I wrote the following article this past March, but due to the fact that we have since developed this blog we felt it was worth republishing to share with those that might have missed it.
Reasoning with Standards
In order to help us better prepare our students for an entry-level position in the graphic design industry, we invited local professionals to participate in an online survey. The purpose of this survey was to help us more efficiently prepare our students for positions based upon industry standard expectations. It also enabled us to assess our curriculum, placement and software. Ultimately we have two goals, to improve our Graphic Design program to meet employer expectations and emphasize to students the importance of skills and qualities needed to enter the industry.
Currently, Valencia’s Graphics Technology Program provides its students with an AS Degree (2-year degree) that allows students to specialize in either print design or web/interactive design. Armed with the opinions gathered in this survey we are able to make sure our students are as prepared as they need to be to be a successful entry-level graphic designer.
Preferred Traits of a Graphic Design Graduate
The skills students should possess to land their first job in the graphic design industry should certainly not be neglected. A student who is not able to meet the needs of an employer or client becomes a waste of time and money. Often times these skills are ones which cannot be identified until someone has been hired. Nothing is worse than hiring someone who cannot meet deadlines, is unable to work with others, or cannot communicate their concepts. And all employers probably agree, hiring a designer who does fantastic work yet has a very arrogant or negative attitude is something they hope to avoid.This is exactly why we feel it is important to communicate to our students what the industry expects. Here are a few noteworthy facts gathered from responses professionals made during the survey:
- Communication. It was not a surprise that recent graduates are expected to communicate well. Not only did 85% of those surveyed find communication to be an important skill students must be capable of performing, but 35% admitted they would not hire a student without this skill.
- Years of experience (including internships). 41% of professionals felt a student’s level of work experience, to include internships was important. It should be reassuring to students that 59% of professionals found this to be somewhat important or not important at all. In fact, roughly 16% of professionals felt this was not an important skill to expect from a student, as they are obviously going to lack actual working experience while they are learning the tools of the trade.
- Artistic Abilities. Among desired skills, 59% of professionals felt artistic abilities such as photography, illustration, or fine art were desirable traits that were important for a student to have when entering the graphic design industry. About 11% of those surveyed confessed that students need not be an art savvy person to be considered for a position as an entry-level graphic designer.
- It’s not just design that’s important. It’s clear professionals support the expectations we have of our graduates. As students are informed regularly, it’s not just about design. For instance, one can be an exceptional designer but if they can’t meet deadlines they become useless. Among the many skills that professionals agreed to be vital to a student’s chances of being hired as a graphic designer were the ability to meet deadlines, learn independently, work as a productive team member, as well as their attention to detail.Obviously it’s equally important that students have a healthy creative process as well as be capable of executing their creative concepts. Nothing is worse than a good idea that can’t be executed. One professional noted, “Two of the best qualities are being able to be a starter and a finisher. I find that several artists can start work on a project and do great work, yet never really finish the project. Some artists can complete a project, but actually taking a piece to the point of being FINISHED is an entirely different level.” Also, professionals like to see students with qualities such as enthusiasm, initiative, and eagerness. It’s discouraging working with a person who is negative, arrogant, or requires someone to hold their hand through every step of a project. On the other hand, there’s a lot to admire about those that not only complete the steps of a project, but they are passionate about their work and LOVE what they do.
- Print vs. Web. An overwhelming 91% of professionals felt it was important that students understand how to design for print design and web/interactive design.
- Print Design. Students should expect to learn a variety of skills necessary to enter the world of print in graphic design. Although the concept behind a design is extremely important, professionals also found other skills such as the ability to design various types of print collateral, proofreading, preflighting, typography and copyfitting equally as important. Professionals informed us that students majoring in print design should be familiar with programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, QuarkXPress, and InDesign. Over half of the professionals surveyed felt it is important for print designers to also have knowledge of Dreamweaver and Flash.
- Web/Interactive Design. Professionals feel knowledge of skills such as FTP’ing, site maintenance, web standards, and usability are important for students to learn. The feedback received also supported the argument that students must expect to learn and gain experience with programming languages like xhtml, css, and actionscript. Over 90% indicated students must have experience with xhtml and css. Students majoring in web/interactive design should be experienced in using programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and Flash. Other programs that were said to be nice to have experience in (but not required) are Imageready, After Effects, Final Cut Express, and Maya.
A solution helps students gain necessary skills
To better prepare students for industry standards and expectations, instructors have collaborated on a self assessment which is designed to help students verify if their current abilities to think, value, communicate, and act (TVCA) are up to par with the graphic and web/interactive design industry set standards for being employable. Along with being desirable traits for employers, TVCA skills are also emphasized as traits needed in a college-level setting in order for higher-level thinking and learning to be achieved. This assessment helps students better understand the importance the various skills that often are not obvious until a person is hired.
Our faculty have observed that students not possessing the majority of these skills are often not successful in the introductory graphics course, Digital Media & Design. If they do pass the second or third try and continue to fall short of meeting these same expectations they have difficulty in higher level courses. If they do graduate they have trouble finding and/or keeping a job. This TVCA self-assessment is currently being introduced in this course, where it is most vital that students learn and understand how crucial these skills are to employers. Twenty percent of the student’s grade in this course is based upon the instructor’s observations of the TVCA skills. Although students will be expected to improve their TVCA weaknesses during the semester, failure to uphold with expectations from the beginning may result in a continued grade point deduction throughout the semester. After completing a self-evaluation early in the semester, students are required to develop an action plan for how they plan to compensate and remedy any personal weaknesses discovered. Each student’s grade is based upon how he or she meets the TVCA requirements in addition to completion of assignments, projects, quizzes, tests, and tutorials.
Barbara Peterson, Valencia’s Program Director for Graphics Technology, noted, “I see much more awareness of the skills needed to be successful and a clear attempt by most students to achieve these. I’m really encouraged by the positive response from the students.” TVCA requirements are expected to gradually be implemented into higher level courses in the program. Currently Kristy Pennino’s involvement in Valencia’s Title III grant funded initiative (focused on AS degree seeking students) has motivated her to implement the TVCA self-assessment into all four of her courses, Digital Media & Design, Typography, Advanced Graphic Design II, and Portfolio Review. She plans to further research pedagogy issues related to the TVCA evaluation. Kristy responds, “Our research could not only benefit any AS degree program in the country, but could also be considered by other graphic design education institutions regardless of the degree offered. What’s nice about what we’ve done is that we haven’t based our decisions on theory or assumptions, but have taken the initiative to research and test our ideas based upon the reality of industry expectations.”
TVCA supports our beliefs: A grade or a diploma does not entitle a student to a high paying job.
Interested in joining the Graphics Advisory Committee?
Valencia Community College’s Graphics Advisory Committee wants to hear from you! If you feel as though you would like to take part in helping to develop Valencia’s Graphics Program or if you would just like to make sure our students are as prepared as you need them to be, then this would be the ideal opportunity for you to express your opinion. Maybe you just feel as though our students’ skills or portfolios are missing a key ingredient that is needed in order for you to hire them? The Graphics Advisory Committee meets twice a year (in the fall and spring semesters). If you are a professional local to the area and are interested in joining, contact Amanda Kern at akern [at] valenciacc.edu.