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Graphic Design: Combining art and technology to communicate ideas

Graphic design is everywhere. Logos, magazines, animation, web pages, DVDs, video games – everything from gum wrappers to billboards – that’s graphic design. Planning, analyzing and creating visual solutions to communication problems are the heart of Tidewater Community College’s graphic design program.

When professor of art Craig Nilsen started at the college in 1978, graphic designers relied on stencils and stat cameras. The field underwent an enormous evolution with the introduction of the personal computer in the mid 1980s, and the explosion of digital media and the Web has transformed the industry dramatically again.

Professor Craig Nilsen
Graphic Design Professor Craig Nilsen

Students who complete the requirements for an Associate of Applied Science in Graphic Design are ready to meet the evolving demands of today’s changing climate.

“We teach students the tools they’re going to need in the real world,” Nilsen says. “We try to give them real world types of jobs to do in the program, so they’re as prepared as they possibly can be for work in this field.”

Students start with a foundations class – Art 131 Fundamentals of Design – that teaches the basics of line, shape, unity, harmony, value, texture and balance – all the compositional elements needed to create effective visual communication.

All students learn the Adobe Creative Suite that has become so essential in today’s graphic design industry.

“When students leave here, they’re going to know how to use Illustrator, how to use Photoshop, how to use InDesign,” Nilsen says. “No matter what you’re going into – web, multimedia, print, video – you need that core set of skills.”

Students leave the program well rounded and with a specialty, whether it be print, advertising or multimedia. The print program teaches students the essentials to create logos, magazine layouts and brochures.

Students learn to create quality pieces using the latest design software.
Students learn to create quality pieces using the
latest design software.

As part of Art 252, Communication Design II, students take over all the components in producing the student art publication “ Three Forty,” named for the address of the Visual Arts Center. The magazine showcases all the artwork produced by our students at the VAC.

“They design it from scratch,” says Heather Boone, assistant professor of Art. “That includes everything from planning how to get students to submit artwork to working with real commercial printers and binders to the actual layout and printing.”

To create awareness for the magazine this year, students filmed a playful video that is featured on the VAC Facebook page.

Students also take on projects with nonprofits, designing everything from business cards to billboards.

“This gives them the real-world experience of working with a client,” Nilsen said.

Advertising students take classes in marketing and copywriting, whereas multimedia students focus on taking visual information and presenting it digitally—including Web, video production and motion graphics.

Graphic Design Students hard at work
Real-world projects add to the learning process.

“That’s clearly the direction the program is headed,” Nilsen says. “Everybody needs to be a generalist. Everybody needs to know how to do print, but they also must learn the web.”

Three state-of the-art Mac labs are available for students to use as are video production and sound recording facilities. Loaner video cameras and support light kits and sound recording equipment are also available.

The main tools of the trade remain imaging and typography.

“The most important class students take in graphic design is typography (Art 141),” Nilsen says. “They learn to work with typefaces, the importance of setting type correctly and the significance of getting all the details right.”

Boone says graphic design is a great field for students with an interest in the visual world.

“I think people actually know what graphic design is now, which wasn’t the case when I was getting out of school,” she says. “It’s a good field for people who have creative tendencies but don’t want to be an artist or go the gallery route. It’s a way to be creative and make a living.”