The Beauty of Being Open Minded
Chicago native Claire Niederberger 14 GD says that when she first came to RISD, she was planning to major in Sculpture. But the self-described “nerd” fell in love with Graphic Design during a Foundation year Wintersession class.
“One of the things I like about graphic design is that it’s very verbal,” says Niederberger. “You’re working to communicate something.” To do this well, she finds she needs to “do a lot of research to fully understand a topic before trying to communicate it.”
That research, which “adds another level of meaning” to her work, is something that has become second nature to Niederberger, who is also pursuing a concentration in History, Philosophy + the Social Sciences (HPSS). It’s an important component of her academic experience here, she says, allowing her to see problems in the studio through the lenses of history and the social sciences.
“I knew I would do a concentration in the liberal arts,” Niederberger recalls, but because she loves to read and write, she originally thought it would be in English. “I did an independent study with Professor Dan Cavicchi about the history of radio,” she explains, “and that jumpstarted the whole media focus.” She’s now delving into the history of media and how it permeates our culture.
Niederberger says that beyond her choice of major and concentration, the biggest surprise for her at RISD is discovering how much the emphasis is on problem solving versus learning technical skills. “I’m definitely stronger than when I started,” she says, “but it’s more about how to approach a problem, how to research what I want to articulate and then how to bring all the components together for a final execution.”
As impressed as she is with her HPSS professors and the Graphic Design faculty, Niederberger says that there is also a surprising amount of peer-to-peer coaching that goes on. “Everyone works together,” she says. “I learn from my peers, which is really nice because people approach problems differently.”
The senior has also learned to take chances and to see where things lead. On a whim, she took an HPSS class on the history of the Arts and Crafts movement, which led to an independent study to further explore the Arts and Crafts movement in her hometown of Chicago and then to a fantastic summer “running around the city finding art objects and writing about them.”
It all ties in to what Niederberger sees as the key to succeeding at RISD: being open-minded. “Open-mindedness, curiosity and enthusiasm are essential,” she says. “Anyone coming to RISD is going to be a hard worker, but you don’t have to burn yourself out pulling all-nighters. I’ve learned a lot about how I work and how to work better. I’m a stronger designer than I was, and a stronger thinker.”
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