The ISTD student assessment scheme, started in 1975, is cited as a model of academic thoroughness and professionalism. Unlike many others, the scheme is not a competition as it considers the holistic achievement – not just the final outcome. The overall design process of research, reflection, strategy, design development, technical and production specification is assessed by teams of practicing designers and educators. We demand this rigorous approach to ensure standards are met and that the award maintains its significance. Students who are successful in the scheme are offered membership of the Society.
Without doubt all students who undertake and submit work for our assessments learn an enormous amount. All students who submit receive a personal report and even those who are not successful often tell us how much they feel they have benefited from doing the project.
We review our methods and standards annually. Incorporating reflection from members, assessors, tutors and students from around the world ensures best practice is maintained and that each successful student’s award reflects a considerable and pertinent achievement.
Our practice is based upon the printed word but now embraces the gamut of media and technologies that we use to communicate. Accordingly, we have progressively written our student project briefs for interpretation through a range of media. How and where we use the written word has brought new challenges and more importantly new opportunities.
By not defining specific media and outcomes for our projects we offer them as holistic communication challenges – deliberately breaking the perceived tradition of the typo/graphic designer just providing essentially visual skills. First and foremost we are communicators using design skills to inform, persuade and delight. This makes each project a more demanding but stimulating challenge that we can individually resolve.
With that in mind we point out what should seem obvious – that ISTD is a society addressing the typographic aspects of graphic design. We mention this because each year we receive submissions from students who show well-developed general graphic design skills, but have missed the point that we are assessing each student’s particular typographic skills. That is not to suggest that typography is a discrete area – but is fundamental in addressing visual communication through the word. Put bluntly, it is graphic design but it needs to use typography as the essential vehicle to communicate.
Assessments are held annually, and parity is maintained across all areas through central supervsion and moderation, with the process following the same procedure as that for the main assessement. The number of assessors involved in each area scheme is determined by the number of projects submitted.
The main assessment requires around forty members and tutors who spend two intense days assessing several hundred project submissions. Teams of two take on average about half an hour on each project including writing the personal report. These teams are moderated by experienced assessors who ensure parity of marking and continuity of the levels of award. This latter point is critical as our standards for award of Pass, Merit or Commendation are not equivalent to any national or institutional standards, but are maintained through continuity within the Society and its ongoing professional and educational activities.
Our commitment to education through the Assessment is further expressed by providing opportunities for a number of tutors to be mentored as assessors each year. A valuable experience of the content and standards required, that is often reflected in the quality of the projects subsequently submitted by their students. This is one of the several benefits of Institutional Membership.