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InsightOct 21, 2020

Should you pursue a Masters in Design?

Written by Janice Fung RGD, Humber College

In this series, Members share insights into the master's programs that they've undertaken.

Janice Fung RGD

Janice is a professor at Humber College in the Faculty of Media and Creative Arts. Working as a freelance graphic designer, some of her clients have included Dance Umbrella of Ontario and Howard Rideout Architect Inc. In 2009, she completed Ph.D. in Architecture at the Glasgow School of Art, University of Glasgow. She continues to explore accessible design and enjoys participating in mentorship programs, portfolio reviews and other industry events through the RGD. When she is not immersed in design or teaching, she enjoys time with her two kids and a young pup named Skipper.

Business cards for A Brand For Blindness

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I was simply curious and eager to learn. I wanted to explore design, accessibility and architecture beyond what I had had the opportunity to do at the undergraduate level.

Where did you go? How long did it take? When did you graduate?

I took a leap of faith and enrolled in the Glasgow School of Art (Mackintosh School of Architecture) / University of Glasgow and completed my program in four years graduating in 2009.

Can you describe your experience with graduate school?

It was a process of discovery that was challenging and rewarding. I loved having the opportunity to take a deep dive into my area of focus. I was lucky to receive tremendous support from my core supervisor and that made all the difference in my overall experience.

How has your experience with graduate education informed your work as a designer? 

I think that I am now a more thoughtful and empathetic designer and that has also translated to my teaching style. Graduate school also validated the importance of research, observations and data behind design to bring successful and effective results.

Why do you think graduate education is important for designers?

There are many roads to the same destination, but my experience in graduate school allowed me to explore design at a pace of my choosing. I had the freedom to take a closer look at topics that interested me and the time to fully explore these interests which ultimately contributed to my own understanding of design and expansion of creativity.

Share a project that you’ve done since, that you feel was informed by your education.

My “Brand for Blindness” exhibition was a research and design project that was informed by my graduate studies. The exhibition showcased accessible design for blind and low vision audiences. I would say that my teaching style is also continually influenced by my positive graduate experience.

What advice would you give to other designers considering pursuing post-graduate education?

If you have the support and means, go for it. I fondly reflect on my graduate experience and gained so much more beyond the scope of design — exposure to culture, lifelong friendships, a sense of accomplishment and personal growth.

Nancy Pagé

Nancy holds a Masters Degree in Advertising Design. She shares her perspective with students in the graphic design program at Vancouver Island University. Nancy teaches both studio and professional practice courses using a project-based and hands-on approach. Spare time activities include road trips, dog walks, digital illustration and seeing how far she can ride her e-bike without losing power. informative graphic

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I was working as a freelance designer and had ended a 4-year publishing project. It was great timing when the local college asked if I would teach a level 1 design class. I hadn't thought about teaching before, but I discovered I enjoyed it. To make sure education would be in my future, I pursued a graduate degree from Syracuse University in New York. 

How did you select the school/program?

My colleagues told me about the program and I liked the curriculum. It combined travel throughout the United States and Europe and included summer residencies in New York State. I needed to keep working full-time to cover costs—so the curriculum was well suited to my goals. Being from Montreal, I used my summer residencies as an opportunity to visit family. 

The program was three-years. But, it took me an extra two years to finish my thesis. I found balancing full-time work, writing and life challenging. I defended my thesis in 2009. 

What was the focus of your study?

I worked in Advertising and Publishing after graduating from George Brown College, so I chose advertising design, in part as a way to face the contradictory feelings I have towards advertising. I love the creative and strategic aspects but struggle with the consumeristic goals. For my thesis, I surveyed advertising over decades to measure the changing view of what makes up family— and the family pet's (dog) place within that vision. It was a way for me to address my distressed feelings about the disposability of things. And, particularly, of the disposability of living animals—a family pet, in this example.

Can you describe your experience with graduate school?

Exciting, inspiring, challenging and terrifying. As part of the project-based curriculum, I travelled to Boston, Miami, New York, San Fransisco, London and Amsterdam. I would present my work to various talented and experienced creatives in each city. After each presentation, a full-on critique of the work ensued. That was the terrifying part. My peers—there were 10 of us in the program—were supportive. The friendships I developed helped to make the experience all the more rewarding.

What was the most valuable skill you learned while achieving your graduate degree(s)?

I left with a clear understanding of the power and potential of creative thinking—and not only to achieve business goals. I learned to believe in myself and to see my own experiences as part of the creative process. And to face my fear of public speaking (though I still struggle with this).

How has your experience with graduate education informed your work as a designer? As an educator?

The credentials have helped me take on some larger projects. With that comes confidence in my abilities as a strategic partner. The learning experience affirmed my desire to use design as a service to help people achieve their goals and not solely for the benefit of consumer or corporate needs. 

I pursued my graduate degree with some teaching experience and with years of working in the industry. Being a student again opened my eyes to the experience of learning—what works and what I should avoid. This realization was profound and the things I learned informs my pedagogy today. 

Share a project created during your grad program.

As part of the curriculum, I created a new project for each city I visited. I focused on an extensive educational campaign for the Miami trip. The idea was to inform the public on pet abandonment realities. I discovered the hard truths about some of the darker facts of the canine-human relationship to my dismay. With this passion for changing things, I decided to connect consumption and disposability to the reality of the millions of dogs euthanized each year.

I needed to approach specific audiences with specific messages. With this sample, I focused on dog confinement and neglect. I worked with a local Vancouver organization I support. The research informed the concept. I wanted to elicit a sensory understanding of the message—a way to make people feel something. I concentrated on placement and used it to reinforce the message. The message promoted Animal Advocates to share their excellent work in the community. I posted these messages on stickers in tight dressing rooms and small elevators to help emphasize each message.

What advice would you give to other designers considering pursuing post-graduate education?

If you are in a position to attain a higher degree without too much financial stress, then do it. It will make you a more focused designer. You'll likely discover things about yourself and your abilities that may lead you into a new territory or niche—something you might not find if you are busy working straight out of undergrad. But if you have to go into debt to pay for school, a plan helps. For me, I chose to pursue graduate studies to create more opportunities, including teaching. I chose a program that allowed me to work and travel. It was a compelling combination and helped make the experience very rewarding. 

Janice Fung RGD

Humber College


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