My son Derrick is a proud graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s School of Design. He completed the five-year, mandatory co-op program at a time of great growth in the graphic design industry. It seemed like every community college, technical school, and trade school was offering a program that promised to equip the student to make his or her mark in this growing field. But as the guy writing checks for the tuition, I was very worried about whether this was the best use of my son’s life and college fund.
The first “student show” we attended seven weeks into freshman year did not ease my fears. I teased that we were spending lots of money for him to review “Simon and Chloe’s Shapes and Colors” — a favorite VHS tape from his pre-school years. [If you younger readers are unfamiliar with “VHS,” please read on; it is germane to the answer on why he wanted to go to UC.] There was much emphasis on the “why” of things instead of the “how.”
Late in that visit, we had a chance to converse with one of Derrick’s professors. She was not amused by my “Simon and Chloe” crack or the questions about spending 5 years learning to do things our local tech school claimed they could do in 18 months. She quickly pointed out that “training” was the teaching of how to do something while education required understanding the “why” as well. Did you want to play a small part in the band or write the music and lead the band? My son wanted to know the “why” exactly because the technology of the “how” was changing so fast.
The same problem exists in the gear trade. You can buy some fantastic gear and gearbox design software that makes pretty pictures quickly appear on the video screen. Some will link to your 3-D CAD package and generate bales of very professional looking drawings. There will be accompanying capacity and stress calculations. Yet, the resulting design may be terrible if the reviewers do not know the correct questions to answer.
When figuring out what you would like us to teach you in the future, should we concentrate on the “how” or the “why?”