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Design Educator Profile: Pierre Bowins

Interview by Jason Alejandro

Design Educator Profiles
We are excited to share profile interviews that highlight members of the DEC Community with a focus on featuring the many roles we hold as educators in a variety of institutional settings and job titles. In this month’s edition we share a profile of design educator Pierre Bowins.

At what moment did you decide to become an educator? How has your own education impacted your work?

It was more of a slow span rather than a moment. I worked for 25 years as an in-house designer at a community college. While there, I was asked to adjunct for a basic design class and noticed how design students lacked knowledge of the foundation of art design and how this visually affected their compositions. So, I took on the task of including the foundations in my projects and lectures. I grew to enjoy the classroom environment, mentoring, and seeing a sense of excitement when a project was successfully achieved. This led to my goal of becoming a full-time professor.

My graduate education and research opened a new design aesthetic for me, one I wasn’t exposed to during my undergraduate education experience. This impacted my teaching by directing me to create projects for students that focus on social and cultural influences while investigating and determining a student’s path through their own lens.

How would you describe your practice?

I am an educator, a self-proclaimed design historian, and a collector of Black design artifacts. Education is my priority. Pierre “the design practitioner”, has been limited to one or two small projects a year, allowing me to take advantage of the opportunity to create for myself, which has been very transformative.

Your MFA thesis, A Sin of Omission, laid the groundwork for an ongoing body of work and eventual involvement in the BIPOC Design History series Black Design in America: African Americans and the African Diaspora in Graphic Design. How did that research begin for you, and how has it evolved?

My research began during my graduate studies at Vermont College of Arts (VCFA). Without a clear direction in mind, my advisors quickly exposed me to the importance of the Black American design diaspora. This, as I previously mentioned, had not been shared with me during my undergraduate experience. I realized, though, this was not done intentionally to me, but by an educational system lacking equity.

My research has evolved into some immense opportunities. I now share my research by lecturing at conferences and institutions and exhibiting my collection of artifacts depicting the omitted narrative at various educational institutions. As mentioned, I have co-authored the online course BIPOC Design History, Black Design in America: African Americans and the African Diaspora in Graphic Design series alongside my colleagues, Tasheka Arceneaux-Sutton and Silas Munro, and most recently we signed a contract with Princeton University Press to publish a book based on our online course.

What are your goals as a design educator?

As a design educator, my goals are for my students to embrace the design fundamentals and research beyond what is traditionally taught while discovering their sense of identity as a designer. I want to be a role model and set an example for all students by exposing them to the diverse culture of graphic design. My classroom invites reciprocity—we learn and grow from each other.

What topic(s) should educators be addressing that are not currently being discussed?

This is a tricky question. I would say inclusivity. Some may argue this has been addressed for decades. I argue this has been treated as just another hot topic only surfacing when there is turmoil in the black communities and forgotten when the dust settles. Inclusivity has two sides. First, the need to make our design history curriculum reflective of all who have contributed to the field. My research is all about bringing to the forefront the Black American diaspora that has been omitted from the design canon.  Dorothy Hayes’ research on the subject goes back to the late 1960s only to be forgotten until the 1980s when Cheryl D. Miller and Victor Margolin opened the dialogue again. Sadly, it has been “pushed to the back of the bus” over and over again. The conversation needs to be how do we make this a permanent part of our curriculums. 

Secondly, inclusivity means we need to teach design that is global, not simply international. In design, international systematically refers to the European Bauhaus, whereas global design is to understand different cultures and their ideologies and be able to create accordingly.

How do you continue to grow as a design educator?

I continue to grow by attending and watching as many lectures, conferences, and workshops as possible on as many design topics as possible. This could range from emerging trends to art history to how to design type. I also read whenever I can, especially books written by my colleagues.

What are you working on at the moment, and why is it important?

At the moment, I am clearing my plate and practically going into hiding to finish writing my part of our up and coming book which, to my knowledge, will be the first book published on this subject.

Pierre Bowins is Assistant Professor in Studio Arts at University of Maryland Eastern Shore. His twenty-plus years in the field of design have provided him with a broad view to prepare students for the future of emerging trends in Art and Design’s contemporary practice. His design and teaching methods utilize research-based theories to assist in the discovery of personal, cultural, and historical identities while implementing design ideas within analog and digital media.

A lifelong maker, educator, and design historian, his research focuses on exploring the Black American diaspora omitted from the history of graphic design and investigating the imbalances that exist within design history. Bowins is a vocal advocate for rediscovering the contributions of Black American designers. He has built and continues to build a collection of archival works from notable Black designers of the past and has exhibited them at various educational institutions. Pierre holds a Master of Fine Arts from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art.

This interview was led by AIGA DEC Steering Committee member Jason Alejandro, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the College of New Jersey.

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