Design Ed
DESIGN PROFESSIONALS like Jesse Vuona (work above) agree on the benefits of advanced study in the field.


When I decided to go back to school to get my master's degree in graphic design, my friends and family weren't sure it was the right decision. With design software so accessible to the public, they asked, why couldn't I just learn design by using the software? I could walk into any Apple store and buy the Adobe Creative Suite of design software, a designer's dream. Shiny, new and full of possibilities for layouts, illustration, and photography. What more could I possibly need?

For me it was important to go back to school because while I had a BA in communication arts, I did not have the design history and foundation necessary to create designs that communicate effectively.

But for this article, I decided to speak with many designers both in graduate school and working at design agencies in Boston, and find out how they would have answered the questions my friends and family asked me. What are the real benefits of going back for a higher degree in graphic design?

I first posed the question to Colby Cook, a friend and fellow student at the New England School of Art & Design (NESAD) at Suffolk University. "You can learn the [software] but you don't learn the mindset you have to have," Cook said. "It's like saying that you can hold a pencil, so therefore you can draw."

Karen Dendy Smith, co-founder of kor group in Boston, said, "Design software is the medium that is used to get the point across." When asked if it was possible to learn design by using design software, Smith said, "No way, it is impossible. . . . Can you lay stuff out on pages? Yes. Is it true formal design? No. Composition [is something] no program can teach you."

Smith, who has a BFA in visual design from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, returned to school to earn a master's degree in design from the School for Design in Basel, Switzerland, a two-year intensive program.

For Smith, it was "all design, all the time . . . there was no room for homework, so you had to talk about what you were doing in class in front of your professors and classmates. It brought you to an uncomfortable place creatively." The biggest takeaway from the master's program, for her, was "being able to understand those around you."

"It's not personal art that you are creating," she said. "It is not about making pretty pictures. . . . You have to be more of a strategist, and think about behavior, reaction, and readability."

Jesse Vuona, art director at the advertising firm Mullen, agreed with her. Vuona has a BA in photography; he made the decision to go to NESAD for a higher degree in graphic design because he wanted to be able to better communicate a message with his art.

"They push you to effectively get your message across," Vuona said of his NESAD teachers. Vuona found that the experience of presenting projects with time requirements in school helped him to tailor presentations to clients, whether it be for 15 minutes or three hours.

In addition, Vuona also did two internships, one for an interactive company and one for Mullen. He not only got experience from both internships, but was offered jobs from both as well.

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