capabilities later on, I find that my design evolves more cleanly.
I practice what I preach, and so when I was down in Las Vegas to teach a week-long class on lighting design at the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas (SILV), I led my students through practical applications of creative objectives, rather than just showing them how everything worked.
Dane Kick, an 18-year-old aspiring lighting designer and programmer, came to SILV to learn more about how to pursue his dream of working on concert tours and music festivals. He says that he draws a lot of his inspiration from music and that he uses it to help him brainstorm new ideas. From my perspective, he visualizes the ideas that music gives him using the options available in design software. I think Dane learned a lot from SILV, and his lighting designs really showed his growing skills.
“SILV is a great program that can offer you a lot of experience and training with some of the hottest equipment in the industry,” Kick says. “Frank has been a great addition to SILV 2016. Not only has he been doing a great job at teaching us Vectorworks Spotlight software, but it’s also great to be able to hear his stories at SILV's grill chats.” Being able to share both my design knowledge through training and industry insights through telling stories is another great part of being an educator. Not only do I get to coach students through finding their own sources of inspiration, I also get to gain inspiration for my own work by learning from them and how they design. This process stimulates my creativity as an educator, which counterbalances the technical aspect of my role instructing young designers.
“Frank taught us to look at the world around us and think about how we could create what we see in the space of Vectorworks software,” says Tyler Warner, a 20-year-old interested in lighting and set design. “One of the most powerful examples was when he took the TKTS Booth from Times Square and built it in Vectorworks software. He showed us his process to approach a shape and how he applied what he knew to be able to create it. This is particularly important for designers who build from the world around them. It also showed us how to think about the 3D shapes that we would be creating and a process to use to create them.”
Comments like Tyler’s are why I teach tools like Vectorworks software the way I do — so that you can pick the best way to visualize what you want without losing your vision. A lot of times, once students learn how to do everything within a design software, they then try to use every feature each time they’re working. As someone who cares passionately about the future of design, I’ve worked to address this issue through teaching that you should choose the right feature to achieve the solution that is truest to your creative concept. And I’ve found that by presenting the lesson about the balance between creativity and technical know-how, I’ve gained some of my best rewards in return.
Do you think that design education properly balances artistic vision and technical execution these days? Let me know by tweeting me your thoughts to @FrankOnDesign.
This article first appeared in our bimonthly academic newsletter, For the Love of Design.