Between Practice, Pedagogy, and Place: How Auto-Ethnographic Reflection Can Guide Design Educators in a Divided Country


Two design educators, initially based in the same metropolis, contrast experiences transitioning from private practice to education using auto-ethnographic reflection to understand how social and cultural context can affect pedagogical impact. As their academic careers have evolved, they reflect on how their practice and pedagogy have addressed the need to challenge theoretical design concepts, mediate cultural differences, navigate institutional systems, work through political differences, and reframe a design philosophy due to changing geographical environments. In the United States, graphic design education grapples with professional grooming and free thinking. Yet, outside of institutional accreditation, there is no standard for student preparation or professional certification. Thus, individual educators define course curricula based on professional practice, research interests, or lived experiences—preparing designers with various skill sets, understandings, and influences. This research uses qualitative classroom case studies and quantitative institutional statistics to illuminate these contrasts. The results expose micro and macro relationships, such as one-on-one mentoring versus classroom transaction; education as customer service versus exploratory access; design history craft versus design history context; practical methodologies versus analytical criticism; guided ingenuity versus stylistic mimicry; and hardware-centered tutorial learning versus experimental curiosity. This work is reflective and will contribute to understanding the evolution of graphic design education in the United States. As institutions emerge from a global pandemic and reflect cultural divisions, individual educators will redefine the value of design education within our society. The challenge is to understand and leverage the nuance of voice—faculty and students alike—can connect our spaces, places, and people.


Johnathon Strube
Assistant Professor, Department of Art and Design, East Tennessee State University, Tennessee, United States

Dave Pabellon
Assistant Profesor, Design, Columbia College Chicago, Illinois, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Design Education


Design, Education, Auto-Ethnography, Practice, Pedagogy, Place, Methods, Institutions

Digital Media

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