When I first entered at Universidad de Buenos Aires I was wearing a suit. Yes, I believed it would be like being in Harvard… so what? After all, I was a movie fan (Scent of a Woman, for example) and in every one of those pictures, college students always dressed that way; what’s more, in those films the important educational institutions fought to attract the best prospects, with the promise of a complete education and a future success practically guaranteed. I had that fantasy, imagining the university literally as a shrine of knowledge, with an irreproachable ethics code and students clustered in in clans with names like Beta, Gama and such. Yes, I know, I was plain stupid, but I want to make clear that my vision did not come from superficial judgement but from a wrong association between those rituals and a demanding learning process. ¿Affected thinking? Maybe. ¿An unsolved childhood trauma? Who knows.
But anyhow, there I was, impeccably dressed, for the first time entering my school, that looked huge, imposing… and unfinished. The building was still under construction, and that made it even more disturbing. The huge English gardens of my dreams changed into mountains of piled up dirt, ready to be used as filling; the stylish reception became improvised orientation booths attended by political parties, the big library with imposing chandeliers and inspiring stained-glass windows, was now a middle-size room with some shelfs containing a handful of out-of-date bibliography. A hard blow, no doubt, but one for which I am finally grateful, since without knowing, the University of those years was teaching me its first lesson: life is not like pictures!
Make no mistake, I ended up loving my University. Its misgivings and defects were, after all, the most clear demonstration of a country destroyed by years of dictatorship and repression. To pretend at the end of the 80’s for the Universidad de Buenos Aires to come out unharmed of those deplorable events would be an act of candor far above my student phantasies. Neglected sometimes, no doubt. But supported by an impassionate, incredible faculty, whose main concern was to sow, by sheer will power, the seed of that new career called Graphic Design. UBA would give me the basis of what I call “the essence of true capacitation”; as if to say, the basis for “learning to learn”.
I began talking about mi initial disappointment,but something even stronger than my feelings witnessing the sad ceremonial and structural panorama was my parents’ and acquaintances’ reactions when confronted with my decision to study a career absolutely “useless”, “of low demand”, and with a connotation much more feminine than “macho”. In those days, to study Graphic Design was to be practically suicidal (or a bum).One would be really ashamed to confess that was your authentic vocation. Graphic Design was in the lowest echelons in the rankings of careers with a future. Even so, thousands of youngsters entered it; few had any idea what it was good for, but anyway, we entered. Most of us loved to paint or draw, not knowing what to do with that talent, but at least the career name, for the simple fact of including the word “graphic”, nurtured the dream of making use of it. Those unsupported allegations were wonderful!
I still remember the expression in the face of my future mother in law when I tried to convince her about the bright future awaiting her daughter by choosing such a creative and innovative man as me. A veritable champion of graphic justice ready to commotion a world eager for revolutionary solutions with forms, letters and colors. She felt like dying! I also remember the anger and frustration my parents felt when I told them I was dropping out of Architecture to plunge in the wonderful world of the intuitive: “What a weird character! He’s throwing away his future! He’d better look for a job!” It wasn’t easy. Not easy at all.
Looking back, their reaction was understandable. Back then nobody wanted to change anything. Packing was ugly but serve its purpose, logos had no correct proportion or any other attributes, but people understood them. There was no need for visual structure, positioning, target. Nobody cared whether it was Helvetic or Garamond. The difficult part was not that the world was made like that (maybe it was even better) but that our generation of designers had to gain our space in spite of frustration, with perseverance, self-assertion, hope, and adapting to the cruel reality: Graphic design never tries to communicate our love for beauty, but only the simple and plain message of the client that hires us.
To sum this up I’d like to leave aside the anecdotic and seriously express that Graphic Design is a rewarding career, but dangerous for those not absolutely commited to it. The suit I referred to at the beginning of this article is to be taken as a symbol for the young college student (or young professional, why not?). There are many ways to be formal; clothes are just a representation; the sincere commitment and the effort to overcome the hardships of professional life dress in a non-tangible way the true personality of the one who wear them.
The “first time” is the most difficult in any situation, the “first time” we make mistakes, the “first time” we scare, the “first time” we frustrate.The important thing is to come out of it with flying colors and to take seriously the hidden messages it teaches. To know how to decipher them will make all the difference between our success and our failure.
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This article made me reflect on the long ways that the career has come. Still many people do not understand what exactly we do, but it is more common and more accepted in society. In my experience, my mother had no idea what graphic design was, but since I wanted to get in, she supported me all the way.
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