The State of the Arts: Graphic Design

Change is on the horizon for the graphic design program — and change important for a program whose ethos is rooted in innovation and forward-thinking. The revamp, which will see two new faculty hires in the 2017-18 school year, comes after a steady period growth over the past decade in the Art & Design department.

“The major has grown from only 20 majors 16 years ago, to over 120 this year, so we anticipate there will continue to be growth,” said Professor Jeff Cameron. George Fox University (GFU) will welcome Patrice Brown, an interior design professor, and Brandon Waybright, a graphic design instructor who will also be co-chairing the department.However, growth is not the only factor bringing about changes. Mixed reviews about the program’s curriculum and relevance are also contributing factors to the revamp.

A broader range of courses and a new approach to teaching certain classes could go a long way towards bringing the program up to speed. For example, Creative Suite I is structured for independent work; students watch tutorial videos to learn the course material. Students have consistently decried the class as ineffective. “It’s not a learning environment,” said freshman Sarah Parsons. “There’s not much actual instruction, it’s just videos teaching you.” Pekkola added, “They should be focusing on what you can’t learn in videos.”

Is the graphic design program sufficiently preparing students to enter the ever increasingly evolving market? “Yes and no,” Lehman Pekkola, a Senior design major, said. “The program is heavily geared towards illustration and technical tools with the exception of typography and marketplace branding. I’ve had to pave my own path.”

Pekkola also cited Professor Jillian Sokso, the acting department chair during Mark Terry’s sabbatical, as one of the best things about the department. “She brings a fresh perspective to the department. She and Ashley Lippard are a powerhouse duo,” he said.

Sokso has big plans for the graphic design program, and item number one on her agenda is breathing new life into the program.

“I’m hoping to make sure the program is as contemporary, relevant, and cutting-edge as possible, but re-emphasize the idea of doing good through design,” said Sokso. Cross-disciplinary, product, and industrial design will become new focal points through expanded course offerings. Additionally, Sokso plans to integrate more relationships with community and industry partners through internships, as job placement is a specialty of incoming instructor Waybright. “Web design is not a strength right now, so we are adding two new courses in coding and HTML,” Sokso said.

Sophomore Jordyn Dunseath appreciates the job and internship connections GFU has helped her develop but wishes they would add more assignments that pertain to real world design. “For instance, if there was a class that taught us solely how to brand a company, I think that would be really cool,” said Dunseath. As it turns out, a class like this might be just what Sokso ordered for next year.

Lippard will be expanding her teaching role to branding and ID systems, in addition to owning and operating the local boutique Pulp & Circumstance. “It will be a class where students will take on real clients and she will art direct them,” said Sokso.

There’s a social aspect of graphic design that needs to be addressed as well; a divide exists between the studio art and design branches. “The designers separate themselves a lot,” said Pekkola. “After freshman year, people diverge a lot. Sophomore year I felt that — I didn’t want to associate with the art department. But now I’m like, no, the art department is cool!” Unifying the department socially while individualizing the different branches is a tricky balance to strike, but not completely impossible, as evidenced by the new Art Talk program, which hosts local artists and designers on Monday nights at the Cultural Center.

Students are challenging the graphic design department to think more broadly and consider the design landscape the current generation finds itself in; accordingly, the department will introduce many new changes next year. Only time will tell if the revamp will bring the change that is needed, but if current plans are any indication, the program is on the right track.

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