The Lack of Graphic Design Major on IC's Campus

When strolling through the halls on Ithaca College's campus, you can’t miss the plethora of posters that litter the walls and bulletin boards detailing club meetings, recital dates and event times. From some, these posters will receive a quick glance or might not even be acknowledged.

The Communication Management and Design (CMD) major at Ithaca College strives to develop students for careers in graphic design, event planning and management fields. The Integrated Marketing and Communications (IMC) major prepares students to go into fields like advertising, public relations and event planning. Students in the major that are interested in going into advertising with the intention of creating posters and other designs for brands have expressed a lack of design classes that teach them the skills they need.

For years, students have expressed distaste at the fact that the Park School does not offer any type of graphic design or visual arts major. Many students become CMD majors with the thought that they would learn graphic design with the goal of becoming a creative at an agency that produces advertisements and campaigns for brands. Senior CMD major Matt Cifarelli changed his major during his freshman year because he knew he wanted to go into graphic design. He thought CMD would be a great fit based on the classes that the Park school offered.

“You’d think, because it has ‘design’ in the title that they would teach us how to design well,” Cifarelli said. “But it’s extremely misleading. Even though we take design classes, we’re designing business reports and PowerPoints, which is not something I want to do with my life.”

This is where the graphic design minor might come in. Last year, the art department at IC implemented the new minor in hopes of helping students like Cifarelli. The minor requires two-dimensional design, principles of graphic design and advanced graphic design in the art school, as well as a choice of interactive media, introduction to website development or advanced web programming. Students can then choose two of seven other courses; two of which are art classes, and four are computer science classes.

The new minor is in high demand and students in the program believe that it needs more funding in order to get off the ground. Senior writing major graphic design minor Arianna Ashby empathizes with the art school’s lone graphic design professor, Patti Capaldi, who was unavailable for comment.

“I think being the only professor overwhelms her a lot, which isn't fair,” Ashby said. “It also makes it hard to teach well and be a good professor when you're under so much stress all the time.”

Ashby said that the limited amount of professors makes it difficult for students to get into the classes. Junior IMC major and graphic design minor Phoebe Ertel said that her issue with the minor is that it took her until her sophomore year to get into one class for it. Art classes have only 10 slots and one section per semester.

“The art classes are also two hours and 40 mins twice a week for just three credits,” Ertel said. “It definitely takes a toll on my Park schedule as it leaves me stuck doing a lot of work in the art school when I have a lot of major related course work I also need to be focusing on!”

Senior journalism major Luke Harbur agreed, saying the classes have caused him extreme sleep deprivation throughout the semester.

“In my 2-D class and principles of graphic design class, I’ve had to do at least 10 hours of outside work each week,” Harbur said. “It’s disclosed in the syllabi that it’s expected you’ll at least three or four hours of work outside the class.”

Harbur said he’s had to make an effort to find time to do extracurricular activities and the graphic design minor, but hopes the program will change going forward.

Students in the minor say it strives to work with the communications school because it has optimized their skills in the Adobe Creative Suite. The minor teaches them how to use Adobe Illustrator, the program used by most professionals in the creative industry to design, which is not taught in the Park School. Cifarelli said he had to learn Adobe Illustrator on his own time because Adobe Photoshop is the only program taught in his classes.

Ertel said that having the experience with Illustrator has helped enhance her IMC coursework and Harbur expressed his satisfaction as well.

“It’s been great since I’ve applied everything in class to jobs and projects,” Harbur said. “I’ve been able to design and produce posters for my acapella group, Ithacapella and the web programming classes have helped me recode their website.”

Tyler Finck, ‘04, graduated with a degree in cinema and photography and then started his own graphic design business. He’s now the adviser of Park Design House (PDH), a student run design co-curricular at IC. Finck agrees although the minor has a lot of potential, the curriculum needs to be more thought out.

“I think they should capitalize on teaching the business side of graphic design,” Finck said. “A lot of people can make it on their own if they learn about freelance and how to do taxes. They don’t teach you that in the current design majors and minors.”

Senior Julia Bjornland said that it has been recommended that she go to portfolio school after IC. Portfolio school is a one to two year program that would allow her to expand her creative body of work in order to get a job at a creative agency as a designer. Finck said that several students have told him they’ve received similar advice.

“Ideally, four years here should be your portfolio,” Finck said. “I think it’s a reflection of the curriculum, but also students not taking advantage of all the resources that IC has to offer outside of class.”

Finck said that a student’s portfolio should not only be a combination of coursework that they’re proud of, but also personal work that they have done on their own time and work that they’ve done for the community. There are plenty of graphic design experts on campus, he said, that students could look to for guidance, and award-winning design agencies in downtown Ithaca that some have worked with in the past.

“Students need to have initiative in order to get a job in this business,” Finck said. “It’s essential for a job. If our kids are looking at portfolio school, it’s probably not a good fit for them because that environment is not going to change their level of initiative.”

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© 2016 by Tara Stacy