Added : March 18, 2008

Last Updated: November 16, 2010

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TOPIC / Graphic Design

Joan Dobkin


Joan Dobkin

Who better to be inspired by than one of your teachers!

Joan Dobkin, is a very accomplished designer and design professor. She has her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, and has an undergraduate degree from Rhode Island School of Design. She also holds an MFA in painting and drawing from the Chicago Institute of Art.  She has been a design teacher at many schools and has been published numerous times. The image I posted is the design that was published in the 1996 Typography Annual "Typography Now II". She is also an accomplished artist. I have always found her work to be so honest and raw. I appreciate the energy she puts into every piece she creates. It always shows in her work.

I just recently wrote her even though it has been close to 10 years since I was sitting in her classes. I really believe in letting past teachers know how important they are to you. I think teaching is one of the most wonderful jobs you can have. They give so much to us, and hopefully we return to thank them.

I heard back from Joan and it was so wonderful to hear from her. I decided to once again look at her work and to think about the lessons she taught and what they mean to me now. At the time I thought she was just giving me a hard time! :-). But now, I see the impact she had on me.

First and foremost she was the first person ever to say that she believed in me. All I knew was that she was amazing and she saw something in me. I guess that has always helped me see something in myself. At the time I'm sure I said something to her, like "Your just being nice."

When I think about lessons she taught I realize where my ability to think came from. I approach every project with exhaustive thought and exploration. Every time... and I mean every time, I start something new. I almost want to cry thinking I can't do it. Sometimes the endless possibilities overwhelm me. In the beginning I have no focus. I start by researching everything surrounding a topic, I read parts of the book, it's competition, related historical events or fads. I look at hundreds of typefaces that might fit. On and on etc. Until there is that moment, it almost feels like it will never happen...I find meaning!!! There it is. At that point my head floods with ideas. So then designing is all of a sudden a breeze, because I am working from a cohesive concept and I know what I think about the book, it's audience and the author and their intentions. The visuals then fall into place. I am working with a solid understanding of the subject.

Once I have done the research and I feel I have a core understanding of my direction. I start endlessly pushing things around on a page. This stage can be very frustrating. Once I have tried all my ideas of color, image and typographic combinations. I start to feel like I am more "in the groove". Once things start to come together, stop looking ugly :-) and I feel like what was in my head in the research phase starts coming out on the page. I feel more confident. At that point I have found a visual language to speak with. I like to refer to being in this state, like being an actor in character. Once I am there I can handle anything. Even changes I look at as an opportunity to make things stronger. It's a good place to be.

I think this confidence I have to gain with each project comes from extensive research and visual exploration. Sometimes I am tired or I have a rush project. It can be hard to make myself do due-diligence for each and every project. I remind myself that each project is one more book for me. But it is part of some authors body of work and each book is very precious to someone. Each book is meant to reach someone. So I take a deep breath each time and try to do my best.

I also feel a great sense of responsibility. I have a responsibility not just socially through the messages and images I select and create in my designs, but to the authors and publishers and their visions. I have responsibility as a designer and as a design professional. These are such important lessons and they have served me well.

I think Joan helped teach me these very important skills. They may be loosely tied to the direct lessons she taught but they were all born out of the values she instilled in me. The power of combining color, image and type on a page and how they can powerfully impact one another. The responsibility for how you treat your subject and taking the time to look...and really look, not settle for an okay solution but really try and find the thing that will not only grab you but everyone who sees it. Another important lesson she teaches is to find your inspiration from things around you. Other things you are interested in. She feels that all the things that make up "you" are the very things you should bring to your work. She discouraged heavily looking to other designers work for inspiration. She wanted you to find it in yourself and in your outside interests. That has to be one of the best things I learned. It taught me to look to myself and rely on myself. Rather then mimicing what's out there. My stuff may not be great, but it's all mine :-) I'm proud of that.

Even if I never amount to much in the design world. I am so grateful to little OU and to Joan Dobkin. I think I have the best job in the world next to being a mom. I feel so privileged to be a working designer and that IS something.

There was a day when I thought I would never get a job. Now I fear there are some jobs I'll never get :-) That's an improvement. :-)

Here is some of Joan's work:


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