Ariel Ibañez | Design Education Evolution: Bridging the Gap

Apr 10, 2023Dianne Eberhardt

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify,  Stitcher, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.



Dianne: Hello everyone. Welcome to Pixelated Perfect. I'm super excited today. I have Ariel with me. We've kind of, I've had a couple of conversations with him. Super, super interesting background. And some, some interesting facts for you guys to know before we jump into some questions about him. He's been a design professor for more than 10 years. He has a passion in education and digital design, and he was the director of graphic and multimedia interaction design at UADE. So I'll ask you in a second how to pronounce it. But it's a really well-known university in Buenos Argentina where he currently lives. So thank you Ariel, for being here. I'm really excited to chat a little bit more with you.

Ariel: Of course. Thank you Dianne. And thank all the people here in this podcast from TDP. I'm really grateful to be here. So of course I'm talking about one of my favorite topics that it's education. So well, I can, I can wait for them for the questions. Sorry.

Dianne: Awesome. Perfect. Perfect. Yeah. Super excited. So, let's dive in. I want this podcast to definitely focus on asking questions about your background in educating designers, graphic designers, product designers, multimedia designers, and helping them kind of set them up for success to be able to take what they've learned and bring it into a career once they graduate. So let's, let's jump in. So my first question is, what was your first experience in teaching design?

Ariel: Well that came back like 10 or 12 years ago, I think 12 years ago. And I was a student, already a student of perfect, same career fresh students. Actually I was in my second year and I, of course , did this course of study that had this, this chair that, it's from typography, one section. And they were superhuman and they were like really they teach in a really great way in a really horizontal way that means that no one knows everything and they just, the knowledge is like from the community itself. So I really like the way they were teaching. So I asked them if I could show in that chair in that subject, and they said yes, but I had first to complete typography two, they are both annual material.

Ariel: So we had to, to, to wait for that. So I wait a year and then I show him that, that chair of studies. And I was, I was really nervous at first, but the thing was that I had a lot to say about, not only about typography but about the sign also. So I was eager to jump into the classes and like to share my little bit of knowledge to, to my, to my students. Sadly in that year, some of them were also my classmates. So it was a little bit tricky that first year because I had to, I dunno, to give knowledge to people that were, were in, in my cell in my same level. So it really was hard that first year. But after that it was just a natural thing.

Ariel: I was searching always from, I dunno design trends to things about typography, to technical knowledge. And I was really happy to share that with my students. So I guess it was like a start for me year after year when I was more mature being a professor. I was seen from the very beginning, the little leaders. But then in, I don't know, fourth or the fifth years, I was seeing the profession itself as a whole. I was already a graphic designer with a degree and I was already working. And then that gave me a whole vision of the problems that we face as professionals. So I was searching about how to solve those problems in the community, in the design community, and then give that knowledge to my students. So, so I, I think I became a little more, more strategic with my classes. And I was like seeing the whole picture of the design career.

Dianne: Yeah. No, that's fascinating. So it, did you always have this want to like, share your knowledge and to help people grow and learn? Or was that kind of like, it's like you had this opportunity, it was kind of like this first thought in your head and you, you went with it, and then it kind of like took you on this direction of, of really diving deeper into educating

Ariel: Oh my God. That, that, that question reminds me a lot of my childhood, I guess that the forties is my mother on this one. I'm the third son, and my mother was a little busy when I was young, like when I was 4, 5, 6 years old. So the, the, the solution she came with was like giving me this, all these books that we had in our library. And so I will always ask things. I was just too curious to be 40 years old. I mean, I was asking all this stuff and she, I mean, she had the answers, but the thing she did was, for me, it was amazing. She said, go read that book and tell me you are going to tell me the answer for that question you are asking.

Ariel: So, ah I think that was a really good base from the mental base for me to be telling people what I know, because I grew up that way. So when I was in the first year of my career, we had something here in UBA that, it's called cbc. It's like a common cycle, common first year for many careers. In the University of BUAs, we have the same first year for architecture graphic design mm-hmm. , fashion design, and other careers that are similar in, in some foundations. So I, I make that, that, that cycle, that common cycle for architecture. So I was reading a lot of architecture books mm-hmm. , and I was talking with my classmates and I always were asking, "Who's your favorite architect?

Ariel: Who do you look, look up to be? And I was like, super into the, the, the profession I was, I was going to study. Right. And I think that that's one really, really tricky or complicated thing in the design education, because the thing is that the students don't know much about design when they are in the first year of their careers. They don't know how, how, I don't know how many design studies or arch agencies are in Bonos Air, for example. And for me it was like the very first thing . I wanted to know who are the best designers, who are the best agencies, who is at the top of this career, who are these amazing designers? So I became, when I switched the, in that year to graphic design, I didn't know much about it.

Ariel: So the first thing for me was to buy some books and to read a lot of material. So I, I became aware of who was, I dunno who Cher was, who Susan was. He's an amazing typography designer. And I was reading about this digital revolution in the nineties and all the, the, the things that we, we could make with, with digital typography and then all these shams the, these technical shams in the industry. So in the first year, I was really, really aware of a lot of things that my classmates weren't. So I was telling them all the time, do you know this designer? Do you see what his work looked like? And so I was giving information the same way I was giving my mother information when I was a child, but she already knew the answer. So she does, she only makes that so I could, I could practice.

Dianne: Yeah. That's great. I love that. I think that something you said sparked something in me. I think a lot of designers that are kind of getting into design, they really don't have a starting point. They don't really know. And I think it's, it's like we always use past work or past people as inspiration. And so by doing that research and learning about who those people are that's kind of going to how you're gonna learn, like the background of graphic design and how we got to today and like the history of it, which is gonna have such an impact on you as a designer moving into the future. And so I I, I love that you said that's like something that you focused on early on in your career and you wanted to learn those things. And I think that, I'm assuming you kind of brought that into your coursework as you started to create these, these programs are like doing that research and understanding the history of design. Yeah.

Ariel: And, we build a community. And, at first it was a really small community of like five or 10 people that we were sharing all this knowledge and all this I, I dunno, it comes to the skills too. I mean, do you know how to do it? How to do this in some design software? And, and, and that sort of thing was like escalating and we're like improving our skills, our knowledge. And another thing that I noticed when I, as a director, I, I interview like every every design student, a student that came into wa it's the asian University of enterprise or something like that could be the, the translation. And when I did those interviews I noticed that they didn't know anything about the sign.

Ariel: But the thing is, the sign is cultural and we consume the sign every day, and it's everywhere, all around us. But I always ask him to ask them, sorry about her sorry. I always ask them about their favorite movies or series. And they could not only tell me I don't know, I talk about five movies, but they could talk about, I don't know colors in films climax in films and all, all sorts of things that are technical knowledge about movies. But they, they had it and they yeah, I, no, no, they, they weren't going to study out of the visual arts or, or, or they weren't studying to be movie or directors. They were, they were going to study graphic design, but they, they didn't, they weren't aware, sorry.

Ariel: They weren't aware of what the design was. So right. The other thing I say to them, it's like we are going to meet in like one semester or two, and I'm going to ask you, what are your three or four or five five favorite designers? So that was a question that I always to student in the, in the career, because you really have to know I, I don't mean you can know the history and all of that, but you always have to, to take a reference designer and, and maybe, of course, a lot of reference designers to, to improve yourself.

Dianne: Yeah. I love that. Yeah. Coming back to you later after a semester to like, who do you now look up to...

Ariel: They were afraid of that, of that time. They were like,

Dianne: . No, I love that. Okay. So kinda moving on from there. I think what's interesting about what you're saying is how you're like adding some, some history and having the, your, the designers in the course. Like, think about the scale of design and the strategy of design. What were some of those really big changes that happened in design while you were kind of building it? So what were some big radical changes happening in design while you were in this education design field? Uand how were you able to like, portray those in rethink the design program based on some of those changes?

Ariel: I always think of the smartphone revolution. I mean 10 years ago we were using the internet only on the desktop. And then well all of these mobile devices started to show up. And that was I think a point in the profession that we, with designers mainly here in South America, came a little bit late. I mean here, everything, it's like two or three years late. But it was a really game changer for designers because we became the center, or, or, or not, not only the center, but I mean a really big part with developers of this really big industry, that in that time it seemed that it was going to change everything. And I, I actually believe that it really did. So I mean, of course all of the UX design and UI design and then I dunno, the new technologies design today and augment reality and virtual reality.

Ariel: And the gaming industry also grew a lot in that time. So we were having this, not only these smartphones, but people were playing things and using apps. Were, were using websites a lot more. And that was actually really, really hard to translate that speed of the industry to, to the academic field. So there was this really big gap between what was happening in the design industry and what, what's happening in, in the academic field. I mean, we weren't teaching how to design apps, how to do ux. We weren't, sorry, we weren't doing that. So we, we, we'll have to, at that time, think about it, think about how we were going to implement that. And it was really a hard time. But I think that all universities now, at least here, are giving this knowledge to, to this student, to, to his students. And I mean, it's just a common thing now. But 10 years ago, it was a really new thing in the ACA academic field.

Dianne: Yeah, no, totally. I can totally see how the smartphone revolution changed everything. And I think like academia as a whole, the kind of way we think of it is, it's always like a little behind or it's just like older. And so I, I guess like, as new technology is coming out, like ai, like all these things that are really pushing the bounds of design in such a short period of time. How are academia and design courses? How are they able to keep, keep up and make sure that they are educating designers with what they need to go into the field today?

Ariel: Well a lot of universities in that time were operating their curriculars, they were like we need to change a lot of things. Because all the design curriculums were from the nineties. So the, the actually, the, the logic itself of, of location was sorry, the logics were like all in paper, all in person. And we were, like all these digital design objects that we were, we needed to, to, to embrace. So they came up with curricular upgrades. So like a little patch here and there. And then some of those universities changed the whole curriculum. Right. One of my goals as a director in the WA university was to change the curricula that was actually really really modern.

Ariel: But we made a couple changes. The first thing we did was implement Figma. That was the standard for, for the market in, in that time. It was 2019. So Figma was already a big thing, but the teachers at that time weren't given this knowledge. And the students themselves were using Figma. So it was just a natural thing to do. Yeah. So to, to implement and not, not Figma knowledge, but I mean we, we weren't going to teach students how to use stigma. We were just going to use it. And we were going to say, okay this work is going to be on Figma. You'll have to learn how to use it because we don't have here in Argentina at least an approach and technical skills approach. I mean, we don't teach Illustrator, we don't teach Photoshop. We just teach the design in general and then the students learn about will.

Dianne: Right. Interesting. Interesting. How, how can students impact the curriculum? Has there been an instance where something that the students are doing has affected how the curriculum changes in the future?

Ariel: Yeah, I, I mean actually a lot because all, all of the universities here made service in that time before changing the cola. And I, I actually think the opinion, not only from students, but from professors also was really a big deal because they were all, all saying the same thing. I mean, they got between the industry and the academic field, they got between the technical skills that the shop positions require and what they were learning. So we will have to, we, we had to adjust all of these things, but we were all on the same page in the design community. And I, I think that that was really, really great in that time because they were, they were all thinking the same.

Dianne: Yeah. Interesting. Interesting. So I kind of hear the things the students are like, what, how they learn in academia and at university, how can they integrate, like real world experiences? How are you guys able to simulate those real world experiences? So like, obviously if you think of ui, ux design, there's like a process. There's like, oh, you wanna do user flows, you wanna do wireframes, but in the real world, that's not always the case, right? Sometimes you're like, oh, I just have to skip this stage or go to this stage. So how can you guys kind of simulate and help designers understand that before going into, into getting their first job?

Ariel: Oh, okay. I, I, I mean, you, you can't make the whole experience the same because it's not going to be the same way, like, just like you said, I mean in the real world, there are, we have other times, we have other needs. Maybe you can skip one step or, or two or sacrifice something to gain something in, in other aspects. But I, I guess it's more like a relaxed way in, in the academic field. But the thing we did in both my university and what I, when I was a director, was to replicate the same problems that we could solve as a time in the industry. Like if I work, I was a typography teacher. I mean, I am today also, but at that time I was teaching typography to other students and we did like this kind of festival design. So it could be something that they can do in the future when, when they graduate, like a festival for a small group of bands or a festival, maybe it's on our festival or it's a cultural festival, something that the community could need, like a communication problem solving. And then in the background of that project, we teach all the fundamentals of that, of typography, of course, but we channel that knowledge through something real in the practical way.

Dianne: Yeah, totally. I, I mean, I think that's a great example of, I, I think there's also this notion of like, a lot of junior designers come to me and they're like, oh, I don't have any real world experience. And I'm like, do something, make a test project. Do make up your own company for, and do a logo for that. Like, it doesn't have to actually be like a real world actual example. As long as you're like starting to experiment and play with it and understand and put yourself in that scenario, which it sounds like this kind of festival is exactly what you guys were trying to do, is like, simulate, okay, like this is actually something you're building for. It's not like completely nothing. It's like, we actually are gonna put on this festival. So you need to design and think of typography in that way, which will help start them to start thinking about applying it in a real world scenario, which is interesting.

Ariel: Yeah, exactly. Actually, yeah, it totally makes sense actually. We assign this festival within, in a real space here in Mos Aires with, with a real real audience. So they, they just, they just needed to think of the user first. And so another thing we, we actually changed in, in the, I dunno, in the past 10 years of academia in the design was to move towards a more user centered design, right? Because in the nineties it was the site for enterprise, and you were thinking about how to please all of these big companies and you weren't thinking about design as a cultural thing or, or you weren't thinking about these small problems of the community. So the problems need, need to be real. So you can replicate that later in, in work, but it doesn't have to be actually the whole thing real with our real client, but the problem itself is it's real.

Dianne: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. I love what you said about, like, moving towards more user-centered design, like academia in general. I think that's fascinating and obviously that makes a lot of sense for where we are today, especially when we started talking about technology and phones and like, we're building for the everyday user. Always. Yeah.

Ariel: So funny, I think it was a really big change for companies too because they don't, they don't have clients anymore. They have, or users or a community, but that sort of thought of more like an old enterprise way. They are slowly dying. I mean, they're not entirely dead, but I think that we're going to be in a greater place year after year. I think that the field, it's more I dunno, more capable than ever to, to impact in, in real life.

Dianne: Yeah. Oh my, I love that. I, I completely agree. I'm reading, I'm rereading lean UX the book right now, and it brings up a lot of like how the past, how companies used to function and how much it today is about, like understanding the user, not building a roadmap for what I'm gonna accomplish in the next three years. It's like, what's happening now? What do you need to change? What do you need to do for your user? And think about it short term, okay, what's next? What is the problem the user is facing? Because if you only think high level and build these things for, at a company level, not thinking about the user, then you're not going to be able to build a product that is going to withstand the changes in society

Ariel: And to, to deeper, to dig deeper in that, in that field. I mean, the thing is that you do today, you have a lot of competition as a company . If you were a company, a big company in the nineties, you, you, you wouldn't have that. So now your product has to be really great at what, what it's doing, and you have to place your users because if you don't you'll have no users in the short term. So we, we have a lot of cases of, of, of companies and startups that don't I dunno, that don't excel in that, in that regard. So then impacting this is impacting business real hard. So they just need to, I don't know, to approach it in a design thinking way. And they need to be user centered that that's the way today, I mean,

Dianne: Yeah, totally. And in the education space, is that how you're, your teaching designers, is like thinking of a more user centered approach?

Ariel: Yeah, exactly. I can give you, I dunno, another example of this, this, this this subject, we go graphic design too, which just name, but the thing we, we ask students to, to design was another festival, but a little bit different because it's like a movie like these old movies that are going to be again, in, in the chats. So it's like you'll have to think about an excuse for that. It could be for movie critics, or it could be for movie fans, or it could be, I don't know, maybe, eh, they are going to make another Blade Runner movie, you know? So you will, you will grab the first Blade Runner and put it again in the theater. So you will have to, to find this excuse to, to design science, so that puts a lot of students in a crisis thinking about an annex excuse to, to make that festival.

Ariel: And it was, it was just great because it sparks a lot of conversation about the user itself. So it's, if it's movie critics, they already know the movie. They already know the details. They already know the gas. They already know everything. They're movie critics and you have to design in some way that you are going to give them information that they already know, but they could read again. But if it's porn, I don't know, people who never watch, play running, for example you can't spoil them, you know? I mean, you can, you can make spoilers about, about movies, you can be careful about information and all, all of those, the signs was I mean the, the people, the students were thinking about first the user needs and then the sign in. So it was a really, really great exercise.

Dianne: Wow. I love that. That's super, super interesting. I think that's great. Okay, so I have a couple of questions around your advice for students, or even maybe before they get into university, like how they can decide if design's for them. So like, do you have any tips or anything you would tell a student that was thinking of getting into design, any first steps that they can make to decide like, oh, this is the, the course for me, this is where I should be going?

Ariel: Yeah, I, I mean the, I gave them a couple of tips, but one I think this, it's the most, most important that it's something that we talked about earlier. I mean, you have to embrace this profession. You, you, if you wanna to be really great in, in the descent field, you'll have to know this field. You'll have to know his history, you to know designers and who doesn't have to agree. I mean you can, like one designer, and I, I like another, and this is the beauty of this profession. But the thing is, if I, if I were and study, I don't know, photography, I, I need to know like not all about, I don't know, 80% of the photographers in the world and the history and learn, learn, learn. And the other thing is to watch everything with another eye.

Ariel: I, I always tell them that they have to, to change their site about how they see things because you are not an innocent person anymore. You are just a designer. You have to design t-shirts and you have to put everything in crisis. That's one phrase one professor gave me when I was in, in my first year he told me like everything I see, try to make it better, try to win, to enhance it, try to arrange things better. And then I was in the street and, and always watching these billboards and these posters, and I was, okay, this could be a little more I don't know in the right, or this could be a, a bigger, this could be smaller. Oh my God, this logo is tremendous. And I was trying to design with my head. And then software and technical skills went to, I don't know, a third or a four position in my life because I was always thinking about design and how to make things better. So that's my, my advice, my two advice for, for new designers to, to embrace the profession and to change these sites. Like right away, you will have to look at everything with the designer's eye.

Dianne: Yeah, I think that's great advice. I feel like it's like seeing the world as a designer is like a blessing and a curse, because design is everywhere you look. Oh, and as soon as you like, open your mind to it, ,

Ariel: But we don't tell that part. We don't say it's gonna be beautiful.

Dianne: No, it's not always beautiful. But yet, like everything I think of, like anytime I use an app, I'm like, oh, like this experience is not the best experience. Or if I'm at a restaurant and I'm looking at a menu, I'm like, oh my gosh, like, this could have been done so much better. So I think that is like, yeah, I think it's an

Ariel: Interesting a sometimes

Dianne: , yes, yes, exactly. No, I think that's great advice though. I think that that's a great first step to really start to be thinking as a designer. So so yeah. That's great. Okay, so I have a final question for you. What do you think designers need to know now, and how can you or us or academia help prepare them for the future of design?

Ariel: Oh, alright. I guess that the thing they need to know is that this profession, it's like really changing in a, in a speed that sometimes it's hard to, to come with, I mean, so the first two, two pieces of advice were like linked to this one. I mean, you will have to, to speed up your knowledge and don't, I mean, not only get what academia gives you, give you see, so you can learn by yourself really great things. You have to be curious about it. So embrace the profession, be curious, change your side and hurry up because this profession's going to the moon and quickly.

Dianne: Yes, totally. I think that it's like if you go into this profession of design, like you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable because you're never gonna know anything. There's always something new to discover. It's like you wanna be that curious person because that's the type of person that needs to be able, you need to have that mindset as a person to be able to, to hop into this career.

Ariel: Absolutely. We're always learning. And, and that's the beautiful thing about it. I mean we, we don't get to get more, I mean, we, we should have to learn to keep doing new things to keep working for new clients, to learn about, you know, everything, everything from chairs to, to digital wallet. So that's another, another really great part about this profession. You are, you are constantly learning new things, new skills just I don't know, making your cultural self more more mature. So it's, it's really great. I mean I'm the kind of designer that really loves this profession. Sometimes it puts me in a crisis. I'm not going to say it doesn't, but those crises make me, myself grow and myself better. So I think it's, it's the same for everyone. I know like a lot of designers that I knew as a student, as a student and they are like seniors now, some of them semi seniors, and really into the profession. And this I can see to all of these really great designers that are, that workforce in this, in this really great profession. And I really, really enjoy seeing all the different people with different mindsets working in this field.

Dianne: Yes. Oh my gosh. Well said. I totally agree. I, I loved everything you said and I appreciate you coming on this podcast and kind of speaking to us in terms of like an academic standpoint and how you approach design from, like educating students. So I think that's really fascinating. I think your tips and tricks of like how to, anything from like being user-centered, thinking about user-centered design to your, your grade advice and tips on how to, if you wanna get started in it and how to maintain and what type of person needs to be involved was super, super interesting. So thank you so much for chatting with us. And I look forward to staying in touch and continuing to see how education and how design shifts as new students are, are kind of being exposed to, to design.

Ariel: Oh, of course, me too. Really, I really like the new generation of designers. I think they're going to, to bring a, a really fresh perspective about this profession. So thank you Dianne, for, for the time, for, for the opportunity to be here on this podcast. So, well, I see you also. Thank you again.

Dianne Eberhardt

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