Mary Banas


Dec 4, 2019

Mary Banas is a graphic designer and educator. Her independent creative practice, Yes, is More, spans research, teaching, and design. She also collaborates with Breanne Trammell and is on the faculty at California College of the Arts. In this episode, Jarrett and Mary talk about her roundabout journey into teaching, the value of an expanded practice, and how to set up better critiques in the classroom.
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    Jarrett Fuller Hey, welcome to Scratching the Surface. I’m Jarrett Fuller and this is a podcast about why we’re designers. On this week’s episode I am joined by the designer and educator Mary Banas. Mary’s independent creative practice called YES IS MORE spans research, teaching and design. She also collaborates with Breanne Trammell, and is on the faculty at the California College of Arts. In this conversation, Mary and I talked about her childhood interest in both art and wanting to be a teacher and then the sort of roundabout journey that eventually brought her back to teaching design as she does today. We also talked about the value of an expanded practice and moving between disciplines and how to structure critique in the classroom so that it’s helpful for every student. I’ve been a fan of Mary’s and the way she thinks for years now and just had so much fun in this conversation, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did. If you’re a fan of the podcast and want to help support it, you can become a member for $5 a month or $50 a year, members get an exclusive monthly newsletter that features behind the scenes content links and articles from former guests about design and writing and criticism as well as previews of the upcoming episodes scratching the surface is fully supported through these memberships. So if you like the show and want to help with its ongoing production and want to see it continue to live in the world, I hope that you consider joining and becoming a part of the membership program. Thank you so much for listening and enjoyed this conversation with Mary Banas.

    I should run the numbers on this. I don’t have data on this exactly, but I think the majority of the people that I talked to on the podcast come from some other background or area of study before coming into graphic design, it seems like most people in their undergrad have studied something else. And I’m always when I talk to those people, I’m always jealous a little bit because I studied graphic design in undergrad and then went to grad school and studied graphic design. And I kind of wonder if I missed out on some other area of study. And you are like me and that you studied graphic design, both in undergrad and in and in graduate school. And so I kind of want to start talking about that. When you were headed into undergrad, how did you get interested in graphic design or what was your kind of knowledge of graphic design at that time?

    Mary Banas Yeah, so that was 1999. And I had grown up with computers like we had an Apple and we had an LC three. I didn’t actually know what graphic design was called until I was looking at colleges and I went on like a college tour. And I was looking at the art department. And they had this table of stuff. And it was like, t shirts with words on them. And I was like, I was like, wait a minute, this is a major, like, I want to do this major. So I think I had always been good at art and like, like Michael Beirut would say, and I also was always interested in like language and communication. So I wasn’t I, I didn’t have the desire to study art and become an artist when I was in high school. I think I wanted to do something more practical. Like I’m a practical person. So I think that’s how I ended up I found designed to be like the perfect mix because it was like, you know, visual, and it’s, it’s Yeah, it is composition, it’s balances layout. It’s like all these elements of of art that I had studied but it’s xommunication, which is power.

    Jarrett Fuller I have two questions just just to kind of go a little bit deeper on that story. When you saw that table at that college visit with their shirts that had words on them, what was it? What was it about that, that you’re like, Oh, this. This is kind of all the stuff that I’ve already been interested in. You know, what were you able to articulate that in that moment?

    Mary Banas I don’t think so. I think it was more I was just like, what is this? Yeah, I like like, Oh, I could do this as a major. I think I was at the point where I was kind of wondering, you know, when you’re like a junior in high school, everyone asks you, they’re like, what are you going to study in college? Like, what are you going to do? Where are you going to go to school? What do you want to be? And I was really interested in being a teacher and I was really interested in art and everyone said, Well, why don’t you be an art teacher. And it got to the point where I had I had come up with this little story I was like, just because you like tomatoes and you like soup doesn’t mean you like tomato soup. Because people didn’t understand that like, just because you like those two things. I didn’t want to be an art teacher. But look at me now like, a little like little Mary didn’t know.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I want to come back to teaching obviously, that’s a big part of what I want to talk to you about. But the reason I asked that question is because I think, you know, hearing you say that it reminds me of myself and I was a kid who was very into art stuff as a kid, but also like reading and words and that sort of thing. And I remember when I realized when I heard the term graphic design, and when I saw what graphic design was, it was kind of like, oh, all of this stuff that I’ve been doing actually as a thing and people get paid for this. And this is a job and was like this kind of big revelation. I was kind of curious if seeing their shirts. You know what it was that kind of immediate thing, but it was It was just like, oh, what is this?

    Mary Banas Yeah, well, what year was that for you?

    Jarrett Fuller It was probably like 2003-2004

    Mary Banas Yeah, well, that’s like when I graduated from college I feel like design. I also think, you know, people were study like studying graphic design in high school now, or Yeah, if I didn’t do a yearbook but had I done yearbook, I would have been studying designer if I had done like, the school paper or something.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting, because I didn’t do any of that stuff in high school, you know, is just that was just like right outside the world that I knew. And so it was this kind of very interesting life shifting moment when I covered it. So but when you so you, you see these shirts and you then join this program and you’re in these classes. What was that? Like? Were you kind of into it?

    Mary Banas Yeah. Oh, yeah. I loved it. I was really into it. I found community of people inside I was at the University of Connecticut, which is a really big school. And I found this community of people in the School of Art and in the design program that became really good friends of mine. And because the school is a liberal arts at liberal arts school, it’s you study everything. And so you take sculpture, painting, photography, drawing, as well as the classes that are specific to your major of graphic design, which when I was a student there actually have a BFA in Communication Design, that’s what it was called. It’s the same thing and I was really grateful still am today for like, the, like the fact that I took painting and printmaking because ON sculpture like everything just because design is you end up dabbling and everything like in your if your career is ends up being broad enough like you’re like, Oh, this dimensional things I was doing, or actually it’s helpful. I have the confidence I had the confidence when I was a young designer to do things that were less familiar to me just because I had played in so many different media’s

    Jarrett Fuller I don’t mean to jump around your your background is a bit but that’s what you just said is something that I was really interested in talking to talking to you about in that your design practice today is something that is across not just across different types of design mediums, but also across different you know, kind of different areas of work, whether it is more traditional graphic design or something that’s more research based or writing based and then teaching. And I was I’m interested in that kind of expansion of practice. And so you do you think that kind of came from that early undergrad education of having to do all of that stuff?

    Mary Banas It’s a good question. Maybe it’s just like being in like omnivore or being Like, it’s like an add an all you can eat buffet for design, like all the time. Yeah. I’m not sure it’s, it’s something actually struggle with myself because I feel like when I look at my peers, they all have a really specific thing that they do. And it’s really focused and that’s what they talk about all the time. And my interests have always been more of like, the spectrum or like, yeah, this range, where it’s like some of the work you’re like, if you’re really a traditionalist, you’ll sit you’ll be like, Well how is that design or something because it’s maybe reading more as it’s conceptual or it’s reading more as art like using design designs, always the medium though, right in my in my work for sure.

    Jarrett Fuller What you said about looking at your peers and feeling like they have a specific thing and, you know, maybe a sense of jealousy or ease, does that why does that bother you? You know, or why? You know, I don’t see you as somebody who would even wants kind of a one specific thing.

    Mary Banas I guess because in academia, you have to be able to talk about what it is that you’re doing in a way that is sort of packaged. So that, you know, you can communicate what it is that you would offer like an institution.

    Jarrett Fuller The question that I guess I’m trying to ask is, how do working across those different fields working across those different mediums kind of those different tracks? How How do they filter back into each other? So how does the research work? Does that then have an influence on you know, more commercial or client work? Or how does the client work? play a part in the teaching that you do? How do those have DC connections between those things?

    Mary Banas Definitely. And I think it’s um, it’s actually yeah. The when you think about the word practice, and it’s like the thing that you’re doing over and over or you’re doing every day, I think that the the research, engaging with research in a way where I’m being vulnerable or I’m taking risks, really helps me have more empathy for my students and be able to help them through their process in a in a way that it maybe I wouldn’t be able to do if I was, if I was practicing professionally only. That’s a different I think that’s different and that also I can also bring that into the classroom, and then being in the classroom with the students. And that’s such that’s just like such a gift because they they’re showing me like their incredible vulnerability and also their strength and like that’s something that I can that sort of like feeds anything I do outside of outside of the classroom. You know, what that’s like, it’s something some special magic so I think it’s about like, it’s more it’s for me, it’s always like, it’s like a little bit of like designs a little athletic. It’s a little bit like working out or something. And so, if I’m working out on the research side it’ll be a lighter lift in the professional work. If I’m working out in the professional work, I can look that Yeah, I can work quickly make something on the research side because I’m like, you know, for example, maybe I’ve just, you know how sometimes it doesn’t matter how old you are, but you’ll pick up a new skill in Photoshop or InDesign or something or a new like quick way of doing something.

    Jarrett Fuller That’s actually a really nice analogy. I feel like we should backtrack a little bit because we were kind of talking about your, your undergrad experience and then we jumped right into your work today, so did you after and I want to kind of like go back in time and connected back to this conversation. So after undergrad did you work as a designer immediately after that

    Mary Banas I did Yeah, I got a BFA in Communication Design from the University of Connecticut, and I had also studied abroad in London for a semester. And then I was living in Connecticut, back in my like childhood bedroom in my parents house. And I the first job I got was actually an internship at the Hartford Courant, which is I think it’s the it’s one of the oldest independent newspapers. But this was before in design was the thing that they used to lay the paper out and it was laid out in this other PC program, which for me was like kind of gnarly, like I didn’t like it because it wasn’t as flexible. But one thing I got to do at the paper that was cool was Well, two things, one sitting in on the editorial meetings. I really enjoyed that. And then the other thing was they would let me do like illustrations For like spot illustrations or section header illustrations, so like, one of the inserts in the paper was called Cal and it’s like a calendar, it was cut shorter. And it was like a, it’s a calendar of like events happening, you know, in, in Hartford, or in the in this in the trial like, I don’t know, tri City area or something. And I would do like the design for what that was going to look like. But it would be I would make it something by hand out of like I would make artwork and then we would, you know, scan it in or something. So there was once there was a section, a gardening section and I did a bunch of cut paper. The point being they gave me some latitude, I think because the actual design part of that job was really limited by the software. So it actually wasn’t that interesting for for an intern or for like the younger person to do. But I really I really appreciated that and I liked working at the paper because of the limitation and this and the schedule like the publishing schedules are exciting, you know You have the limitation of time and so you, you only have so much time to like, put something together and make it happen. And after that I worked at Yale alumni magazine as assistant assistant art director. And that magazine was designed by pentagram. So it’s really good had really good bones. And for an alumni magazine, it’s very well done. It’s like a reads as kind of like a general interest magazine. And I learned a ton about photography from the different photographers that we had freelance photographers. And I learned a ton about layout and design and also about printing because I went on all the press checks, and that was a great opportunity for me. I was given a lot of agency there as well, I, I had a seat at the table. A good idea, a good idea can come from anywhere is something that Catherine Laszlo, the editor of the magazine would say,

    Jarrett Fuller So when did you I have two questions. When did you decide to go back to School and why did you want to go back to school?

    Mary Banas Yeah, well, I actually had like a, I ended up having like a panic attack because I knew I wanted to do something else. So I was at the magazine for like three years and I was it’s a very small staff and the art director, there is marks role Oh, he’s, he’s still the art director there. And he’s, he’s my mentor too. He was my teacher at the University of Connecticut. He was my colleague when I taught at the University of Connecticut and he’s just been like, he’s my mentor. So knowing though that you’re at a place where there isn’t there wasn’t like another there isn’t another place to go with the kind of assistant art director is a position where like, you’re going to do it and like you could do it for a long time. But if you want to grow or expand its it’s not necessarily like a forever job type of thing, which honestly, what job design job is a forever job. For your own, your own company. Um, so yeah, I was kind of like, there wasn’t there wasn’t like a place in Connecticut that I wanted to work. I didn’t want to move to New York, it was like, at the time felt too intense for me. And I knew I wanted to learn more about design and grow as a designer, and I didn’t know how, or what, you know, I didn’t know how I could do that.

    Jarrett Fuller Did you know, did you know? what you wanted? to learn? Like, you know, it’s interesting to hear you say, you know, I wanted to learn more about design. What, what was that more? Or was it just that you felt like you were missing something you didn’t know what that was?

    Mary Banas I wanted to be better. And I wanted to, I think I maybe not in these words, but I wanted to develop my own point of view and like I wanted to develop what would be my own practice, but I didn’t know I didn’t necessarily know it’s kind of like Just I was just looking for more like graphic confidence, I think.

    Jarrett Fuller And so so you then go to rusty and you get your MFA at risk D. And this is kind of why I was asking you those previous questions about what happened after undergrad and then why you wanted to go back to schools because I feel like as somebody who this is the first time we’ve ever spoken as aside from emails and and some tweets to each other, but as somebody who has kind of watched your work for a couple years, I feel like so much of the things that you are doing and working on and thinking about, could all a lot of it can be traced back to risky and and the risky curriculum and the risky faculty and I’m kind of curious about that experience and how that perhaps, you know, help set up this teaching career that you’re on or this kind of research and writing that you do and kind of all of these different things that we worked on. Talking about. I feel like it was the place where a lot of that really started to come to life.

    Mary Banas Hmm, I guess so. But wouldn’t that be like true for a lot of people who go to grad school? I mean, I did it aid. Every semester that I was there. I was definitely interested in becoming a student of teaching. I was actually Lucy’s TA, which was really fun for one semester, but I had a lot of I had a lot of I got to ta for a lot of different people when I was there. And yeah,

    Jarrett Fuller I don’t mean to say that, you know, your work looks like risky work or that it’s like has a certain amount, no, no thing but just from what I know of it from the faculty that I’ve talked to you there and from what I know of you, it seems like I see connections there, but I was kind of curious about

    Mary Banas i what i want to know what those times and you to tell me what you see

    Jarrett Fuller Very simply, I think this idea that we’re talking about of kind of working across a lot of different disciplines and kind of approaching design from a lot of different ways is a is a very risky thing. That risky seems like a place where experimentation and pushing the boundaries and playing with the containers is encouraged. And I see that in your work. I see that in the writing that I’ve read of yours and, and I imagine that as a teacher, you kind of think about that also, and then this the kind of sub category there is this kind of visual research that you’re doing to me always, when I see work like that, that seems like a very risky. Yeah.

    Mary Banas That’s cool. Um, yeah, I mean, I definitely learned so much there in a very short amount of time. And there definitely still things I think about from some of the classes that I had. And there were works that I was shown there just like in, you know, that we studied that I, I still think about, like the solid wit autobiography book, which I did a project about. Rob GMPJO showed it to us in our seminar class. And I mean, it’s just like, I could, I mean, I suppose I could have seen that book somewhere else, but that’s where I saw it. And it It had a big influence on me because I wasn’t really looking necessarily super critically at everything. I was pretty critical though. Just like as I think I’m a critical person, like the way that I perceive the world. And I like to, I like to analyze things and wonder why they’re the way that they are. But yeah, I mean, it was a very dense experience there and I think The not sort of having a style or like a formal look and not being too tied to professional graphic design are both really strong parts of that program. Because I think that it’s if you’re going to go to grad school, it’s important to do that kind of deep sort of research and discovery for yourself, and also to be asking really critical questions about what design actually is. Like, why are we doing it?

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, so UTA, ma, you were at risk of UTH. Every semester, when did you start teaching or thinking that teaching could be a another avenue of this practice that you were building?

    Mary Banas Yeah, I taught actually there. My first class I taught at Thursday. It was a winter session. class so they have that spot in between spring and in between fall and spring they have winter session, which was a longer session, actually sorry, a short semester session, and with Jen McGrath and we taught a class it was sort of like graphic design. It was like a introduction to graphic design class for majors and like for people who didn’t, for freshmen, I guess so people who weren’t yet decided what their major was going to be. And it went well, but, you know, looking back, you’re just like, We gave them assignments that were so sophisticated. The funny thing about teaching at risk D is the students can handle a lot of stuff. And so it kind of spoils you as an educator, actually, I will say, but that’s what happened. And then my second, the second time I ever taught was at the University of Bridgeport. And that was that was awesome. freshmen are introduction introductory class. It was called intro to computer applications. But I really shaped the syllabus around sort of like how to use the programs like InDesign and illustrator. But I did it through projects like in my syllabus, so I sort of like made different projects that they could be conceptual about or you know, bring an idea into and then learn how to use the programs. But that was kind of tough because it was in the evening and it was a computer class and technology overwhelms. At the time technology was overwhelming to the students. I actually think that the students now are so like native to technology that they’ve You don’t even have to show them Photoshop like they know more about Photoshop. So I’m like you were I will ever know.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, I don’t I do not even try To teach

    Mary Banas software, I mean, I don’t think it’s anyone’s dream. Maybe it is actually I don’t know, but it’s not my dream. I’ve never, I’ve never been. I’ve never sought it out. It’s sort of like, at the beginning of your career, you’ll, you’ll teach whatever is given to you.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, I just, I don’t even I will put some, like YouTube or Linda tutorials in the syllabus of, you know, basic stuff or stuff that might be helpful for the class. And it’s like, if you want to learn this, or if you don’t know this, or you want to get better you can look here, but we’re not going to spend time in class doing tech demos, that doesn’t seem like an efficient use of time. But you know, I want to go back to something that you said at the at the beginning that as a kid, you were interested in art and you also kind of thought maybe you wanted to be a teacher and everyone was telling you how you could be an art teacher. And now you are you now are kind of an art teacher. Do what was that like? Like when you kind of realized that you liked teaching and that this, this was a part of your career.

    Mary Banas I mean, I always I always liked teaching and I always wanted to be a teacher it was that I, I didn’t want to be my idea of an art teacher was like elementary school or like K through eight or something. And actually, in high school, I did a project in high school like an independent, I took an independent study. And it was sort of like, you develop your own project and my project was teaching like third graders how to draw sixth sixth graders how to draw, which you can imagine was really difficult. Like drawing from life. They came in and they wanted to make like, they wanted to make like comics and, and I was like, here, here’s a still life of chairs. So it was really hard. But that was really fun. So I think sometimes you don’t know What you’re like walking toward and everyone else can see it.

    Jarrett Fuller I mean, so you teach. You teach basically all all levels, undergrad and graduate students, right? What What is that? I do also, and I find it so fascinating, especially this semester, I’m teaching sophomore typographic in the morning and then I go over to another school and I teach graduate thesis. So it’s like the two farthest it’s like students first design class that they ever take. And then graduate thesis students where, you know, it’s, it’s, I’m playing a completely different role. I find that really interesting. I’m curious kind of how you how you think about your your teaching and the role of the role that you play in the classroom. How do you kind of see your job as a teacher, depending on the level and does that change?

    Mary Banas I like teaching on the different levels. I think they it’s the best of both worlds like they play off each other. They have different strengths like, I think I also maybe would get like it’s more it keeps me more engaged because there’s a complexity to you know, flipping between, although usually I usually just do I don’t do them in the same semester. I usually do grad in the fall and undergrad in the spring and I undergrad at CCA is graphic design too. So that sophomores it’s the sophomore studio, and then in the fall is yours is that near zero studio, which is the studio graphic design for the three year people that are on the three year track. It’s their first year. But this fall, I’m also teaching a class a grad elective, which is called Open publication studio forming ideas. And that’s half MFA writing students and half art students. So within it’s a really, really cool class within the writing students, there’s a Like a poet, there’s someone who writes store sort of stories and novelist and essayist. And then within on the art side, we have graphic design, we have printmaking and performance, our photography and video sculpture. And two more graphic designers. So it’s very beautiful group of people, diverse and rich. And so really interesting discussions. really wonderful collaborations can happen where like, different people have such strong skills. Oh, there’s a visual and critical studies student too. So it’s just it’s really nice because everyone has their thesis. So everyone has this one thing that they’re very deeply they’ve been thinking about writing about making work about for the last like, one, one and a half years or one, let me think, during the second year. If it’s if they’re in a two year program, they’re in their second year. So at least for a full year, they’ve been thinking about Writing and making about it. But um it’s really nice to be in to have that shared space where some people are like, Oh, I’m, I want to learn a little bit more about design. And some of the designers are like, I have no idea how I want to write about this thing. And watching the students just be able to help each other really easily is pretty rewarding. And then the other thing about the classes, all the all the publications get made on the result, so we can use the limitations of the repo as a way to keep the just to keep it constrained in a in a way that is like, still fun. And you know, you have all those fun colors and like, it’s very forgiving for for anybody, you know, designers or with designers. It’s like they like to push the edge of like how, how aligned can they make it and how, you know, how many colors can they play with and then the artists may be there that They can play with the roughness or like vice versa. But it’s a nice the limitations of the machine itself or a nice constraint, I think.

    Jarrett Fuller So the classes, they’re making a publication, what is this kind of structure of the class or what is the, the publication is just a piece of writing that they write and design about their thesis. So

    Mary Banas it’s, it should serve their thesis, it doesn’t necessarily need to be about their thesis. And so the structure of the class that I’m providing is really it’s just prompts like I’m trying to give them prompts and framework so that they can since their grad students and their thesis students, they can bring to that framework what they need to to serve their thesis. So the first prompt was question like introduce your thesis through a book of questions. And I did I gave them like a size you know, just because it’s easier for the for some of these people it’s the first time they’re ever making a book. So I gave him like a page size and you know, a lot of details about how like, like I showed them the And I showed them simple books and things. And then the second one is like, it’s called an essay. But that just means that whatever they make has to have a strong and clear point of view. And paired with the essay is a bumper sticker, which is also I love the bumper sticker as a container for design because you have to actually distill something down into a very small space. But usually it’s a very strong and loud message. And I appreciate that about, like, I appreciate what the bumper sticker can give us as a gift. If you’re really trying to think about your thesis and you’re trying to distill an idea to a bumper sticker, it’s like, okay, there’s an exercise that people do sometimes where they’re like, okay, right the time like, what’s the time magazine cover? This is something from like, my advertising days. But what’s the time magazine cover? Like after your product is really successful? Like what do people write about it? And that’s a way to think about what do you want How do you want to advertise your product? We heard that before. That’s,

    Jarrett Fuller I’ve not heard that. But I’m thinking about my thesis student sound. I feel like the bumper sticker is such I think I’m going to steal

    Mary Banas steal it. I’ll give you I have a tool actually. We, yeah, we could talk about it.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, but it’s an interesting idea. I mean, because the the issue that I find with with these students is especially about right now in the semester, where they’re kind of midway through their set midway through the first semester of their second year is that they, it’s really easy to lose the thread of the thesis right about now and it gets bigger and bigger of what they want to talk about. And the themes start to, you know, start to, like, splinter out into a bunch of other things. And so it’s how do you then condense this back down to what the thesis is actually about? And that’s a great way to really narrow things down quickly, or at least start to think about, well, what is the one main idea here? I love that

    Mary Banas It could be every week they make it they make a new one or something because there is a, an evolution to it for sure.

    Jarrett Fuller How does how does this I’m teaching generally, but also, you know, working with, with grad students on thesis topics that eventually they will know more about it, then you, you know, then you will and kind of, you know, you’re learning from them just as much how does teaching and working with these students? Does this change? Or has it changed how you think about graphic design? Or what graphic design is or can be? Oh, I think definitely,

    Mary Banas yeah, I think my ideas about what graphic design is or can be, have changed a lot just in since I graduated from undergrad, I would say, and I think some of that’s the world and you know, how fast and fluid the media like media is around us. It’s, I think, the rise of capitalism and the what capitalism is doing to the planet. It is changing my ideas about design, and what design is and what it’s for. And I don’t know working, having worked in advertising also, I think we’re really lucky in to be in academia where you can actually ask critical questions of design itself. Because if we’re not doing it in academia, then where are we doing it? You know? So yeah, it definitely has changed. I think, if anything, I feel that the most, I think the most important thing to do now is, will the most important important thing for anytime is I want to bring more of a criticality. I want everyone to have more of a criticality, like when they walk into a room, every person, you know, and I think that something that design does really well is they can design can sugarcoat a message that might not be a design. make something look really easy, that isn’t toward can make something look good, that’s actually evil. And I think if I can teach or bring anything to my students, it’s for them to have that. The rigor I want them to have is a is about criticality, like have a criticality, like, always asking why are asking questions about what they’re doing? Or who is it going to affect or like, I don’t know why, like, what, what can we use our power for? How should we be using our power of designers? Because what the hope is that they’ll then be the people that are in a workplace who are just, they have the competence and they have the wherewithal and like they, they have like the they feel that they have a foundation they can stand on to ask those questions in the world. Yeah, because I think it’s hard. I think there’s a lack of tough dialogue in the United States. Overall, we don’t like to be uncomfortable, like, we’re Disney. Are we?

    Jarrett Fuller How do you do that? How do you do that in the classroom? Do you have Do you have methods or approaches to encourage that criticality and encourage that? being okay with uncomfortable?

    Mary Banas Yeah, actually. So there’s I mentioned the tool, which so I did this workshop at Otis, I think it was last September. And the tool is something that brand and I made my collaborator brand Trammell. It’s a oversized, you know, the flyers on the street, like, you know, do you want to learn guitar and it’s an eight and a half by 11 piece of paper with little tabs at the bottom of like the phone number. So we made one of those that’s 1117 and it just has three very long large tabs. And at the top, it says the stuff we’re not talking about that we should be talking about. And so people fill out the tabs at the bottom and then that kicked off this workshop at Notice where students brought all this incredible content into the room in a very short amount of time, because the stuff that we’re not talking about that we should be talking about is ultimately something that’s very important to you, but that you feel for some reason that you’re not allowed to say or that you don’t think people are saying. So it opens up the kind of difficult dialogues thing. And from there, they spent the day actually making, they spent the day making bumper stickers. And then at the end of the day, they translated they, they were working individually making a bunch of bumper stickers generating a bunch of messages. And then at the end of the day, they worked in small groups to translate take the take a bumper sticker message, but put it into a new container. So they could, you know, do a billboard or make a song or you know, make some sort of interactive box or make tattoos like they came up with a bunch of different stuff. The other thing is to just have the converse, start the Conversation yourself. And to be really honest, when you’re when you don’t know something or when you’re you feel like to check in with people if you’re if something weird is happening, I don’t know.

    Jarrett Fuller Something that I’ve been thinking a lot about this semester is critique methods and modes of critique and how to how to structure the classroom critique in a way that is more helpful to the students is a way that can kind of encourage more criticality and less performance or less of not wanting to hurt people’s feelings. And so I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different things. And I saw that you’ve written about criteo at this great kind of summary on on medium about kind of the role of critique and different critique methods. And I’m interested if you, you know, kind of talking about these encouraging criticality and talking about the things that we don’t want to talk about. Does that how does that manifest itself in a critique setting? Or does it or how do you encourage that when talking about each other’s work?

    Mary Banas Well, I think it’s something that I’m definitely still learning about all the time. I do not profess to be awesome at it. But one of the things I’ve learned over time is just how important it is to ask the designer questions and help them get deeper into what it is that they’re actually trying to say or do. I find that the, the kind of feedback that’s like, you could, you could, you could, you could try this. You could try this you could try this isn’t really that helpful. For the designer, especially at the grad student level, they really I think they just need help. Usually figuring out how to it’s almost like, they need help with the introspection or like digging into their own, you know, YY kind of thing. So the lesson there a lot of the times is like, remove your ego from the situation, which is, you know, every day, it’s like you have to remove your ego from a lot of situations, but, and it’s not easy to do that. But to ask a question, with no ego tied to it is a really pure and good question that you could ask. It’s a very generous way to ask a question. When you’re asking a question that is about how smart it’s like to say how smart you are. Everyone’s been in the room with a critic or themself who’s who asks a question or makes a comment just to like, and it’s like oh, you just use Rose bar, you know, good for you? Does it help the student? Like? I don’t think so. Usually. So that’s one thing, and then definitely learn a lot from each other. So shutting up is something I try to do. Not I’m not very good at it. And then I think, you know, the thing you said about not wanting to hurt people’s feelings. It’s not so much that as it is like, being an empathetic human and like reading someone’s like being able to read a person and tell that they maybe are at the end of their ability to, like, absorb everything in this one moment right now. And so, you I think a good educator gives the students as much as they can handle like, in that moment, you know, not trying to push people over the edge so that they’re actually like, so exhausted or like, so defeated, or they are exhausted, right, because they’re sleep deprived and then they can’t They actually can’t handle that they can’t handle that kind of feedback right now. So it’s like, that’s okay. You don’t have to give it to them right now.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, I mean, I’m even thinking about it just you know, you have a group of students, you know, nine or 10, students and yourself. And these topics are very intense topics that students have kind of poured themselves into, but then the other nine students all have different life experiences and different understandings of that topic. And the way the student describes their topic is interpreted different ways. And so then, you know, how structuring or somehow letting a productive conversation happen that helps the student can be really hard sometimes, you know, because you’re not even talking about the work. Sometimes you’re talking about the ideas behind the work. So I think I think all that said, I think you’re, you’re right, I think question, but asking questions and just that kind of humility is key, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. And I was kind of curious, how do you how do you think about it? So I think that’s,

    Mary Banas that’s definitely something I strive to be better at. Like, every, every time. It’s funny, because you know, as as teachers, though, you just I just get excited about stuff. So, right, then I start talking, but

    Jarrett Fuller I know would you would you said like, trying to just shut up more. I was like, Yeah, I have that.

    Mary Banas Yeah. And I mean, yeah, it’s, I think it comes with the territory. If you weren’t excited about design, then you wouldn’t be here, you know, in this position to begin with. So.

    Jarrett Fuller Right, right. Yeah, exactly. What, uh, what are you thinking about right now? Or what are the issues or topics that you’re excited about and kind of working on or working through and Yeah,

    Mary Banas well, I’m this weekend. I’m going to create Hambrook for a talk and workshop. And Brianna will be there as well. So right now I’m thinking a lot about what we’re going to talk about there. And we are they asked us to instead of presenting work to present ideas, and so our take on that right now is just about the way Brianna and I collaborate and where do our ideas come from and like how much of our work is responding to things in the environment or responding to like some of our work is responding directly to like a collection like the at the University of Connecticut, we had a residency and we responded to the some of the work some of the ephemera in the Alternative Press collection, which are like buttons and stickers and patches and newspapers and things from like the 60s to the 80s And what it’s shaping up to be is the sort of like digital scrapbook of all these little snippets that you realize are important in them in the moment because they have affected you or they touch you or they make you laugh or they make you really upset. And you start collecting those either, you know, in your mind or in a doc or on your desktop. And from there, we form responses essentially like and they come into the graphic form or an art form or like a paper and ink and type form or image Inc, an image and paper form, you know, brands a she’s a printmaker, but she has a real strong design sensibility in her work, and she uses a lot of I mean, a lot of printmaking actually is that way to where it’s just has a strong relationship to design because you’re using paper and you’re using These formats that are related the technologies related, like so. So yeah, I’m thinking about that. And I’ve been thinking about, like, something I struggle with a lot is just like, what’s the best way to contribute? How can I best How can I best contribute like in as a designer, because I live in San Francisco and I have to make money to live here. But who could I be giving my skills and time to that? It would really be like, helping something, you know, and I don’t I don’t know. You know, that’s, at the end of the day, like helping someone like I’ve worked. I worked at honor before, which is a health care company for it’s like an elder care company where it’s an app that helps small businesses who prefer vide in home senior care, it basically helps them organize the back end of the business and facilitates the actual visits. Like with the technology, you can sort of like, understand, oh, this, you know, this person has a dog and make sure that they drink water when they take their medicine and they need to go for a walk every day like sort of like keeping a record of those type of things. Communication record basically, but at the end of the day felt good to contribute to something that’s essentially helping older folks who need assistance, like have a have the assistance that they need, like that feels really good, you know, but there’s just something weird about designers where we always feel like I think there’s a lot of design or designers that feel like they want to change something or make the world better even there’s a lot of like people in tech who are say, they say they want to change The world and it’s like, maybe you shouldn’t, you know, but also I feel the I think there’s just a great responsibility that comes with being a designer and I don’t always feel like I’m making work or contributing to something that’s actually good. At the end of the day. I do feel good about I feel good about teaching and I feel good about the work I make with Breanne because it’s at least talking about ideas that are harder to talk about.

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, I was gonna say, I feel like, you know, don’t you think teaching is also a way that you’re helping to and like, you know, like you said earlier that, you know, by encouraging that criticality, you see the students as people in the future who will be in these jobs that can, you know, do something or say something. I mean, that at least like, as you were talking about that I was, I was feeling like, that’s how I’ve thought about my work for a long time. I was like, What is the point of all this? Why does this matter? And as soon as I started teaching, I felt Like, I was like, Oh, this is actually how I can contribute.

    Mary Banas Yeah, no, I think. I mean, teaching is a very precious thing. And it’s very, like, I feel that it’s like, holy work. I’m not religious, but it’s like, it’s you. What educators give students is like, oh, here’s some, like, Here, let me help you to, you know, to the next stepping stone with design or here let me teach you like a few things about design. What students give educators like themselves, like, students like show you like who they are like that’s beyond like a precious gift and experience that we get to have every week. That’s like, you know, I’m aware. But I also have a little bit of a con a conflicted feelings about higher education and how expensive art school is and Are we just training people to get jobs that contribute to capitalism? Like if you’re going to a school like a CCA or Rizvi or mica? If you don’t come from extreme privilege, what are you going to do? You’re going to get a job

    at a big company. And that’s, I mean, that’s what design is. I don’t know. This is gotten sad and dark.

    Jarrett Fuller I know I was I was so excited. I was like, Oh, this is gonna be the perfect way to end this is we’re going to end on this like really nice message about about teaching and helping people and then it just turned and now I feel like

    Mary Banas We can do it!

    Jarrett Fuller Yeah, we can do that. Anyway, I think that’s such a nice, lovely way to wrap up this conversation. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. I really enjoyed this.

    Mary Banas Thank you for having me. I’m fan for a while, so it’s really nice to be on the inside the pod.

    Jarrett Fuller I hope it I hope it was worth I hope it was.

    Mary Banas Yeah, definitely.

    Jarrett Fuller This episode was recorded on October 2 2019. Our theme music is by Andy Borghesani. We’re on Twitter and Instagram @surfacepodcast. You can find us wherever you get your podcasts and scratchingthesurface.fm. Thanks for listening