No thinking. That comes later. You write your first draft … with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is … to write. Not to think.
— Finding Forrester (2000)

Scholarship for All :: 2016
Social media has become a stomping ground for those who believe that the United States should provide its citizens free higher education. That the increased cost of universities and the subsequent loans they must acquire to attend these schools is a cost that is too much to bear. They point to systems all across the globe as examples where tuition is no longer required. However it seems that they have forgotten that the pursuit of a higher education is a choice. They do not have to attend and their argument that one must have a college degree to be successful is not true. Success is not something you are given, rather it is something you must earn, with or without a piece of paper. 

The stories of college dropouts Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and their ability to revolutionize their respected industries are perfect examples. While they did not thrive in a traditional educational setting, they did surround themselves with like minded individuals and bet everyone’s future on their success or failure. Both Gates and Jobs are not unique. They do not hold the secret to finding success through independent learning. What made them unique was their fortitude to succeed. 

As an educator I applaud those who seek a higher education. I believe the knowledge and experiences gained while in college prove to be invaluable later in life. However, I do not believe that these experiences can come without a cost. 

Can a system be put in place where individuals can earn a tuition-free education? Yes, but we must not rely on the federal government to subsidize the costs necessary to run effective higher education institutions. In order for a tuition-free education to exist expect to see new taxes, higher fees, higher room and board, higher book costs, higher cost of campus meals, parking, bus fares, just to name a few. In addition to the elimination of low cost or previously free services, look for universities to implement stricter entry and enrollment qualifications.  

At the end of the day, maintaining a tuition-free higher education system will end up costing far more than retaining the existing tuition-based model.

How can we then offer individuals incentives to pursue higher education?

Here is my idea: Scholarship for All.

Embracing the idea that hard work and stewardship should be rewarded, Scholarship for All sets out to provide a tuition-free environment for those individuals who meet and fulfill a specific set of requirements to earn tuition forgiveness.  


  1. Only four years of tuition will be paid.
  2. Public, state-funded universities only.
  3. Students must meet the entry requirements of the school they are applying.
  4. Students must maintain a 3.2 GPA (grade point average) throughout their college career.
  5. Students must commit to four years of public service commencing immediately after graduation.
    A list of organizations and services will be selected by federal and state governments.
  6. Failure to maintain the required GPA will result in the immediate disqualification from the program. 
  7. Failure to provide service will result in the immediate termination of tuition forgiveness and the individual will be required to pay the full tuition price plus interest. 
  8. Failure to finish the four year program will result in the termination of tuition forgiveness, disqualification from the program with no opportunity to return.
  9. Previous public service cannot be used retroactively to fulfill the post-graduation requirements.
  10. Students will be required to sign a legal contract agreeing to all terms.

Veterans serving at least four years prior to attending a university will not be required to provide any additional service post graduation. If military service amounts to less than four years, that individual will need to complete the remaining years of public service required post graduation.

The Little Things :: 2015
Experience is an interesting thing; whether it's lessons learned from practice or knowledge gained from conversations, it is the small experiences we encounter when working with a variety of individuals, clients, and companies that end up affecting us the most. As a junior designer in the sluggish economy that followed 9/11, I spent a good portion of time around the entire office. Whether upstairs with my art directors and senior designers perfecting production techniques, or downstairs chatting with the owner, bookkeeping, or marketing, I was a sponge trying to soak up as much information as I could. I learned a lot during my one year at this design firm, but little did I know that one small conversation with the marketing director would change how I perceived the details of design. 

The discussion in question could have been lifted directly from a Seinfeld episode as we were talking about the mundane; a rather uneventful talk about coffee. I learned that he was a former owner and operator of a coffee shop and while we talked he took a sip of his coffee. A slow and steady drip preceded down the side of his cup. He set the coffee down and repositioned the lid explaining to me that few people in the coffee business knew that if the lid was not positioned correctly—anywhere but directly over the seam of the cup—neither it nor the cup would function properly. Useless knowledge I assumed, interesting, but useless. 

Fourteen years later as I buy my morning coffee, prior to putting on the lid, I find myself checking to see where the seam of the cup falls. Because, after all, our mundane and brief conversation had inadvertently changed my behavior just as the constant perfecting of my production skills had changed my design process. A conversation about coffee, not design, had changed my habits and perception of how the smallest of details can make or break a design.

If there is no WiFi, there is no Internet :: 2014
A post on Facebook asked the simple question, “Could you spend three months with no cell phone, no Facebook, no computer, and no WiFi?” To address this hypothetical question, I did not simply respond yes or no, but rather pointed out technicalities that would allow me to continue to live with almost everything that I was being asked to give up. 

I simply deconstructed the question by looking for the loopholes that would help me to analyze all my options. I asked, how can I achieve what I need even though someone has said “it can't be done”?  I concluded that if presented with such obstacles I could use a land line telephone, a hard line (Ethernet cable) to access the internet, a gaming console as my access point, and letters, phone calls, and human interaction would replace Facebook. It wasn't much of a stretch for me. Unfortunately the conclusions I reached were defended by others by what I amount to dangerous assumptions. Assumptions that make me question how technology continues to deflate the ability for society to assess the world around us. 

Those who responded did so by claiming blind truths including the idea that the lack of WiFi amounted to the inability to access the internet. The last post of the evening, however, clearly showed that those responding were unable to critically look at the question: “It clearly says NO COMPUTER ACCESS, combine that with NO WIFI, and NO CELL PHONE = pretty much no internet...” 

I stopped. I could not believe what I was reading. I stopped again. Yes I could.

It was no longer alarming that in 2014 individuals could not look beyond a given problem to assess alternative solutions, however it was a behavior that I had associated with those in power. Society is suffering from a technology-induced information overload. No longer is there time to assess what is being presented; either agree or disagree, but whatever is decided move forward. Those who take time to analyze questions or situations are labeled as being incompetent or too critical. Slowing down is no longer an option that society gives to its members. The rapid fire of information does not stop. Yes. No. No. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. No. No thought, no analysis, no questions, just yes or no. Truth or not. 

So while I am no longer alarmed, I am worried about how society will advance. How will we be led? By whom? As critical decisions come to pass, I can only hope that those making the decisions can look beyond the idea that if there is no WiFi, there is no internet.

Design as Voice :: “Daily Court Review” :: September 19, 2012
Why is it that when conflict arises students first gossip, complain and then settle and do very little or nothing at all? Has the revolutionary spirit been lost? This trend could be compared to the annual gripe over the government’s actions by someone who never votes. But in most conflicts those who are affected the most do not have a voice … or do they?

As designers, depending on your school of thought, we are asked to beautify, through concept, a particular problem or challenge using the “principles of design”. Unfortunately there are not enough schools, or possibly professors, which embrace the need for students to learn how to communicate a specific message through their designs. Yes, students are asked to target a certain demographic with visuals, typography, and color, but do they have an understanding of why, how, or what is being communicated by the design applied to the final artifact?

I think not.

Young designers have come to understand that professors and society do not react well to ugly. Therefore, as students, designers learn to create beautiful design and bullshit their way through the conceptual explanation of their work.

What happens when the problem is an ugly truth, a crisis or a conflict? It certainly would not be responsible to glamorize such events. Do young designers and students have the necessary understanding to communicate beyond socially acceptable issues? I do not think so; which is unfortunate because it is often the ugly truth that needs the most exposure and it is the designer who has the essential skills to properly communicate to a much greater degree than any other single individual in our society today.

So the next time something happens that gets you upset, stop and design. Help deliver a message to the community being affected. A well thought out design with the specific aim of informing, will do far more than one overly emotional rant to those who created and are familiar with the problem.

Start a revolution through design. It can be done.

The designer has the power to change everything through design. So rise up and act. Never just settle and beautify.

The Burden of Technology on Today's Student :: 2011
When I was in school we had two computer labs, the one we could touch and the one we could not. The latter belonged to the animation students and lived in a closet-sized room down the hall from our lab. The designers lab was larger, brighter, and for its day, pretty well equipped. We had twenty-five or so macs, some sort of wax-based printer, and a black and white laser. Classes were not held in the lab, but in a room filled with drafting tables. Our work was done outside of class, or if you were lucky, on your computer at home. An additional luxury would have been a scanner or the newest technology, an inkjet printer.

There was a reason that most of my designs could be constructed with 8.5 x 11 inch sheets of paper. As students we had to be inventive not only with our materials, but more importantly with the use of our time. There were no print centers that we could access to print things out fifteen minutes before class. Each piece created was a work of art; a one-off exclusive design.

Even as I entered graduate school, a decade later, I again was faced with the challenge of producing exquisite works with limited availability to technology. The professors and the school demanded perfection from our work, pushed us to produce artifacts that were as close to perfection as possible. It was up to the student to determine the use of materials, locate the services, and work with those necessary to have the design produced while meeting those high expectations.

In retrospect, the often negatively discussed lack of printing technology available to the student, makes perfect sense. Make the student plan for production time by taking away the main resource needed for quick, and often poor, production while also demanding perfect work.

Both school's pedagogy, even when experienced ten years apart, taught their students the importance of innovative thinking when dealing with technology and design. They pushed us to think ahead, think about the next steps while we were still on step one. We were encouraged to be creative not only with our work, but with our time. As students we knew that we should not expect anything to be given to us, but that we must work to earn what we got. And even then we would be pushed harder to achieve the greatness that we were expected to achieve.

For a generation of design students and many more to come, having technology at their fingertips will become design’s greatest burden up to educators to solve.

As a professor myself, I feel that to properly educate these generations, we must remove them from the technology they have become accustomed. Make them feel uncomfortable. Put them in a class with no computers, but a syllabus full of work to complete. Encourage discussion and thought, controversy and clarity, doubt and inquiry. Take away the printing labs and the free printing. Force students to look beyond the traditional — the easy route — to include other methods. Let them learn from trial and error, cuts and bruises, mistakes and cost; let them learn from themselves.

I am not suggesting that the educator be removed from the equation, but merely rethink the use of technology in the classroom. What I did not mention is that although my graduate classes focused on discussion and thought, we often sat in a room filled with computers. We read from photocopies of books and articles our professors would find. After leaving class, research was not done solely on the computer but in the library. Technology was a means to an end, never the starting point.

A New Curriculum for Educating Graphic Designers in Web Design :: 2011
In the past, the creative industry was demanding that we prepare students for an all-in-one role; where by a graphic design student would possess the fundamental knowledge to effectively (and efficiently) produce both print and interactive media. However, as technology and the software continues to improve, having a comprehensive knowledge of HTML, CSS, and other programming languages are becoming a necessary attribute for the designer to possess. This necessity has begun to redefine the line separating the traditional designer and web programmer. Collaboration, in the creative industry, has become one of the most important skills to possess in the creative field and has quickly inundated design programs across the globe. Therefore, this makes it a necessity to teach graphic designers an understanding of web and interactive design. The days of the all-in-one designer are fading as collaboration within the industry expands. The all-in-one role will still exist, however, the industry is trending towards having two separate parties involved; the designer and the programmer.

The current curriculum at the Art Institute of Houston (AiH) is redundant and effectively lowers the overall quality of the education received by our students. Currently graphic design students are required to take Web Design for Designers (an introduction to Dreamweaver, HTML, and CSS), Web Design for Designers II (an introduction to FLASH), and Digital Portfolio. While web design students take two fundamental scripting classes in succession that methodically builds their knowledge of the of HTML, CSS and even Dreamweaver. It is my belief that by combining the resources of the two programs students at AiH would receive a more comprehensive education in web design.

I am not suggesting that design for the web should be eliminated from the graphic design curricula, rather it be refocused. New graphic design courses would focus on implementing the key principles of design to create a visually rich interactive experience. Taught at two levels, corresponding with the current scripting classes, students would learn the importance of user-centered design and how it helps create effective designs for web and other interactive media.

Digital Portfolio would remain as a collective course where students would be asked to combine their knowledge of user-interface design and programming skills to create their own online portfolio.

The result would be a more informed designer; one who can fill any position, including an all-in-one role. Our students would the possess the ability to compete for multiple positions by showing the ability to work in a collaborative environment to create successful web and interactive designs.

Suggested curriculum changes for Graphic and Web design students:

• IMD000-Intro to scripting

• GD000-User Interface Design for the web

• IMD001-Intermediate scripting

• GD001-Design for interactive media and applications

Through the Eyes of Another: The Role of Multiple Perspectives
in Graphic Design Education

“MFA Thesis” :: August 23, 2010

In the early nineties, the infrastructure for a global market began to take shape in front of the eyes of the world. It would take luck, the internet, the personal computer, and the innovation of the fiber optic cable to break down the cultural barriers of the global market. In what seemed like a single day, businesses went from scheduling expensive trips across the globe to meet with clients to face-to-face electronic communications from the comfort of their own offices. Evolutions in business practices such as this helped to open the floodgates, allowing more and more people from across the globe to communicate with one another. Understanding different cultures was no longer optional but required for businesses to succeed. As stewards of communication for these businesses, the graphic design industry, too, had to evolve. Faced with new audiences and new expectations, it is essential for designers to begin looking at projects from varying points-of-view.

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© Nicholas McMillan