Designs on Success

June, 2009

New curriculum and more opportunities in graphic design

by Barbra Alan

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Banner design by BFA graphic design student Bethany Mayo '09.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the field of graphic design will grow 10 percent over the next decade, and that job seekers in the field will face some strong competition.

To help give their students a more competitive edge and better prepare them for the demands of careers in graphic design, professors David Martin and Jong-Yoon Kim, both professional graphic designers themselves, invested nearly two and a half years into revamping the program’s curriculum. During that time, Martin says, “We examined feedback from previous graphic design internships and student surveys, reviewed other schools’ graphic design curricula, and evaluated the strengths of our existing curriculum.”

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Poster design from a BFA thesis project by Kelly Grenier '08.

It was a lot of work, but Martin was eager to do it. “It’s exciting as a teacher to build a program,” says Martin. “The former curriculum was based on the studio art curriculum, and its emphasis was on studio art courses. We adapted it by incorporating graphic design courses into it. In revising the curriculum, we had the opportunity to focus on what the students really need—design courses—and add in studio art courses.”

The result is a new graphic design curriculum that places greater emphasis on software and motion media courses by making more of them mandatory, rather than optional. Further, students are required to take them earlier in their education. This way, Martin says, “if a Graphic Design I or II student comes up with an idea inspired by a class project, they aren’t stifled by not knowing how to carry it out on the computer.”

The new curriculum also includes more advanced-level graphic design courses. “We offer advanced courses in Photoshop, Illustrator, and Flash that allow students to master these programs,” Martin says.

Martin notes that the new curriculum preserves elements of the former curriculum, including training in both print and Web design throughout the students’ education. “Many programs split [print and Web design] in the sophomore or junior year,” he says. “We teach design for print and Web through senior year, so students have more career options and the freedom to decide what they prefer as their careers progress.”

Design for the Real World

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Logo designs for Pemi-Baker Community Access Media created by BFA graphic design student Katie Dexter

Learning opportunities in the graphic design program extend beyond classroom assignments to include opportunities for students to do pro bono work for clients on campus and in the community. “About 10 years ago, businesses started contacting me, asking if the students could design logos for them,” says Martin. These projects give students real-world experience in working with clients, sharing ideas, and presenting the final product to the client for a critique. Among the area businesses that use PSU student-designed logos are Community Closet, a non-profit thrift store in Plymouth, and Pemi-Baker Community Access Media (pbCAM).

“Typically, we bring clients into the classroom, so they can talk with the students about what they want, and the students can ask questions,” says Martin. The client and students will agree to a deadline, at which time the client will come back to the classroom to review and critique the students’ work and make their selection.

For Regan Bowlen ’09, working with clients better prepared her for her internship, a requirement for BFA graphic design students. “I went into [the internship] much more confident in my abilities because of the work I had done on campus,” she says, noting that she was hired by the company where she interned.

Bowlen believes that the senior thesis project, a capstone project required of all BFA students, also provided invaluable learning opportunities for students. BFA students in the graphic design program must create their own companies and design a suite of materials for those companies that includes logos, letterhead, business cards, and promotional materials. “We were also responsible for printing the materials, which gave us experience in evaluating and selecting paper and printers, and staying within a budget,” says Bowlen.

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BFA logo design by Bethany Mayo '09

While Martin is pleased to have the new curriculum in place, he sees more opportunity to improve the graphic design program to benefit not only its students, but the broader community. “I want to increase the number of projects students work on with real clients in the community and eventually create an in-house design shop,” he says. By increasing partnerships with the community, he says, “everyone benefits—more students get to use the skills they’ve acquired and gain important job experience, and more community businesses and nonprofits gain access to talented graphic designers for free.”


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