Anselm Dästner, a faculty practitioner in our Graphic and Digital Design Certificate, sat down with us recently to discuss the current industry, social ethics in design, and the importance of finding your own voice. In addition to his role as an adjunct professor at the The New School and the Pratt Institute, Dästner has extensive experience as a graphic designer, from designing user interfaces for MTV’s first websites and Samsung’s first DVD releases to co-founding a monthly print magazine with a circulation of 100,000.
When did you get started in graphic design?
I started working very early on with web, when it was in the 90s. It was kind of the wild west of web design and young people could come up. And now there will be new technologies coming up like block chain NFTs that not many people even know anything about it yet. So if we can jump on that train, there’s always going to be a new technology. And often that technology defines the new style of graphic design.
What kind of clients do you work with?
At my practice I'll get a client who’s [selling] air purifiers. I have a client who is a journalist. I have clients who are doctors and going to conferences. And every time I have to kind of wear a different hat and become an expert at that. It’s kind of interesting to come in every day and be excited about a new project that I have to figure out and do my own research for. It never gets really boring.
What does your practice look like today?
After more than 20 years of being a freelance graphic designer in downtown New York, I have my own studio here. I’m sharing it with a few other freelancers and they also teach, and they’re artists. I love coming here every day.
What different opportunities are out there for people with this skillset?
I see a lot of students come to the course and they’re still kind of unsure which direction in design they want to take. And it’s a good place to find out all the different roles that a designer can have because there are so many different functions. When I came to New York, I knew about graphic design somewhat but I had no idea that there are researchers, coders, art directors, photographers, writers, and all these other professions. You can do a layout. You can work with type, with shapes, with photos, with colors. The field has so many different aspects. You can work packaging, you can work digital only, you can work print. When you study, you find out which direction you should take and which role in the industry you can actually [take].
The creative opportunities for graphic designers are great because you can work remotely from anywhere in every team. So pretty much everyone in the world can be a client for you. It doesn’t have to be only in one city.
What does the graphic design industry look like right now?
There are lots of opportunities out there because many industries are growing again, and there’s always new technologies coming up. We need to build an interface for them. We need to interact with these technologies, and graphic design plays a very important role to make a successful product.
Over the 20 years that I’ve worked as a graphic designer I have seen many technologies come and go. Now is actually probably another revolution where we start using graphic design to interact with much more portable devices. Our fridges have an interface. There are so many new apps that need to be designed for products. Graphic design is everywhere.
What makes the Parsons Graphic and Digital Design Certificate well suited for continuing education students?
With this certificate, most of the students that I have come from other professions. I think actually it’s almost better to go this way because you’re bringing something relevant to graphic design that’s outside of graphic design. Creativity is one part of this process, but we also need to solve the problem in the end. If we design a great poster and it’s beautiful but nobody comes to this party, it’s not going to work. In the beginning you think it’s a lot of work but it’s a lot of little steps. You don’t have to have a huge chunk at once. It’s kind of scaffolding that you look back on and compare what you had at the beginning to what you have at the end.
What are the main takeaways for students in the certificate program? How are they changing artistically and professionally?
We learn how to talk about our work, we learn how to critique it and how to evaluate it. When you have to present your work you need to have a good way to communicate your ideas, not just look great and have a solid portfolio. You also have to have skills that are interpersonal that you can explain to someone your process, how this is going to work, how long this is going to take, how much this is going to cost. Also, a lot of people keep in contact with each other. The certificate is a really good networking platform to start to reach out to your fellow students and also companies they might have worked with and build a network. Once you are done with the certificate you already have sort of a network in place that you can talk to or [use to] find jobs. Also, you will have a portfolio that you can apply with.
What kind of designers does the certificate program produce?
They go into all sorts of industries. Sometimes it is related to the industry that they’re working in and they just have their eye on a higher position in the company or they’d like to branch out by themselves and open their own shop or switch to a different company. You never know when you’re going to run into the next opportunity. If you say, okay, hold on tight I can come back with you in two months after I learn it, then it’s too late. It is not going to be there. You have to be prepared at any moment. If you keep learning, you’re always going to be a position where you are prepared to say, yes, I can do this job for you.
Can you give an overview of what students learn to do in the program?
If you were to take the certificate program, you would learn a lot about the history of graphic design, typography and rules, how to use color, how to use layouts, compositions, concepts, how to convey ideas. A lot of times we have too many creative ideas, so we learn techniques how to mind map the most important ones. You have discussions in the certificate where you get some feedback on how good your work is so that you can kind of try out things. But you can also learn very hard skills. If you learn how to use programs more efficiently and all the tools and all the functions in these programs, you can work faster and that’s a skill you can charge premium price for.
Watch our interview with Anselm Dästner and graphic design student Nathalie Martinez
What software will I learn?
In the certificate, we use softwares like InDesign, Photoshop, Adobe XD... This can really speed up your workflow and it can give you tools so that the quality of your work will just get better. We update the certificate courses to the latest programs. There are new functions, almost every version. That’s one of the things we work very hard on: to get everything to the latest standard.
What impact can graphic designers make on the world?
At Parsons the impact that graphic design can have on social activism is very important. I think it’s really important that a graphic designer has an ethical standard in how to design like a doctor signs an oath. There’s a hard discussion about how graphic design can do something good for the world because there are also some examples where it can be quite a hazard to be a graphic designer. This is also how we talk about ethical code for graphic designers, that they design for good. At Parsons it’s a very big discussion that we can design for better, we can design for social activism.
What kind of design philosophy does Parsons employ and how does that affect the work?
Parsons concentrates on the ethical background of graphic design and what communication design can bring to the world. We also talk about products that are worth supporting because they have such a strong impact, those are the products you want to design for, and industries you want to design for. I think as a graphic designer you can have a really big impact on how the world is going to be shaped in the future. If you can design something more accessible for everybody, it’s usually making it a better product even for the broader user. Just think about how a good design can make it easier for somebody to use this product. Then it makes sense to design it, it makes sense to make it better for somebody’s experience.
Why should students take the certificate program?
Most students that come to this program want to keep learning new skills. And they might have a specific goal already that there is a position in the company that they have their eye on and they just want to rise a little bit in their company. But other students go in completely different directions because they feel they weren't satisfied with their old job and they always wanted to try graphic design but they weren’t sure if they could do it. With this program, now they feel confident that they can move anywhere and they will have a good portfolio.
Why should I take this certificate program at Parsons specifically?
When you go through resumes as a boss and you see Parsons as a certificate, it definitely pulls some weight because it’s a very established school. All the faculty are also working at the same time. It keeps us up to date with what the current industry is working on. And it’s changing very fast. It’s very important that we work and teach at the same time because we need to be updated with the latest tools and trends. We can also talk more about our daily lives and how we work and how we solve problems with our graphic design jobs. As a graphic designer it’s always important to find your own voice and I hope as an instructor I can facilitate you to find your own voice in this industry.
If you are an aspiring Graphic Designer looking to master current best practices and software programs while visually communicating your work, enroll now in our Graphic and Digital Design Certificate. This certificate provides training in industry-standard software, basic design skills such as concept, type, layout, and color, and more. Browse our courses to learn more about related Graphic and Digital Design offerings.