The annual Faculty Choice Exhibition of work by students in the graphic design department opens in the visual arts building Feb. 18. Columns spoke with Susan Roberts, the faculty member who is coordinating the exhibition, and Lanny Webb, the head of the graphic design department, about the exhibition and other projects in the department.
Columns: You do this exhibition every year, I believe.
Roberts: We have done it for 19 years.
Webb: The students really look forward to it. This is the Faculty Choice show, which means that the faculty pick the best projects in each one of their classes, and then the faculty as a group reviews them, and we pick the show out of that. So it’s an honor for the students to be in it.
Roberts: It’s always an educational experience for the faculty as well. All seven faculty members are there, and it’s interesting to see what a group selects.
Webb: Another thing that’s wonderful is that this is the first opportunity for each one of us to really see the work done in each class. I’m always impressed with the quality of the work and the program when we get together to do this.
Columns: And you all teach different aspects of design.
Roberts: We all came from different places, and we have different disciplines that we specialize in, but I find that most of the time we’re in agreement-the work that is really pared down to the essence of typography and image. The clearest and simplest images are the best.
Webb: Another thing that’s important about our program is that we’re very hands-on. Technology is used in almost every class, and yet we want the technology to be transparent. When you look at a piece we don’t want it to call attention to the computer. So we do a lot of hands-on work, traditional art techniques that are then scanned and digitized.
Roberts: That’s the beauty of having a graphic design school within a fine arts program. These students have many courses in the fine arts area, and then they come to us. We keep that hand work and those hand skills-concentrating on drawing, making a lot of images by hand, that we scan into the computer and then manipulate. That makes us distinct from a lot of schools.
Webb: We just met with the new group of students who want to get into the program. We had 40-plus students show up for the instructions on the entrance test, and out of the 40 we select 14 students for the program each semester.
And the most important part of what they turn in is their drawing skill. A lot of them have taken commercial art or a program like that in high school, probably computer-based. They think they’re savvy, but if they don’t have the eye-hand coordination, if they don’t know how to draw-that’s important to us.
Columns: Fourteen out of 40 applicants means a lot of pressure on getting in.
Webb: We try to maintain a class size of 16 students. Beyond that, the number of minutes is just not adequate for individual instruction.
Roberts: In the art school, it’s very much like the music school, where it’s one-on-one instruction. We move from desk to desk. We have presentations and talk generally to the group at the beginning of class, maybe for 30 minutes or so, but mostly we work individually with each student, usually at their desk, and if there are 16 students there are 16 different projects going on.
Webb: For instance, in Susan’s layout class, the assignment may have in common that it’s a letterhead project, but each student has a fictitious client, and they have to solve that particular problem. It’s like that in all the classes. It’s very time-consuming from a teaching standpoint-you have to work with everybody individually, pull out their strengths.
Roberts: I teach a class called the Design Center. We just started it a year ago. This is how we’re trying to get the word out about our graphic design program-and also we’re bringing our students to another professional level.We’re working on competitions, on real projects. I select projects that can be award-winning.
Webb: Since Susan has taken this class on, and she will be teaching it every semester, we can plan for awards and competitions and take part. Just recently in one of the competitions-for Print annual-one of our students won the cover award.
Roberts: It will be published in April. So we’re getting the word out about the program here.
Columns: The cover of Print will certainly generate interest.
Webb: One of the functions of this class is to enter a lot of the competitions. The department pays for the entrance fees. You can tell the students about entering competitions, but they don’t do it on their own.
If we use it as an assignment, not only do the students benefit from Susan overseeing the project like a senior art director, but they don’t have to pay the entrance fee. And it forces them to do it.
I see us winning one award after the other. It’s great for the students, and it brings it back into the program too as we get more recognition and more talented students will want to come.