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Working draft #2:

I have always done my best work when I have been able to understand a problem or a task by engaging myself with the ideas underlying it, tinkering and exploring possibilities. The scope of a issue, the plastic qualities of a particular material, the aesthetic sensibilities of a client or an audience, intriguing subject matter investigation of any or all of things is crucial to my ability to enjoy and succeed at what I do. This principle that has guided me through my career so far, informing my decisions to accept or discard various challenges on the basis of their ability to nurture my desire to learn as I work.

As an art student at Boston University, I learned not to produce artwork, but to think of its practice as a way to explore anatomy, history, perception, composition, and the pleasures of various media. Eventually, the study of graphic design led me to typographic expression and a practice of problem-solving that left room to draw upon the full range of talents at my disposal. Studying design in the early 90s also exposed me to digital technology at a time when I would be able to explore it as my profession was fundamentally altered by it.

Shortly after graduation, I took a job as a typesetter with the university, viewing it as an apprentice-ship in the finer points of typography and printing. (Fortunately, it also gave me a way to take more classes without the burden of tuition.) The digital aspects of that job also began my career in publishing technology, which has competed with graphic design as my primary focus ever since. When working as a designer neglected to feed my curiosity and desire to learn continuously, then working in technology gave me opportunities to explore other ideas altogether.

To me, the connections between the two fields were obvious: both addressed the need for clarity, communication, and ways to address current goals while planning for those that may develop in the future. Craftsmanship, investigation, and originality are intrinsic to both. Inventive solutions to many design problems often depend on the use of technology, and vice versa. In the workplace, though, organizations are often structured in ways that encourage discrete rather than cross-disciplinary activity, despite the limitations of doing so.

Tired of ricocheting between disciplines to feed my expansive curiosity, I began working toward a master's degree in communication design at Pratt Institute. Before my first year in the program was complete, I realized that the experiment was a dismal failure. Rather than a source of guidance and criticism an environment that would allow me to develop the connections I saw between graphic design and the systems that support it, and how each could enhance the other the program proved to be more appropriate for students looking to perfect particular professional skills. Facing conflicting demands of work and school, I chose to abandon basic courses that repeated the lessons of my undergraduate studies in favor of the few classes that let me grapple with complex design problems. When I withdrew from the program, those incomplete courses became failures that contrasted my success in the upper-level courses. I returned to full-time work and the ongoing conflict between its opportunities and its restrictions.

As a designer, I have been able to indulge my interests in typography, tactility, and sequences of reading. As a technologist, I have been able to indulge my interests in logic, workflow, and systems that can accommodate new developments. Personal work has let me indulge my interests in art, writing, history, and politics. Usually, what I lack is the luxury of exploring how all these fit together: How do you shape the experience of a reader or user? How do different media enhance or distort the information they convey? How can the richness of information in structural markup be expressed in print? How much of an author can a knowledgeable designer prove to be?

I have come to think of design as a means of conceiving and building the vocabulary, syntax, and cadence of unique dialects needed to express complex ideas in comprehensible ways. Doing those things well relies on the ability to grasp those complex ideas in the first place. Given the opportunity to study in the [name removed to increase the suspense] program, with its emphasis on process, investigation, conceptual development, and learning that goes beyond design itself, I hope to develop a methodology for achieving and encouraging real understanding as a fundamental aspect of practice not a luxury to enjoy when time, money, or business objectives permit, but an inherent strength.

Comments (7)

1) david z.: that's excellent. The paragraph about Pratt, where you explain the limitations of the program there, is a nice touch--it really highlights the effort you've put in as you searched for the right venue, and explains away the marks on your manuscript without harping on them. (Dec 1, 2003 5:49 PM)

2) apk: Hi Dan, nice job. It shows how much you have to offer and to gain, and that you are comfortable thinking critically about yourself and your art. I do think, however, your bit about Pratt being a "dismal failure" is too self-deprecating and may not be interpreted the way you mean it to be. While I recognize the need to explain this aspect of your record, maybe you could include it as a separate piece of writing (an addendum to the application?). That way, your personal essay stays focussed on your success. In other words, don't give anyone a reason to doubt you, and always be clear about why you are the shizzle. (Dec 1, 2003 5:53 PM)

3) apk: In the second sentence, change to "scope of an issue." In the third sentence, replace with "This principle has guided me through my career so far, and informed my decisions to accept or discard challenges based on their ability to nurture my desire to learn as I work." Also, delete the second sentence of the last paragraph, as it doesn't add much ("Doing those things well relies on the ability to grasp those complex ideas in the first place"). (Dec 1, 2003 6:53 PM)

4) apk: One last thing, in the second to last paragraph, you use the word "indulge" three times (in three sentences in a row). Typically, I think the word is used for describing when you 'pamper' or 'spoil' someone or something (such as a taste for sweets). I'd go with a difference word choice here... Ok, I promise no more comments. (Dec 1, 2003 7:04 PM)

5) Lubin Odana: I like how the words "richness" and "luxury" occur in the second to last paragraph along with "indulge". The words build on a theme and reinforce each other. (Dec 2, 2003 7:51 AM)

6) adcom: But where is Sparky in this essay? What is he like? Maybe I know why he wants to come here, but what will he add to the program at Suspense U.? Essays that read as resumes are a bit dry and often avoid the tougher essay that could be written and made admissions decisions easier. What would be nice is an expansion of paragraph 6. "I have been able to indulge my interests in typography, tactility, and sequences of reading.": Tell us *how*. " As a technologist, I have been able to indulge my interests in logic, workflow, and systems that can accommodate new developments." Again, how? "...How do you shape the experience of a reader or user? [other assorted questions about how to do things in design]" Its nice you see academia as a place to study these tough questions, but most people figure out some of the answers to these questions out in the real world without school. Have you come up with some preliminary answers? What might they be? What are your personal theories that you would like to test in an academic setting? What have you learned that makes you want to learn more? Again it goes back to the question: Not why you want to study, but what you will add to a given program. Graduate school admissions is all about this two way street. Granted, there is the portfolio part, but you write so well about yourself. Show it off. (Dec 2, 2003 8:12 AM)

7) Sparky: The trick with all this is that I have one page (about 750 words, tops) to work in my background, my interests, how they've shaped my practice of design, as well as any other issues. (In my case, I really need to explain an academic record that really isn't as bad as it looks on paper.) This essay and the details of my actuial resume (which are barely worked into here at all) are supplements to the story told by my portfolio, and the only supplements I'm really allowed. What they all need to sell is my potential, and what's unique about the way I think. So the trick becomes a matter of compressing a story of some 15 years or so into 750 words. Ugh. (I should also mention that draft 3 is a vast improvement over what's here. Thanks everybody!) (Dec 2, 2003 8:27 AM)

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