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Endnote: What Sophy Brown Learned in Rome

Jun 12 2013

By Sophie Brown

In the past two weeks, I feel like I’ve really evolved as a designer. It’s quite difficult to summarize what I learned in the fortnight studying with SVA, because much of it wasn’t taught in the classroom, or academically orchestrated. It was the immerssive experience of being in Rome; it was being able to email James Clough in the middle of the night with vector drawings; it was getting to have breakfast with Steve Heller; and walking alongside Louise Fili to school.

With two public school teachers for parents, I’ve been brought up to believe in (or at least, stand for) the public education system. It’s been hammered into me that you’ll always get out as much as you put in, and that your education is only as good as you’re willing to make it. I think I’ve lived by that fairly truly.

But at Tomaree Public School, and at Newcastle University, I didn’t have internationally renowned, world-class industry leaders teaching me. And my classmates have never been as carefully selected. There were several times during my degree where I seriously debated either dropping out or switching programs, because I couldn’t see where graphic design would take me (or I wasn’t excited by what I was taught). If Lita Talarico had been there, encouraging me to see the endless possibilities, there’d have been no doubt in my mind. If James Clough had taught me in second year, I’d have made ten fonts by now!

Which is not at all to dismiss my education! I’m still a firm believer in hard work paying off, and I’m grateful for what I’ve had so far. It’s just that I’ve never had access to such incredible resources and contacts before, and I feel like I flourished!

Not only that, but I’m now part of this incredible international community of peers and educators. Lita always emphasized the importance of that, having a community of like-minded colleagues. I live worlds away from most of the people I met and befriended on this course, but I know that we will remain good friends. Who knows, we may even be workmates one day. A girl can dream!

Lita and Steve (the Co-Chairs of SVA MFA Design) gave a presentation together in the first week to Sapienza University design students. The presentation looked solely at SVA’s Masters program. I had heard about it, but I didn’t know just how enriching that education program was. The MFA is pitched as “Designer as Entrepreneur”, so graduates are taught not just to be designers, but to be writers, business people, artists, orators, directors, communicators, revolutionaries… I was so inspired, sitting there listening to them, and that was just the course outline!

I had one lecturer at university that liked to talk rhetoric and would try to excite people about aspiring to great heights. For the most part though, the rest were just prepping us to be mac-jockeys. At SVA, the focus always seems primarily on ideas. What good ideas have you got? What ideas can we work on together? Where can these ideas take you? How will these ideas help people?

We’d talk altogether in class about our project proposals, and Steve, Lita and Louise would all ask people “but where is the surprise in that idea?”. I’d never even considered that. Of course there should be a surprise! Of course design should be wonderfully unexpected.

When asking James about layout ideas, he without hesitation directed me to pursue the most unconventional look. Of course it should challenge! Of course there should be tension and delight at play in the page.

I’m usually pretty good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) at romanticizing notions, and getting overly sentimental or passionate about things. I feel like I should have been able to arrive at the “design can be anything you make it” conclusion a long time ago. Actually, I think I did, but I just had trouble realizing it. The huge variety and high quality of work produced by my peers at this SVA workshop made me really see that. We had only two weeks. As Tim said, deadlines force creativity. In our individual pressure-cookers, we all managed to serve up some pretty impressive work. Everything from apps to charity campaigns to fonts.

Design can be anything, and designers can do anything! Well, maybe not brain surgery, but I’m sure there’s a designer out there who somehow (either through graphic design, product design, communication, etc.) managed to make brain surgery easier…

I loved my two weeks learning typography and graphic design with my design heroes in Rome. I feel more inspired than ever before. I so hope that somewhere in my future our paths cross again, because I’m sure it could only be even more enriching. I’d wholeheartedly encourage anyone in a related field to pursue something like this, because it really does change your life.

Read more from Sophie’s diary here.