Updating Undergraduate Graphic Design Programs - Creative

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Updating Undergraduate Graphic Design Programs - Creative

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Skidmore College
Creative Matter

MALS Final Projects, 1995-2019


Updating Undergraduate Graphic Design Programs: Recommendations for Including Communications and a History of Technology in Graphic Design Education in Order to Better Prepare Graphic Design Students for Their Profession
Jacquie Drews Skidmore College

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Recommended Citation Drews, Jacquie, "Updating Undergraduate Graphic Design Programs: Recommendations for Including Communications and a History of Technology in Graphic Design Education in Order to Better Prepare Graphic Design Students for Their Profession" (1997). MALS Final Projects, 1995-2019. 107. https://creativematter.skidmore.edu/mals_stu_schol/107
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Updating Undergraduate Graphic Design Programs: Recommendations for Including Communications and a History of Technology in Graphic Design
Education in Order to Better Prepare Graphic Design Students for Their Profession by
Jacquie Drews
Final project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Liberal Studies
Advisors: Dr. Doretta Miller and Dr. Gary McLouth

Table of Contents




Chapter One: Review of the Literature


Graphic design education and curriculum


Graphic design education and the profession of graphic design


Graphic design education and communications studies


Graphic design education and history of technology


Summary of the literature review


Chapter Two: Research




Purpose of the research


Design of the research


Data collection and presentation


Criteria for school and respondent seleaions


Research findings


School catalogue review


Questionnaire reviews


Graphic design educators


Graphic design professionals


Summary of the research


Chapter Three: Summary and Recommendations


Summary of the review of the literature and the research findings





Appendix A: School of Visual Arts (SVA) conference materials


Appendix B: School catalogue review: art school graphic design programs


Appendix C: School catalogue review: university graphic design programs


Appendix D: Questionnaire and questionnaire responses: graphic design educators


Appendix E: Questionnaire and questionnaire responses: graphic design professionals


Works Cited


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The knowledge required for today's graphic design students to become well-rounded communication professionals is changing due to new technologies and new communication media. Revising educational curricula to satisfy these new needs must be addressed in the undergraduate graphic design programs that are currently being offered by art schools, colleges, and universities.
A review of the literature, along with surveys of selected design firms in the Washington, DC area and professors at institutions offering undergraduate graphic design degrees, shows that communications studies and a background in the history of technology are two additional curriculum areas that would help to better prepare students for the professional tasks that await them upon graduation.

Graphic design is a field and a discipline that is experiencing major upheavals and growing pains. It is a degree program that prepares students to become visual communicators of messages.
Designers always have-and still do-use a combination of visuals and text to communicate a message. However, the methods, tools, and contexts in which this communication occurs are changing, even if the actual nature of graphic design is not.
The changes that are arising are due, in part, to technology-specifically the computer-and to the corresponding issues and decisions that have been added to the message and information dissemination process. Therefore, it is the ways and methods with which these messages are communicated that have been changing and continues to change. It is because of this that the scope of knowledge that designers will need to know (and call upon to continue presenting clear and productive messages) also needs to change.
Design students must be better prepared for today's workplace, and this preparation must begin with what design students study during their undergraduate schooling. The components of an undergraduate graphic design education that adequately prepares young designers to comprehend and function in a workplace environment today is what needs to be addressed by the educational community.
The assorted curricula of graphic design programs must begin to offer and address additional areas of learning to assist this learning process. Philip Meggs, professor of communication arts and design at Virginia Commonwealth University,

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stated during a lecture at the April 1997 School of Visual Arts (SVA) "How We Learn W hat We Learn" conference for graphic design educators that:
Graphic design and all of its expanding manifestations must face a challenge of reinventing itself, not merely to remain relevant, but to continue to serve the community by giving clarity to information, forms to ideas, and aesthetic expression of public communication.
With this statement that he made to his peers, he directly and concretely addressed the issue that both the skills and areas of knowledge that are taught to undergraduate graphic design students must be reconsidered and reformatted when necessary. He suggested that this be done in an effort to reflect the needs that society, the professional graphic design community, and clients have in terms of employee capabilities and their depths of understanding. The question has then become not whether to change undergraduate graphic design programs, but to what degree and in what fashion these changes should be made.
In light of how new technology and media is changing the field of graphic design, additional core knowledge areas and expanded communications skills will be a necessary part in the preparation of graduating designers. This paper suggests that additional curriculum areas coincide with the technical and training skills acquired through computer and studio courses. These additional content areas should offer a broader understanding of the history, methodology, and theories involved with communicating and communication.

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The following review of the literature will help frame these questions and issues. A survey of school catalogues will shed further light on what is currently being offered in undergraduate graphic design programs. Specific research question­ naires asked of both business people and educators will ultimately provide the basis for this author's recommendations to adapt the content of graphic design curriculums.
This author's background and experience as a graduate of an undergraduate communications program, and as a co-owner of a graphic design firm for the past 14 years, has led to the topics presented in this paper. The recommendations, conclu­ sions, and summaries of this paper will be used to initiate dialogues and critical discussions within the educational community as to the preparation of undergraduate graphic designers as future professionals who will be practicing in the field of graphic design.

Chapter One Review of the Literature
Graphic design education and curriculum
A review of the literature addressing graphic design, graphic design education, and graphic design curriculum content shows that the areas that make up a graphic design education are much discussed but not definitively agreed upon by either educators or design professionals.
There are strong beliefs among those who write about graphic design education that critical components are not always included in the current curricula. These components are in areas of the education process that both train and educate graphic design students to survive and excel in today's vastly changing profession. Much of the literature discussing what graphic design students should be learning corrobo­ rates that things are indeed missing from graphic design curricula, and that a reassessment of design education should be in the forefront of design educator's agendas (Holland 226-23 1; Lewis 66-70; McCoy "Professional Design Education" 20-22; McCoy School of Visual Arts lecture).
This premise leads to the following questions: Why should undergraduate graphic design programs be changed or adapted? In what ways should undergradu­ ate graphic design programs be changed or adapted? A review of the literature pertaining to what both educators and professionals are saying about the needs and possible shortcomings of these programs will help to shed light on this question of change.

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Curriculum building and pedagogy have long histories with distinct method­ ologies and formats. The process by which educators determine curriculum content for any program of study is a fundamental consideration when looking at the questions surrounding curriculum change. As Willis et al. wrote in the book The American
Curriculum: A Documentary History:
. . . thoughtful decisions about what educational path to take (the course of studies, or the "curriculum" in the most conventional meaning of that term) are never easy, for they are always decisions about which possibilities among many to follow and which way to turn from, and they are inevitably based on assumptions about value . . . . ( 1).
Ultimately, curriculum choices are the results of numerous voices, decisions, and perspectives. The options, choices, and actions are never set in stone. What becomes apparent in reading about curriculum and curriculum building, is that educators must be held equally as responsible for ignoring the need for curriculum change as they would be for implementing changes (Walker 24).
In November/December 1995, Print magazine devoted a large section of the magazine to curriculum and education in the graphic design field. In this issue, Print explored the current state of graphic design education and provided results from a survey the magazine had created. The results came from responses from graphic design program directors at 97 institutions that offer graphic design degrees

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(274 four-year degree granting institutions were mailed the survey). The survey focused on general school information, the students, the faculty, the curriculum, the facilities, and the philosophies of institutions offering graphic design programs.
Robyn Lewis, a graphic designer and educator, wrote the Print article that encapsulated the survey results. The article attempted to portray an overall picture about the current climate of graphic design education instead of making specific curriculum suggestions (Lewis 60-72). The overall climate portrayed is one of flux. This can perhaps best be demonstrated by the variety of discipline and department specialization labels listed in this survey article. Lewis included the following titles in her article:
[Design department titles] . . . Communication Design and Illustration, Visual Communication Design, Computer Art and Design, Electronic Imaging, Advertising Design, Design Arts, Visual Information Technology, Commercial Art, and Art in Business (61).
[Department specializations titles] . . . print communica­ tion; illustration; advertising; computer-aided design; time-based mediums; fashion, interior, industrial, exhibi­ tion, and environmental graphics; interface design, and photography . . . (61).
Design EducationDesign ProgramsDesignDesign StudentsLiterature