Hanno Ehses changed how I see the world

Eighteen years ago, I officially started a journey that I’m still continuing today. in 1991, I began my schooling at NSCAD University, then the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Around about 1992, I met Hanno Ehses, then head of the design department. Hanno is a gruff, but likable German-born and educated design professor. Hanno taught the theoretical curricula at NSCAD. Semiotics and rhetorical theory were his main subjects. As Michael-Andreas Kuttner put it at Hanno’s retirement party last friday, Hanno is the one who made me realize there was more to design than beauty, ruling pens or even grids.

You see, Hanno wanted us to think as problem solvers. To look at each project as an opportunity to increase meaning and relevance to the receiver of a visual message. He scorned us when we would take the obvious way out of a design project. He pushed us to look deeper.

I’ll never forget going to his office near the end of my degree to pick up a set of boards. Hanno looked up from his desk, handed me my work, marked with an A and said, “I knew it was your work. The solution was smart and well done, but your mounting skills are terrible”. It’s always been that way for me. Until I got my first Mac, I was a horrible designer. Plaka everywhere, messy pencil smudges. I am a walking disaster with a tub of rubber cement. But, with the right tools in hand, I’m very lucky in that I can see the solution for a project in my mind with relative ease. Hanno is the one who helped me achieve this. By giving his students a process to follow, he gave us an incredible gift, one that I’ve been applying to my work for nearly two decades now.

Our NSCAD class was very lucky, as we were pretty much the last one through that had the old guard in charge of the design program. Other than Hanno, we had Horst Deppe who taught typography and graphic design, Tony Mann who taught 2D Design in an inimitable way, Frank Fox for senior studio and even Ludwig Scharfe. Although Ludwig and I didn’t see eye to eye in many cases, I respect what he taught me. I really feel like the NSCAD program is too fragmented now and there aren’t enough full time staff to really give students what we got in the 90s and earlier.

I’ll leave you with this to give you a sense of how important Hanno is. When I graduated in 1996, I went to work for a New Brunswick IT firm. About two months in, they sent me to a conference in New Orleans that I honestly had no business being at. In one session, the speaker asked the audience of about one thousand people if anyone had any knowledge of semiotics. I raised my hand along with one other person. The speaker said, “Go and see these people. They have knowledge that you need in order to become better designers”. After the session, he asked me how I knew about semiotics. I told him where I had gone to school. He exclaimed, “Oh, you must have studied under Hanno!”.

Hanno’s influence extends well beyond the students who had him. I’m extremely thankful for what he gave me as a student.

All the best in your retirement Hanno, and I look forward to your next project, whatever that may be.

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