My love for the creative field started as most do, with finger painting and doodling at a very young age. While other kids were obsessed with action figures, video games, bikes, and sports gear, I was neck-high in markers, colored pencils, crayons, and Play-Doh. My obsession for art supplies slowed down only after I was rushed to the emergency room for eating a black crayon; suddenly, my parents were less keen on buying me those things. I started receiving Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, and LEGO bricks.
I was always at the top of my class in math and science throughout my K–12 years, but I also won awards and scholarships for my talents in art. The creative side of me was fighting for face time with my analytical side, a battle that waged until I started my undergraduate degree at Cleveland State University. My decision to pursue a career in graphic design stemmed from that battle of creative and analytical skill sets. The design field was, and still is, an engaging career path that allowed my internal struggle to subside. As a designer, I use my analytical skills to conduct research, research that informs my creative skill in solving problems.
My experience in design and creative problem solving led me to a position with Apple, Inc. as a personal trainer and consultant. In that position, I educated Apple customers on the technological capabilities of their equipment and guided them through their own projects. It was here that my passion for education sprouted.
At Apple, I learned that education is a never-ending process. People of all ages benefit from new knowledge. We have all heard the saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” As an educator, I provide students with the knowledge and guidance they will need to succeed on their own. With a student-led method of teaching, I incorporate flexibility into my lesson plans so that each class is dictated by students’ needs. I find that pushing the students to answer their own questions creates a more rewarding experience for them and higher levels of confidence when they are left to their own devices.
At times I embrace the moniker of “tech nerd”. Staying current in the design field is critical. One of the lessons I have developed over time is focused on the importance of students making a separation between technical skills and design skills. When students go right to the computer to solve a problem, they have already limited the scope of their design by their knowledge of what the software can do for them. The computer is not the designer; the computer is the tool that helps you actualize a design. I stress the importance of sketching and research in every project. Conceptualizing can make or break a design, and an iterative workflow can help one surmount challenges.
The most important aspect of teaching is providing students with feedback. Students learn through feedback and constructive criticism. Often I hear about the stress of being in a design program and dealing with the subjective nature of the field. It is important for students to understand why something is not successful and to leave a critique understanding what they can do to improve upon their work. In today’s society where kids are awarded trophies for last place and ribbons just for trying, the challenge is to push students to realize they can learn from failure and grow from mistakes.
I maintain that an honest class environment allows students to be open with their opinions and go beyond the “it looks good” type of feedback that benefits no one. I push students to think about why things work or fail, and then to defend their design decisions beyond passive and cursory remarks about “looking good”. I encourage students to collaborate with each other and often break the class into groups to start a dialogue with those who struggle to be heard in a larger setting.
I ask students to conduct themselves as professionals in the field and articulate their opinions in an educated manner. During final presentations of major projects, I require that students come prepared to sell their peers on how they solved a design problem as if they were in an interview or a client meeting.
With as many projects as logistics allows, I stress the importance of real world applications. Every project that ends its lifecycle on my desk with a grade on it is a lost opportunity. Students who have the chance to partner with local businesses, other departments on campus, student groups, or social causes not only gain valuable experience that can shape them professionally, they have the chance to actualize their vision and witness their work in action—true experiential and engaged learning.
I appreciate the relationships I have made with students and have been gratified to receive high course evaluations. I love when students reach out to me to get my opinion on projects or professional client work—even after they graduate. My feelings are indescribable when students move on to their careers and thank me for the role I have had in molding them into professionals. I always remind them that I was just there to point them in the right direction, and that they did all the work.
I look forward to further establishing myself as a design educator where I can grow with the field, embrace new technology, and continue to learn, research, and influence the design community and future designers.
Apple recognizes Gary Meacher as an Apple Teacher.
Apple Teachers are recognized for their understanding of how to use Apple products
for teaching and learning. They have proven knowledge of using iPad, Mac, and built-in apps to enhance productivity and inspire creativity in their classrooms and beyond. Apple honors their achievement and commitment to creating the very best learning experiences for students.