Robert Finkel was born and raised in Birmingham AL He attended Rhodes College in Memphis TN where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Sociology concentrating in cultural anthropology and sociological theory. He is a graduate of the Portfolio Center and in 2011 received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Florida. He has interned at Pentagram under Michael Bierut and was a designer at Slaughter Group in Birmingham where he specialized in corporate identity and branding, and custom letterpress printing and design. Currently, Robert is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at Auburn University teaching courses in Graphic Design History, Corporate Identity Design, Letterpress Printing, and Design for Social Good. He maintains an active design practice and continues to pursue commissions and self-initiated projects.
HOW AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE EDUCATION A MEANINGFUL PART OF YOUR CAREER?
I think the desire to teach has always been just below the surface of my design practice. After focusing on a professional design career I felt like I had reached a point where the projects I was doing didn’t satisfy my personal interests. My wife encouraged me to pursue an MFA and explore shifting into design education. It was the right call. Teaching has helped me clarify my own design process and to be more intentional and reflective in the projects I pursue. Everyday I’m around curious and enthusiastic designers — both students and colleagues. The reciprocal nature of the student-teacher relationship is motivating and inspirational.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE TEACHING OF FUNDAMENTALS VERSUS THE NEED TO RESPOND TO OUR FAST-CHANGING WORLD OF MEDIA, TECHNOLOGY AND CULTURE?
Mastery of design fundamentals should be evident in all aspects of design regardless of the medium. They are our shared language in the studio. Today, digital craft is just as important as traditional notions of craft. Students must be proficient in both. However, I believe that expanding the notion of “fundamentals” to include core competencies in the humanities is just as important to designers. These are the common histories, values, and conventions of society. Our work as designers is influenced by culture and shapes culture. It’s a powerful responsibility that require skills beyond just the studio.
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