Pamela Napier is in the spotlight for this round of "Five Questions," a Q&A series where we ask various Herron faculty members for sage advice and insights about their chosen creative disciplines.
Both a Herron faculty member and an alumna, Napier teaches visual communication design (VCD for short) – the very subject she studied for her bachelor's and master's degrees. Read on to learn how she emphasizes collaboration in her classes, as well as in her own studio practice.
HERRON: What is one of the overarching themes of how visual communication design is taught at Herron?
PAMELA NAPIER: One overarching theme that spans across both the undergraduate and graduate curriculum is one of "people-centeredness." Meaning, that as a faculty, we share a collective set of values that places people at the center of the design process. We value designing with people rather than for them.
So, while the foundational bedrock of our undergraduate program is on facilitating students' learning of the elements and principles of visual communication design, we progressively work towards building skill sets that include design research and strategy as core competencies of design. This is how our students are going to have a leg up when entering design practice in the 21st century. They'll not only be great makers, but they'll also be able to involve others in their processes of creative problem-solving, in order to reach more innovative, appropriate, and meaningful solutions.
HERRON: What is your favorite class to teach?
NAPIER: Oooh, tough one. Since I teach both in the undergraduate and graduate programs, I would say, in the graduate program, it's the second-year Collaborative Action Research in Design studio course, where we teach design facillitation for collaboration. That's my wheelhouse and it's what I do most of in practice.
In the undergraduate program, I would have to say the spring semester course for juniors, Design in Context, because it's the first time our students get to work in collaborative teams with community partners.
Both courses enable students to work in contexts outside of the studio, and work with people who have real problems that they need help solving.
HERRON: How has the human-centered approach to design changed over the past ten years, and what trends do you see happening in the future?
NAPIER: This is a topic that could be a white paper with a lengthy list of footnotes! One resource that came out of AIGA two years ago is the Designer 2025 Summary. It is based on doing "trend analyses in a number of disciplines with thought leaders in design to describe the emerging context for professional practice." This document is also meant to highlight the kinds of skills and competencies both undergraduate and graduate students should have coming out of college in order to practice design in this knowledge economy that we are currently in.
What I think is important, is that in every identified trend – for example, "complexity," "bridging physical and digital experiences," and "core values matter," to name a few – there are several components of being able to work with people: skills for collaboration, understanding human experiences, and facilitating engagements that enable people to co-create solutions.
It made me proud to see these types of needs because, as a VCD faculty member at Herron, I can point to so many aspects of our curriculum and say, "Yes! We're teaching that here!"
HERRON: What prompted the founding of your company, Collabo Creative?
NAPIER: Well, I started teaching at Herron right out of grad school. At the time, I was a visiting lecturer and not yet on a tenure track, so my contract was renewed on a yearly basis. After a few years in, my co-founding business partner and PIC (partner in crime), Terri Wada (M.F.A. Visual Communication '11), was like, "Want to start a business and do this for real?" Meaning: did I want to put everything we both learned in grad school, and what we were both currently teaching (design thinking, design research, and people-centered design) into practice? And I was like, "Heck yeah!" So, we started Collabo Creative.