SEGD Core Competencies and Subsequent Implications for Professional Practice

From the SEGD Research Journal: Communication and Place, 2014

ISBN: 

978-1-940297-12-5

Anne H. Berry
Visual Communication Design
University of Notre Dame

ABSTRACT

The educational core competencies defined by the Society for Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD) systematically employ the language of “understanding” as a measurement for evaluating student skills and level of expertise. Of the 28 competencies provided by SEGD, half begin with the word “understanding.” Yet these statements invite broad meaning and interpretation in the design of instruction as well as in the assessment of student performance. This paper, consequently, addresses how a reexamination of the EGD Core Competencies can help promote student performance measures that lend themselves to evaluation aligned to career readiness expectations in EGD.

A discussion rooted in the current EGD Core Competencies can act as a catalyst for revisiting and refining the standards themselves, ascertaining how instructive the competencies are within the range of design disciplines represented in the field of EGD. This discussion also invites other disciplines outside of EGD into conversations about education, providing further avenues for discourse and discovery.

BACKGROUND

Before I began my first teaching job in higher education, terms like “rubric,” “assessment,” and “competencies,” were relatively foreign to me. I learned how to teach in graduate school, by observing faculty members and the way they interacted with students. I was assigned my own classes after putting in the requisite time and energy as a teaching assistant, and graded students based on the standards that had been established by the design faculty and the culture of the program. These standards were not necessarily articulated in writing. However, through assisting faculty, I was confident that I understood what constituted “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” and “F” work. At the time, I probably would have stated that my method of evaluation was largely instinctual, rooted in my design expertise and familiarity with the program. Even in hindsight, I would argue that my grading methods were fair. More importantly, my experience of learning how to teach, i.e., by relying on my “knowledge, experience, and gut feel” is a fairly common one among design educators (Giloi & du Toit, 2013, p. 257).

When I had the opportunity to take a course development seminar and participate in a faculty learning community after graduate school, I jumped wholeheartedly into the world of assessment, appreciating, perhaps for the first time, that students’ ability to understand how they were being evaluated was as important as my own certainty that I was evaluating them fairly. There came a point, however, when I abandoned my core competencies, grading rubrics, and evaluation forms. The assessments had been helpful in some significant ways but I reverted back to what (at the time) seemed more efficient. I reasoned that the curricula I had inherited from my predecessors was strong enough on its own and would not require any additional support through student feedback and assessment techniques. Yet from the perspective of a new professor coming into a new teaching situation, I quickly realized that the lack of integrated assessments created significant gaps between what I was expecting from students and their perceptions of how they were being evaluated.

Teaching involves a great deal of planning and organization. At the same time, the organic, unscripted nature of what takes place in the classroom is part of what draws many of us to academia in the first place. My focus on assessment here is not intended to advocate for rigid structures that make design education dull and prescribed. On the contrary, reviewing the EGD core competencies and examining how they are interpreted in a classroom setting has the potential to improve the methods by which we evaluate our students, making the process of teaching and learning more rewarding for students and professors alike.

METHODOLOGY

This paper focuses on assessments implemented for a course entitled VCD 13: Design for Professional Practice. This is one of the few upper-level courses for VCD students, which has allowed me to tailor it specifically to the needs of our program majors. In the past, the course content has included a range of projects depending on who has taught it. In lieu of a formal portfolio review process for VCD majors, which we do not yet have in place, I have continued to push portfolio development as part of VCD 13. In addition, due to my interest in EGD, I am also attempting to give the course a stronger EGD focus and, in the process, bridge the gaps between the content I am teaching, my own pedagogy, connections to the EGD profession, and how the work I am doing with my students fits within the larger framework of assessment and analysis taking place in education.

Based on the large amount of content I am trying to squeeze into the semester course, and fluctuations in class size from year to year, I have had to set up clearer parameters for presenting projects. The assessments I have chosen to implement, consequently, are based on models developed through a course development seminar, and include EGD Core Competencies, rubrics, and group and self-evaluations, in addition to critiques.

EGD Core Competencies
Core competencies help define course objectives, and though they are distinct with respect to assessment, they should help inform the kinds of assessments that are used for evaluation. Best practices are clear in stating that learning outcomes should be written in observable and measurable language, and are best represented by action verbs such as “analyze,” “argue,” “create,” “describe,” and “identify.” By comparison, terms such as “learn,” “understand,” “know,” and “appreciate” are vague and, therefore difficult to assess as metrics. Developing assessments based on core competencies, consequently, requires clearly articulated learning objectives that are written in “observable and measurable” language (Mager, 1997).

Currently, the EGD Core Competencies utilize action verbs such as “design,” “research,” “create,” “develop,” “draw,” and “produce” as metrics for evaluating student performance. However, the word “understanding,” which is difficult to measure or observe, is also prevalent. Below is what I would offer as possible alternatives to begin translating the existing vocabulary into language that is easier to evaluate. From segd.org:

The Core Competencies integrate two important concepts:

• An understanding of the design process from initial concept through implementation
Alternative: The ability to discuss or illustrate the design process from initial concept to implementation

• An understanding of design intent, or the ability to translate design goals into a visual communication approach
Alternative: The ability to translate design intent or design goals into a visual communication approach

1 | General Knowledge
Knowledge of environmental graphic design
• Understanding of the different areas of environmental graphic design and the design firms that work in the field
Alternative: Ability to demonstrate knowledge about the different areas of environmental graphic design and the design firms that work in the field

• Understanding of how EGD relates to other design disciplines including graphic design, information design, architecture, and interior design
Alternative: Ability to document or illustrate how EGD relates to other design disciplines including graphic design, information design, architecture, and interior design

2 | Analysis and Development of Design Concepts
Verbal and written communication skills related to concept development
• Ability to articulate a design concept through formal writing and verbal presentation
• Ability to use terminology related to environmental graphic design project planning and implementation

Ability to develop design ideas from a formal analysis
• Understanding of how to incorporate design ideas into a formal design process
Alternative: Ability to incorporate design ideas into a formal design process
 

• Ability to research design motifs and solutions and incorporate the ideas into
an analysis
• Ability to develop diagrams and written documents that communicate a
design strategy

Ability to incorporate research into conceptual analysis
•  Ability to utilize background research on geography, cultural anthropology, demographics, environment, or architecture to develop a design concept

3 | Design Development
Use of typography, color, and symbology
•  Ability to apply graphic analysis to design development including application of a consistent design palette of type, color, pattern, and materials

Legibility and accessibility
•  An understanding of how comprehensibility, legibility, usability, and accessibility relate to design in the environment
Alternative: Ability to demonstrate how comprehensibility, legibility, usability, and accessibility relate to design in the environment

Drawing and/or modeling in three dimensions
•  Understanding of massing, structural integrity, and relationship to human scale
Alternative: Ability to illustrate massing and structural integrity in relationship to human scale

•  Ability to draw dimensional design concepts in the design development stage
•  Ability to produce models and utilize them for design development
•  Ability to produce three-dimensional explorative drawings using computer software

4 | Visual Communication
Documentation and communication skills
•  Understanding of how different elements in a project make up a family sharing similar physical and functional traits
Alternative: Ability to illustrate and analyze the relationship between different elements in a project and how they make up a family sharing similar physical and functional traits

•  Understanding of scale and how to document and model at different scales
Alternative: Ability to demonstrate scale, and document and model atdifferent scales

•  Understanding of how documentation works throughout the design process, including plans, elevations, dimensional models, diagrammatic maps, and schedules
Alternative: Ability to demonstrate documentation throughout the design process, including the development of plans, elevations, dimensional models, diagrammatic maps, and schedules

•  Understanding of how different design drawings and details fit together to provide a clear picture of designer intent
Alternative: Ability to explain how different design drawings and details fit together to provide a clear picture of designer intent

•  Understanding of how drawings and models are part of a larger communication process with the fabricator
Alternative: Ability to demonstrate how drawings and models are part of a larger communication process with the fabricator

•  Understanding of how to describe materials and methodologies and how they are expected to perform
Alternative: Ability to describe materials and methods for implementation, and how they are expected to perform

5 | Presentation
Team collaboration and presentation skills
•  Ability to create formal presentations as part of a team
•  Ability to collaborate with other students with complementary skills in architecture, industrial design, graphic design, or information design

Process presentation skills
•  Understanding of presentation approaches and methodologies for reviewing an EGD process from concept to final implementation
Alternative: Ability to present approaches and methods for reviewing an EGD process from concept to final implementation

6 | Implementation
Process
•  Understanding of the fabrication process including the relationship between the fabricator and designer
Alternative: Ability to write or speak about the role of a fabricator in the design process

Specification
•  Understanding the qualities of different materials and fabrication methods
Alternative: Ability to specify or reference different materials for a given context or environment

•  Ability to describe how and where materials, fabrication methods, and technologies will be employed

Core competencies for the EGD portion of VCD 13 course
Though I did not introduce the entire list of EGD Core Competencies in my VCD 13 course, I attempted to translated the vocabulary into more observable and measurable language where possible. Revisiting the category of General Knowledge from segd.org, two of the current competencies listed read as follows:

• Understanding of the different areas of environmental graphic design and the design firms that work in the field
• Understanding of how EGD relates to other design disciplines including graphic design, information design, architecture, and interior design

In framing these competencies for my students, I paired the learning objectives with an assignment to help establish how they would show their general knowledge of EGD:

Core Competency One: General Knowledge
Students will be able to demonstrate and apply general knowledge of the field of environmental graphic design (EGD).

Rationale: So that students can speak authoritatively about EGD and how it relates to other areas of design; so that students can make connections between the work they’re doing in an academic setting with both historical context and professional practice.

Possible assignment/s: Students will complete a group exercise in which they must gather materials from course readings covering the history and practice of EGD, documenting professional work that encompass different areas of EGD and the kinds of projects specific firms are engaged in. (Sources: The Wayfinding Handbook: Information Design for Public Places by David Gibson; Environmental Graphics: Projects & Process by Wayne Hunt; Wayfinding: Designing and Implementing Graphic Navigational Systems by Craig Berger; segd.org)

As a second example, in the category of Visual Communication, where the word “understanding” is prevalent, I again specified ways in which students needed to show their documentation and communication skills:

Core Competency Four: Visual Communication
Students will demonstrate the ability to create a family of design components, and show design documentation and scale

Rationale: So that students can articulate how different sign types and/or exhibit pieces apply to different contexts and audiences; so that students can show how various design components fit and work together as a system

Possible assignment/s: Students will create portfolio books documenting their design process, detailing sign types and dimensions, and illustrating, through photomontage or drawings, how the system of components they’ve created fit in the spaces for which they’ve been designed.

In addition to presenting core competencies, I integrated grading rubrics and evaluation forms as a means of providing frameworks for both course objectives and evaluation.

Assessment
The existence of the EGD Core Competencies signals the importance SEGD places on the concept of learning objectives and helping students acquire the necessary skills to be competitive in the workplace. When it comes to assessment, however, the visual arts tend to be overlooked, and models for evaluating students are typically based on the production of “written or verbal evidence” (Giloi & du Toit, 2013, p. 258). Though these frameworks can still serve as references for the development of design assessments, we must first look within our own field and address ways in which our competencies can move beyond “understanding” as a criteria. From that point on, design professionals, educators, and students alike are clear on the expectations that are being set, and educators are still free to tailor assessments based on the methods they deem most appropriate and beneficial.

Assessment, by extension, becomes an important link in making the core competencies applicable in a classroom setting; without clear language for establishing learning outcomes or goals, determining what is being evaluated and how it is being evaluated leads to ambiguity. If our collective objective is to create better, more transparent structures for gauging what students are learning and how well they are absorbing content, then it’s important to look at the kinds of competencies and corresponding assessments we are already using in the classroom, and share and discuss our results with one another.

In clarifying the language of the EGD Core Competencies, categorizing assessments based on those that are summative and those that are formative could be beneficial in helping to shape assessment approaches. The competencies listed below, which could be paired with summative assessment, might be evaluated at the end of a project:

• Ability to produce models and utilize them for design development
• Ability to produce three-dimensional explorative drawings using computer software
• Ability to create formal presentations as part of a team

Likewise, other competencies might be paired with formative assessments:

• Ability to collaborate with other students with complementary skills in architecture, industrial design, graphic design, or information design
• Ability to research design motifs and solutions and incorporate the ideas into an analysis
• Ability to use terminology related to environmental graphic design project planning
and implementation

As yet another step in connecting education with professional practice and assisting in the development of EGD course curricula, skills that should be considered competencies for the end of an EGD course or workshop versus skills acquired at the end of an academic program or degree focused on EGD could be specified.

RESULTS

As part of my evaluation process, I used rubrics, self-evaluation forms, and group evaluation forms. Each served a different purpose; however, they were all intended to support the measurable and observable language of the EGD Core Competencies. Most of the projects overlapped with two or more core competencies, but I have included examples of how I paired a few of the EGD Core Competencies with assignments, along with visual references.

Example 1
Core Competency Two: Analysis and Development

Students will be able to integrate research into the design process, develop design concepts through analysis and synthesis of information, and effectively communicate ideas of Design Concepts.

Rationale: So that students can frame design problems, explore a variety of concepts, and develop ideas based on key findings about user groups and user profiles; so that students can clearly communicate their ideas, both verbally and in written form, by documenting their design process, rationale, and strategy.

Possible assignment/s: Students will write creative briefs, and present ideas and respond to feedback and questions from clients; students will work with the Collaborative Product Development class (on the District Library project), using joint research and observations to help inform design decisions.

Correlating assignment: The State (Figures 1–3)
Working in teams and in consultation with the manager of a local landmark theater in downtown South Bend, students developed a system of exterior and interior graphics to improve wayfinding and general visibility, and further convey “sense of place” as the building continues to undergo phased renovations.

In addition to developing creative briefs and analyzing and synthesizing the information they gathered about The State, students presented to the client midway through their design process as well as at the end of the project. They walked the client through their design decisions and receiving direct feedback regarding the final designs and how successfully they aligned with the objectives articulated in the creative brief.

Example 2
Core Competency Three: Design Development

Students will be able to demonstrate visual communication design skills and expertise, with particular sensitivity toward legibility and accessibility issues, and convey ideas through drawings, 2D graphics, and/or 3D modeling.
 
Rationale: So that students are able to propose solutions that successfully address the needs of stakeholders and user groups utilizing best practices; so that students are able to provide graphics that convey design concepts visually, including three-dimensional representations.

Possible assignment/s: Students will create sketches of 3D forms, build 3D forms, and design environmental graphic components which they will document through 2D drawings and show in scale; students will show technical ability and expertise with type, color, pattern, and materiality through the development of design solutions.  

Correlating assignment: Volume and Scale (Figures 4–6)
This assignment, though presented as a project, could be more accurately described as an exercise to get students working with scale and 3D forms, and integrating 3D forms with 2D graphics. Volume and Scale is also meant to serve as an introduction to 3D design, facilitating exploration and the development of a variety of ideas quickly rather than perfecting one form at the outset. The first phase of the project is to create rectilinear 3D form studies, using foam core, and then marry 2D graphics with the 3D forms in the design of an information kiosk.

I also utilized a “minute paper” Classroom Assessment Technique to collect feedback on whether or not students understood the purpose of the assignment:

Questions
Did you understand the assignment?
Did you understand the purpose of the assignment?
Are there aspects of the assignment that were confusing to you?
What did you learn while working on Volume and Scale?

In the following class, I shared the comments with students.
A clear majority of students understood the assignment and the purpose.

Did some students find certain aspects of the assignment confusing or, alternatively, challenging?
Scale, editing information, figuring out what to include, how to approach content; some liked the challenge of having a lot of creative freedom and the open-ended nature of the project; others preferred more structure.

What did students learn while working on Volume and Scale?
How to start integrating 2D graphics with 3D forms; the importance of rough models; scale and proportion; human factors

Miscellaneous reflections
Students learned how to frame a problem and felt they were pushed to explore, discover, experiment, and learn through trial and error.

Last, each student documented their work in a process book, showing that they could work with 3D forms and 2D graphics, and represent their 3D compositions in scale.

Example 3
Core Competency Five: Collaboration

Students will be able to collaborate and work in groups, as well as account for individual participation and responsibilities within the larger group.

Rationale: So that students are prepared to work in collaborative, cross-disciplinary contexts; so that students learn how to balance their skill sets with the skill sets of others.

Possible assignment/s: Students will complete two group projects in which they must share tasks and take initiative to delegate without waiting for prompts from the instructor; students will evaluate themselves and their respective group members to help determine whether or not the workload is evenly distributed. 

Correlating assignment: District Library (Figures 7–11)
Students were tasked with developing wayfinding system concepts for a local library. This assignment was a joint effort between my VCD 13 class and ID Professor Paul Down’s Collaborative Product Development class. The library is currently undergoing modest renovations to help accommodate the variety of activities that take place in the building, so Prof. Down’s students were responsible for developing the necessary structural changes to reflect the needs of the library staff and patrons.

The two classes worked independently from one another, but through an initial design charrette and then subsequent presentations and discussions regarding insights and information, the wayfinding systems my students developed reflected some of the concepts generated by the Collaborative Product Development class.

The timing also proved to be a challenge given that the floor plans, developed by the Collaborative Product Development students for the renovated spaces, continued to change throughout the entire semester based on feedback from library staff. Despite the moving pieces and parts of the project, however, the rubric and self-evaluation forms still illustrate students’ ability to demonstrate their knowledge and what they learned through visual examples.

CONTRIBUTION TO THE FIELD

In The Informed Design Teaching and Learning Matrix, authors David P. Crismond and Robin S. Adams offer examples of how to assist K-16 design students and educators with teaching and learning strategies, serving as a reference point for how we might go about documenting our teaching methods and track students’ progression through their design education (2012). Due to the lack of documentation of assessment in design education more generally, however, opening up a discussion on this topic and suggesting ways to build on what is already being put into practice in both professional and educational settings has the potential to help set precedent for larger discussions about reevaluating the EGD core competencies and presenting potential projects that could be a means of assessing those competencies.

As an inherently collaborative and cross-disciplinary profession, SEGD is particularly well positioned to be an integral part of conversations outside of the discipline and perhaps shift ideas about teaching pedagogy and assessment criteria.

One specific way to begin validating assessments that EGD educators already use is, as previously mentioned, clarifying the language of the EGD Core Competencies in “observable and measurable” terms. Emphasizing performances that are more readily measurable while simultaneously integrating the language of “demonstrate” and “create,” will align with core competencies in other academic areas and lend credibility to what we’re already doing. Reaching out to areas such as instructional systems technology could promote additional interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary connections.

Clarifying the language of the EGD Core Competencies subsequently paves the way for more informed instructional practices. Within academia, we often make distinctions between professional work and “school projects.” Yet, in building connections between EGD students and professionals in academic contexts, SEGD has already started to blur this line.

The Kent State University wayfinding project spearheaded by David Middleton as part of an EGD course is one such example. Students had access to EGD professionals throughout the design process, and through research, field testing, field test analysis, and consultation with fabricators, were able to contribute to a wider body of knowledge within the profession (Middleton, 2009). This kind of educational experience provides new models for evaluating teaching and learning. In effect, the teaching and learning that are taking place within the context of EGD courses serve as examples for other areas of study.

IMPLICATIONS OF THEORY AND PRACTICE

The EGD Core Competencies inform how I select and choose assessment tools to gauge student performance growth. As I’ve experienced firsthand, the absence of these kinds of metrics has the potential to create significant gaps between my objectives for students and the skills they develop. In addition, I want to open up a larger, collective discussion about what other EGD educators are doing to assess core competencies through examples of instructional designs and sharing student projects, and develop a plan for revisiting the competencies on a regular basis.

Within the SEGD community and particularly its Academic Summit and SEGD Global Design Awards, we see many examples of impressive, award-winning and/or research-driven student projects. However, there is less documentation regarding the evaluative processes in place behind the scenes. I suggest, then, that we focus on the EGD Core Competencies as a way to look at how integral they are in promoting learning objectives. In addition to emphasizing a change in the vocabulary to reflect more measurable and observable language, revisiting the competencies opens up opportunities for categorizing the methods of assessment (formative versus summative) and reaching out to our counterparts in other areas of education. Furthermore, developing systems that will allow us to share and access assessments currently being implemented can help facilitate follow-up conversations specifically related to the relationship between EGD Core Competencies and assessments.

About the author
Anne H. Berry is a Visual Communication Design professor at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., where she teaches the design program’s foundational typography course, an advanced-level professional practice course for juniors and seniors, and advises undergraduate BFA and graduate MFA students. She received a Student Merit Award from SEGD in 2006 for Sankofa Place, a mixed housing development proposal, before earning her MFA from the School of Visual Communication Design at Kent State University in 2008. Her most recent work includes a permanent exhibit for the Civil Rights Heritage Center in South Bend, Ind. 

References

  1. Giloi S, du Toit P (2013). Current approaches to the assessment of graphic design in a higher education context. International Journal of Art & Design Education, 32: 256–68.
  2. Mager RF. (1997). Preparing instructional objectives: a critical tool in the development of effective instruction (3rd ed.). Atlanta: The Center for Effective Performance.
  3. Middleton D (2009). Rethinking the campus. segdDESIGN No. 26. Available from: URL:  https://segd.org/kent-state-university-wayfinding-research

Figures

  1. The State (Nathalia Silvestre, Shannon Sullivan, Eileen Murphy, Brooke Turrell)
  2. The State (Nathalia Silvestre, Shannon Sullivan, Eileen Murphy, Brooke Turrell)
  3. The State (Peter Kristiansen, Erin Boxberger, Carolyn Green, Emma Reaney)
  4. The State (Peter Kristiansen, Erin Boxberger, Carolyn Green, Emma Reaney)
  5. The State (Laurel Komos, Katie Heit, Marykate Green, Colleen Hancuch)
  6. The State (Laurel Komos, Katie Heit, Marykate Green, Colleen Hancuch)
  7. Volume and Scale (Laurel Komos)
  8. Volume and Scale (Peter Kristiansen)
  9. Volume and Scale (Nathalia Silvestre)
  10. Volume and Scale (Nathalia Silvestre)
  11. District Library (Peter Kristiansen, Colleen Hancuch, Eileen Murphy, Brooke Turrell)
  12. District Library (Peter Kristiansen, Colleen Hancuch, Eileen Murphy, Brooke Turrell)
  13. District Library. (Erin Boxberger, Carolyn Green, Laurel Komos, Shannon Sullivan)
  14. District Library. (Erin Boxberger, Carolyn Green, Laurel Komos, Shannon Sullivan)
  15. District Library (Emma Reaney, Katie Heit, Nathalia Silvestre, Marykate Green)
  16. District Library (Emma Reaney, Katie Heit, Nathalia Silvestre, Marykate Green); Collaborative product development
  17. District Library (Emma Reaney, Katie Heit, Nathalia Silvestre, Marykate Green)
  18. District Library (Emma Reaney, Katie Heit, Nathalia Silvestre, Marykate Green)
  19. District Library (Emma Reaney, Katie Heit, Nathalia Silvestre, Marykate Green)
  20. District Library (Emma Reaney, Katie Heit, Nathalia Silvestre, Marykate Green)

Find more content in your areas of interest in the SEGD Xplore Experiential Graphic Design index.

Related Links: 

New Member Offer

Click to access the 2019 "Never been an SEGD member before" $185 sign up offer

Upcoming SEGD Events

2019 SEGD Wayfinding & Placemaking Banner
2019 SEGD Xlab Banner