By Michael Rohm
When Union College graduate Zack Posthumus was hired by LiveBy, a neighborhood discovery company for real estate professionals and homebuyers, he entered the job with confidence in his skill as a graphic designer. He had, after all, worked as a graphic designer for nearly three years, both as a freelancer and for an employer.
What LiveBy wanted from him, however, was more than the logo designs he had been posting on Instagram.
“Coming out of Union, I had no idea I would be creating web applications and product designs,” Posthumus said. “I didn’t expect this, but here I am, and I love it.”
Union College has reimagined the graphic arts program for students like Zack. When longtime art professor Jim McClelland retired for the second time in May 2017, the college decided to drop the four-year studio art degree in exchange for a greater focus on graphic design and technology demanded by employers. For the last decade, the studio art major averaged only one student per year, while graphic design enrolled an average of 12.1 majors each year.
“It can be difficult to support yourself as a studio artist,” said Alan Orrison, Union’s newest graphic design professor. “Graphic design is a more practical art. We still study drawing, color theory and basic design principles, but we focus more on digital and graphic design. There are many career opportunities.”
Orrison, who is developing a course in motion graphics for 2018, thinks there is success in diversity.
“More and more, I’m recognizing that graphic designers are being asked to do a variety of tasks,” he said. “Photography, videography, animation, motion graphics, as well as PowerPoint and Microsoft Word.”
“Employers expect a lot from creative services graduates,” he added. “Yes, you should be able to lay out a newsletter, but you may also be asked to edit high-quality photos for that newsletter.”
New career options, new classes
With increasing demands in mind, Union College has also developed a minor and associate degree in video and photographic arts to complement the new and improved graphic design major.
The new video and photographic arts program meshes so well with graphic design that a graphic design student with a communication emphasis only needs to take five additional classes to earn an associate degree, and three to earn a minor. Similarly, a communication or business student can earn an associate degree or minor in video and photographic arts with minimal additional coursework.
“There’s synergy between photography and graphic design,” said Bruce Forbes, chair of the Division of Fine Arts. “And in the same way graphic designers are being expected to know web design, photographers are frequently expected to do video.” Curriculum for the associate degree in video and photographic arts includes Computer Design, Commercial Photography, and Small Business Management, in addition to numerous other broad-spectrum courses.
The challenge–and opportunity–of a career in graphic design is the need to stay at the forefront of the field, including burgeoning technologies and ideas.
“Technology changes; software gets updated.” Forbes said. “We are continually learning. At Union, we can’t teach students everything they need to know in four years, but we can teach them how to keep learning.”
When Posthumus came to Union College, he assumed he would be in and out in four years with everything he needed to know. What he found was that he had a strong foundation, but the rest was up to him, the challenge and freedom of which he has come to appreciate.
“Graphic design is all about experience and time put in,” he said. “You have to work constantly at it.”
“Be passionate about it, push yourself, and get yourself out there,” he added. “There are a ton of jobs available.”
Forbes agrees. “Everything we use has been designed by somebody,” he said. “The need continues and goes forward. There’s continuing demand, as it will be in the foreseeable future.”