WHY I Taught
I have a list. It got added to every year about graduates from our program at DCAD: where
that student went to pursue an BFA and where they landed in their seeking employment within
the broad field of design. It was an unscientific catalog of creative people. They asked for a bit of advice after leaving our small program. The young designers maintained connections through social media like LinkedIn or Facebook.
Growing this list seemed an odd validation to the greater academic world but to me, it meant some of the things I learned over almost four decades as a working creative were–and are–still applicable to our students.
My goal was to make a worthwhile impression with future designers. If they ever decide to teach a class or mentor a junior team member some day, they will remember teachers that pushed
–positively–for better results, thoughtful efforts and more empathy to their subject.  
I worked hard to see young designers 
leave DCAD's small program to pursue a 
Bachelor's degree in communication design. To 
seek work as an art director's assistant or 
gain entry to the field via digital production work. I found mission, inspiration and validation 
in the strong foundation that we provided. 
These maintained connections through 
the resources of social media 
or good old fashioned email and really old-fashioned stopping by the College was validation to continued 
and successful efforts by those graduates.
The students in our studio spaces wanted to craft 
successful solutions to communication problems. 
Beginning foundation year design majors seemed to thrive by limiting the specific design brief 
or criteria they need to follow, the range of solutions evolved to more clear results. 
What was always compelling were the broad variety 
students apply in solving problems. 
Some empathized with the task to form 
immediate connections to what was in front of 
them. Others needed the details unpacked 
with specific examples or verbalized with 
alternative metaphors. 

My goals had to accommodate that range: helping the quick-to-the-result artist 
to slow down and consider things they may 
have missed through prompting 
the more deliberative personalities
to embrace 
that trait, build on it and see the value in their path!
A few hoped to remain hidden behind their quiet 
persona–they sorted it out in more isolated 
learning spaces. Through years of teaching I have noticed that a student who would pose questions 
after class didn't necessarily mean inattention.
 It may have meant they were working in class in their own way to get to that quiet place to thrive outside of class! The student who 
lingers with queries did send alert signals: 
additional prompts and in–class interactions were needed to get them to greater levels of handled responsibility. 
Another thing I have realized from those years: input from 
their cohort as help to form answers may be 
how their process works… How I deliver the task as information–clear as it may be to some–will simply not be the case to all students. I stressed this to them, prompting to ask for understanding my admittedly–and documented by our students–quirky and unconventional delivery style. We all need time in development 
of anything new.
Bradford Wason during a crit; VisComm II, Spring 2012. We were fortunate to have Bradford teach for DCAD for a number of semesters. A graduate of the College in 2003, Mr. Wason is currently the Director of Brand Development for Capitol One in New York City. Zach Hartzell; foreground shares a moment with Ed Cunicelli who made this photograph. Zach keeps very busy with photo and video projects, some of his notable recent work has been for Martin Guitars.
He is a fine designer in his own right.
I try to gain everyone’s confidence of the 
requirement that questions asked are not only 
expected, they are required of professional designers. "I like it" is not enough: tell us why.
It benefits the entire cohort. Through 
prodding, cajoling, humor and their future 
working–world obligation, I strive to promote the 
studio lab and the critique wall as the one place 
they mix all learning types together and gain 
insight into what it means to be a creative 
in diverse working environments. 
I ask them 
for constructive honesty and mutual respect 
for each other’s point of view. With practice 
during analytical give and take, we all strive 
to evolve the group beyond basic likes and 
dislikes. When another student answers with 
something that truly enhances the work in 
question, a goal has been realized: inspiration 
to the designer who can improve their work and 
reinforcement to the other who made the 
Academic critique is one of the 
few places left it seems, where the degree of 
understanding by the students is freely on 
display at the pedagogical level and at to the 
cohort through an open forum of peer review. My years of working world evidence revealed often quite the opposite.
Students that attend DCAD now are different 
from the first class I worked with as a full time 
instructor back in 2003, or even more so as an 
adjunct in 1998. They are more demanding, 
less prone to close reading, exposed to industry–
standard software before setting foot in the studio; 
the students entering our lab's doors today half 
expect a continuation of what happened in a 
high school design class, if there was such a class. Digitally adept students may 
join a cohort that had only traditional media-
drawing & painting–and no software skills. 
Ironically, the more software exposed student 
may never have had any drawing from 
observation in a formalized class. 
My approach was to make our studio spaces feel 
a little like their first job. I wanted them to miss the 
place even after they were finished with school. 
To this end: professional approach, best practices 
and industry standards are part of how we began 
the transformation of a graphic design major 
into a working professional. 
The other part was a lot of honesty and humility on 
my part. Also, learning to get better at listening.
 Hearing what they were saying–not to elicit a response 
from my ego–but to hear them
to help them. Transforming themselves was 
what I found to be a key to their success.
AIGA, the professional organization for design and NASAD have a valuable series of ongoing  discussions of design 
education expectations and outcomes. 
Thanks for reading,

John Breakey
Program Chair, Graphic Design / 2003–2022

Delaware College
of Art and Design

Wilmington, DE
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