Branislav Jelenčík

At first glance it might seem that I wish to discuss a topic here that has been stirring not only our alma mater, but the whole globalized word. Though, it is not exactly true. Design in communication and communication in design constitute two independent entities and it is only up to us whether we are able or willing to try to insert a slash, a hyphen, a dash or the equals sign into their text transcript.

The university and its pedagogues can be pleased with the growing interest of Institute of Design students in graphic design. By the way, applicants and students of architecture are no strangers to graphic design either, which means future young professionals feel that feel that communication concepts such as presentation, marketing, advertising, new media in free art, etc., require quality design. They see their chance and also their future prospects in design, as was the case of the professionof an architect, an urbanist or a product designer just a few years ago.

I have seen work of graphic design students – corporate identity booklets of fictitious companies. And a single glance told me they were original, unique, if for nothing else but their covers. The same is true about the posters and banners that are outcomes of the semestral projects from design studios. Though, at the second glance, they do not seem to be so original and unique – and that is where the problem lies. When you start leafing through them, or study them in more detail, you will not find what is called a sexy interesting “story” or emotional message in the advertising slang – which is nowadays considered to be standard quality. On the contrary, you will find grammatical and stylistic errors, poor vocabulary, apparently lacking communication skills (to sum it up – except for their ABC books and maybe two or three books they were required to read for school, the students have not been reading anything but text messages or Facebook statuses). It seems that some kind of destructive tsunami has cleared student papers of any rhetorical devices such as a question to the reader, humour or simply just formalized academic language, scientific formulations and structured arguments (Do not even let me start on scientific terminology). As a pedagogue that assists students in their final, sixth year of study and their preparation for professional practice, I read all draft graduation papers. At this stage, we can point out the useless and unclear sections. So, I have learnt many things and sometimes I really wonder whether reading them has not harmed me a little.

A slash, a hyphen, a dash or the equals sign? Can a professional communication concept be created without the ability to communicate effectively? Of course, it can – this would be the answer of those who attempt to do so, without having any idea of what they still do not know and what they could be capable of, if only … A frequent response of such students would probably something similar to this: “I have already watched 150 TED[1] lectures, attended a workshop with a renowned lecturer, presented my work before representatives of a grant agency and won the grant. What more do you ask from me, teacher?”

Well, in the era when agency reports for web portals are prepared by text robots, when we tolerate primitive “wow” communication, such as: “The whole world shaken by a tragic report, Madonna’s daughter’s pet kitten has died.” When the content of a study subject, enthusiastically explained by a university professor, comes out of the confrontation with the aforementioned text as if it was nothing at all (it at least seems so from the facial expressions of students devotedly studying their mobile phone screens), then I really ask for nothing at all!

The number of opportunities in the world to get interesting and well-paid jobs is not infinite. One of the vital features of capitalism – competition – is still well and kicking. A professional that is not able to efficiently sell their work will not get any decent job in the future. They will simply not be convincing enough! The current theories on effective communication mention three pillars. The first of them is the background knowledge, familiarity, information and situation awareness (I might discuss it sometime in the future). I would add the ability to collect data, transform them into information, sort and use them. The second pillar is the reputation of the communicator. It might come as a surprise to many, but everybody actually is not on YouTube. Even TED conferences have their losers and their champions. The former, and there are plenty of those, will not get onto the portals. The reputation of a communicator is created by the combination of their biography and communication skills. The aforementioned champions could confirm that a good presentation is a small piece of dramatic art with an experienced actor in the leading role. Their reputation/renown attracts even the less informed. The last pillar is the enthusiasm, vitality of the communicator. There are people that evidently love communication, seek every opportunity for a debate and enjoy it. Energy and influx of information and positive emotions can easily compensate for small shortcomings in the communicator’s background knowledge. It is highly motivating to see such a person, listen to them or read something written by them. In contrast, I can already hear the objections: “I have a learning disorder. I was born shy. Not everyone is a good orator. My grandmother talked to me in German and I still mix up the languages”. Come to me and I can tell you dozens of other excuses.

Architects, urbanists or designers are not simple visual artists that are evaluated based on subjective perceptions of beauty. In their creative work, they take into account a whole variety of requirements and the fact that their effort is successful is primarily confirmed by their thriving studios. Similarly, their work usually depends on incomparably bigger private or public investments. Accountability has strict rules and arguments are tough and comprehensive. It is not possible to respond to the dissatisfaction of the investor by simply stating: “Everyone perceives art differently. If you do not like my painting or my sculpture, do not buy it!”, even if it is utility art, where the important factor is the function and purpose of the artwork.

Deep in my heart I believe that from time to time our university has a genius graduate that does not need the ability to communicate and their work is so clearly top quality that they can remain silent their whole life through and have a never-ending stream of visitors to their design studio. The rest of us have had to and will have to continue writing, presenting, giving interviews, participate in discussions and defend our work. We are on academic ground where writing is a standard requirement. And there are no exceptions, neither for pedagogues, nor for students. It is necessary to present results of our research and our ideas. Success is hard-won. A boat in which the crew rows actively only on one side will start spinning in a circle and not get anywhere. Rowing must be done with intensity and always in a harmonious rhythm. If we naturally require that students increase their communication skills, we should set an example for them. If a pedagogue urges for better communication, it is necessary to pull up one’s sleeves and get to hard work. This applies to postgraduate students, too. If there is no activity, there is nothing to base the evaluation on.


[1] The activity was started in 1984 by Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks under the name “Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED)”; since 1990, the organization organizes conferences under the slogan “ideas worth spreading”.

Keywords: editorial, design, slash, TED