Bridging the gap between graphic design education and professional practice

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On 2/23/19 at 10am, I attended the North Carolina Community College Fine Arts Conference Session Bridging the gap between graphic design education and professional practice at the Meroney Theater in Salisbury, NC presented by Jenn Cobb of Catawba Valley Community College

Mrs. Cobb Introduced herself and pointed out Hickory, NC and how nice it is to connect to colleagues. Its nice not to feel like an island but in fact a community and population.

Time gets faster as you get older. How much difference in a single decade- for most of us its glasses J.

2009 – ten years back.

Technology gives us the image, the iphone 3, jimmy fallon on tonight show and parks and rec debuts. Black eyed peas: Boom Boom Boom.

1999 – twenty years back

G3 bondi blue tower. Nokia cell phone 100m a month, free nights and weekends. Sopranos, and Spongebob. TLC: Don’t want no scrubs

1989-thirty years back

Apple 2E, Motorola cell phone, Seinfeld debuts, saved by the bell. Chicago: If you see me walking by


What a difference 1-3 decades make. We are training students to enter a field wherestudents can stay in the field for 2-3 decades. As we as teachers keep moving, how can we as educator stay relevant and keep those students prepped for their fields?

We are at a a crossroads in design education. 1) methods to educate the emerging designer overlap with shifts in industry demands and rapidly emerging technology. Like any crossroads, you can choose to change directions at any time. How might we make a change in design education. How can we turn this into an opportunity? We have to provide relevant knowledge to allow students to enter the job market and be prepared for the workplace. Calls for Graphic Design Education realignment come from multiple directions, but change remains slow because of program differences in school, lack of standards between 2 and 4 year school, and changes and inconsistencies within industry itself. Necessary changes must be made at the core level.

Change is accelerating, and design education is stuck: Hugh Dubberly.

What does the future look like for employment? The designer of 2016 was put out in 2007. The designer of 2025 was put out in 2017. The results are sobering. 7% is the average growth. Desktop publishing was said to lose 21% (-21% esmiation). 0-1% growth in graphic design (print based and corporate identity, 4-year ddegree- 20% self employed). Web Design 27% increase for networked communications. 1 in 5 graphic designers are expected to be self-employed.

Slower than average growth will be seen in graphic design, large growth in web design. Our goals should be to increase the 27% growth in networked communication.

How can we educate the graphic designer?

Meredith Davis adhere to an outdated educational model that relies on apprenticeship methods- here are the pieces, make this final item. This is a fallacy. Instead, we should focus on open-ended, critical thinking models. Creating items in which students are choosing to create the artifacts which are passionate ideas for them are going to be the best solution.



(Is this relevant? Are clients arriving with ideas (I need a poster) or are they trusting the designers (we need a marketing solution). How can we fill that gap.)


Do we as teachers ignore the critical step of asking “is this solution right for the client?”

Are we teaching them t be form manipulators are we teaching them to be message makers? Are we running a proper blend of critical thinking and apprenticeship



How are the opportunities for the students in your area? Industry demands shift. UI/UX Design, social media manager, exp design, app design, web design are all increasing. Get to know the service area and how can we make shifts or changes to produce the innovative ideas that can work for each industry. At some point, students will need to flexibly move to message makers

We are changing from industrial to knowledge economy. Its not the form of the message, it’s the message itself. Its not apprenticeship, but critical thinking. In the past, viewers were passive and messages were linear. Now, participants are active in receiving and sending and internectted to the systems involved. Instead of to an audience we are now moving by and with the people. Its not products, its people and human focused materials. Design used to be cosmetic and top down design. Tomorrow it will be bottom up and integrated, developing organically in the message.

Are we still meeting the service needs of our area?

How does industry hire talent from our institution?

What if we included a virtual portfolio day for a week? Let’s discuss how we would implement this.



Students have to be ready to work with print, interactive, digital and web program. As technology and social media changes this landscape, we’re juggling all these methods and preparations for our students. Can we teach our students to be agile? How can they be continual learners? If they are tech savvy today, can we teach them to be current and tech savvy in the future? It is difficult to hire adjunct faculty with skills and ability. Technology is bringing us opportunities but it’s a double edged sword, needing students to be ready to pivot and learn.

So how can we bridge this gap?

Education: Consider program revisions at a local level. Re-evaluate your discipline to include soft skills and larger, systems-based projects. Consider revisions at the state level. Use the resource we have in AGD colleagues.

One of us is an island, but together we are a community, a force to be reckoned with

Industry: Students must be adaptable. Get to know industry in your service area such as printers and design agencies. Use surveys to get specific answers and answers to open-ended questions. Encourage development of personal work values.

Many students feel that software skills are the top item for hiring. Its 7 of 10 for employers, with information of team-levels and building larger items, especially soft skills.

Technology: Students must be human-centered by software savvy and technologically fluent. Students should be exposed to more network communication design. Encourage faculty to increase Prof Dev. Increase tech-based representation of our advisory boards. Incorporate formal technology plans. Use the power of tech to our advantage and add new learning opportunities.


We know there are challenges, but how do we make this opportunities for growth? We need to keep focusing on the future.

Capstone Courses Roundtable with Walter Rotenberry

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As part of Wake Tech Community College’s professional development seminar, I attended the Capstone Course Roundtable presented by Walter Rotenberry. Walter Rotenberry is the lead for Wake Tech’s SGD department (simulation and video game development).

In the roundtable discussion, Rotenberry laid out his procedure for a capstone course, which I have vaguely outlined below:

  1. Establish the course as a capstone for your program. Inform students prior to entering and upon their first day in the class the details involved with the planned courses of action. Include all expectations, all contingencies, the level of quality required, and how their potential employment may be affected by their level of commitment. Remind them that they will get out of the course whatever they put into it.
  2. Set a final date for presentation. Plan that date and make sure that the course centers around the expectations required on that date.
  3. Focus on what is achievable. Students in Rotenberry’s class presented all their materials to the class in their first week, each choosing their best project to work with, fleshing it out over time to a perfect, finished project to present.
  4. Involve the community. Rotenberry contacted his closest contemporaries at surrounding colleges (in his case, NCSU and their graduate program in Game Development) and had a few joint sessions in which his team and their team could exchange ideas, discuss current projects, and discuss current topics, trends, and ideas in the industry. This was instrumental in achieving a program in which questions would be posed, answered, and attended to BEFORE presentation
  5. Pitch your programs to the best in the business. OK, we presented to CEOs and presidents of video game companies in our area, Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Walter Rotenbery lined up the individuals and set their dates to attend, reminding them prior to the festivities, and following up with each one.
  6. Make an event of it. Students came prepared to discuss their work, networked with the individuals present and enjoyed snacks. After a short time had passed, each student presented their projects to the group, and in some cases individual computers were opened so that industry folk could try out each game on their own.
  7. Don’t let the music stop. Walter’s students passed out business cards and links to online portfolios and games. Students followed up with individuals, and several made appointments to meet with industry designers. Several employment opportunities came out of the presentations, and it has become a permanent addition to the SGD (simulation and game development) track.

In attending this training, I could clearly see how our Graphic Design IV or our Portfolio classes could easily become capstone courses. Portfolio could easily transition to involvement with local organizations such as AIGA here in Raleigh, NC or TIMA (triangle interactive Media Association). Graphic Design IV could easily ally with the Addy Awards or with GDUSA and other magazine contests. I look forward to discussing this with Damu Murray, Woody Hayes, and Marsha Mills.