College Tour: Art Center College of Design

In early April, I toured the Art Center College of Design in California. Set in a single modernist Ellwood-designed building that spans a ravine in the hills of Pasadena, the aptly named Hillside Campus is a visual study in contrasts. Harsh steel and glass are surrounded by eucalyptus trees and fragrant sweet jasmine.

Art Center walkway 2

Ellwood Building Walkway

It’s difficult to gain acceptance into this selective school, often ranked at the top of many college search lists. The reward for getting in is hard work and readiness for the real world.

As one admissions representative said, “you’ll never work as hard in industry as you do here.” Kit Baron, Senior Vice President of Admissions explained the reasoning behind the schools demanding curriculum and structure, tying it to the college’s core mission. Art Center “was founded not as an atelier but for industry, to listen to what client’s want,” she said. Translation: the school educates and helps students transition into the job world.

An example of the school’s strength is their Transportation Design program, which is constantly ranked #1 internationally. That stellar rating is reflected in the fact that every major automotive manufacturer has had an Art Center alum as a design chief or leader. Think about that; every major automotive manufacturer.

Class time

Beyond transportation, Art Center has 10 other undergraduate programs leading to BFA or BS degrees. Students are guided and challenged by approximately 400 faculty members, most of whom are also working artists. Classes are taught on the semester – or term – system, with three terms per year. A completed degree is based on eight terms, which means that students can graduate in fewer than three years. Most don’t though, typically taking 4–6 years to complete their education. There is no foundation year here, meaning students must be focused when they begin, but they’ll get to spend more time dedicated to their majors.

The smartly and strategically structured Illustration Department is the largest on campus. Five tracks exist within the department, directing students towards entertainment arts, motion, design, fine arts, or surface design. Each has a unique focus, requiring a different set of skills to work in their respective industries.

One of the hottest new majors trending across the country right now is Interaction Design, and Art Center has it. New due to our tech-focused world, it’s the study of apps and interfaces.

model shop projects 2

End-of-year model shop projects

Beyond the Ellwood building and adjacent Sinclair Pavilion for relaxation, there isn’t much else to this campus, reinforcing the focus on creating art. Students live down the hill, in off-campus apartments. A short drive away is South Campus, where Fine Art and Illustration students study, alongside graduate and community programs. The school’s long-range plan includes building dorms there in three years.

Art Center is not for the indecisive or inexperienced. Applicants already have a defined proficiency and a sense of direction. Prospective students apply directly into a major. The college accepts students on a rolling basis with just a few admissions deadlines.

More art.college.life. news can be found on facebook, twitter, and pinterest.

Graphic Design Programs To Consider

clif bar logoGraphic design impacts our lives on a daily basis. You might even call it the daily deluge. It’s a part Facebook and the morning trip to Starbucks, the billboards and ads for the local restaurant or hospital that we absorb on the way to school or work, that afternoon Clif Bar or CocaCola, the FedEx or Amazon package that arrives on our doorsteps, and the movie and TV credits that introduce us to our late-night entertainment. It sets a mood and entices us to try something new.

 Prospective graphic design students have a wealth of college and university programs to choose from across the country. Degrees come in a variety of shapes and sizes, at art colleges, liberal arts colleges, and large research universities. Program titles vary as well, and are not always straightforward. Communication Design, Visual Communications, and Design and Technology are just a few of the programs I found.

amazon-logoSo how do you differentiate between programs and institutions? One tool at your disposal is Graphic Design USA’s 50th anniversary survey about the industry. Just out in October, it’s a good resource for identifying top graphic design colleges. Even better, it also delves into the most influential graphic design firms in the country, as well as favorite graphics projects and logos over the past 50 years. Basically it’s a ton of graphics fun!

 The magazine surveyed 10,000 working design professionals to get their results. Some of the choices aren’t very surprising, but I like the range, from art colleges to some of the country’s top comprehensive institutions. Here are the top 10. I hope you’ll seriously consider the full list as well.

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

School of Visual Arts (SVA)

Art Center College of Design

Parsons The New School for Design

Pratt Institute

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)

Yale School of Art

California College of the Arts (CCA)

SCAD Savannah College of Art and Design

Want more information? I blogged about Graphic Design last year as well; I hope you’ll take a look.

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Tools You Can Use

English: The main building of the School of Vi...

School of Visual Arts, New York City. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a new website exclusively devoted to college graduation rates.  College Completion, funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is designed to provide comparative graduation results for institutions across the country.  Since I seldom find national rankings and listings that let me easily compare art schools, I was delighted to stumble across this site.

Organizationally, the site sorts schools as public, private, community colleges or for-profit institutions.  Data for individual institutions breaks out graduation rates by ethnicity and gender, identifies estimated spending per pupil, and also compares graduation rates, median SAT scores and student aid with a list of peer institutions.

The hiccups for those seeking information about art programs are two-fold.  First, if your intent is to include public schools in your comparison, you won’t be able to do it accurately here.  This site compares campuses as a whole.  The University of Michigan School of Art & Design is not broken out from general U of M statistics.  You’ll have to do that comparison manually, on your own.

The second hiccup is the site’s natural list of peer institutions.  It lists Monroe College and DeVry as top peers for The School of Visual Arts (SVA).  All three are private and for-profit institutions, but only SVA is known for its art program.  Also, the site doesn’t recognize all art schools; I couldn’t find Parsons.

Now comes the good news: the site does provide a custom field for comparing schools of your choice.  It took a little work to get my comparisons, but the process was pretty straight-forward.  I created a graph of six art schools in California.   Tools you can use - comparative chart - 6 california schools -lgThe result illustrates graduation rates for a 6-year and a 4-year period, the overall percentage of students who graduate, school spending per student, financial aid per student, and the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants.  A very useful tool if you’re intention is an art school in California.

Why

So why should you care about graduation rates?  The bottom line answer is finances – the college’s and yours.  High graduation rates speak to the support you’ll feel as a student – academically, financially and in your private life.  Plus, they have a direct relation to your economic success.  College graduates are more likely to obtain a higher paying job and have financial security.  That bodes well for the community as a whole and for the future of the institution, since alumni usually support their alma mater in one way or another.   Knowing that art students frequently take longer than the traditional four years to graduate, the four and six year rates provide added information for budgetary planning.

Where To Find The Next Generation Of Designers

Wallpaper Graduate Directory

If you haven’t caught it yet – it’s not too late.  Available December 13, 2012, Wallpaper* Magazine posted their most recent Graduate Directory online, highlighting top new design talent across the globe.  Besides ogling over the incredible creativity out there I was interested to see the schools these talented folks attended.  The results are impressive and a bit surprising.  The well-known standard-bearers are there along with those I didn’t expect to see with this crowd.  Clearly I need to broaden my horizon; I’m guessing others will too.

Initially launched in 1996, with the website added in 2004, Wallpaper* is based in the United Kingdom.  For many it’s a leading source of contemporary design, interiors, fashion, art and lifestyle activities around the world.  For those interested in a career in the world of design, it’s a knowledgeable and inspirational resource.

The Graduate Directory highlights “the next generation” of designers.  I suggest taking a close look.  The issue covers prospective up-and-comers in architecture, design, fashion, jewelry, packaging, photography, transport, travel and visual communication.  It showcases top talent about to enter the workforce in each field, and gives you a sneak peek into their talents.  The international list of schools provides a global view of program opportunities and includes a diverse group in the U.S.

A sampling of schools with noted students are listed below, with the area of design called out as well.

International schools

Royal College of Art, United Kingdom (design, transport)
ECAL, Switzerland (design, visual communication)
Guangzhou Academy Of Fine Arts, China (transport)
Moholy-Nagy University Of Art And Design, Hungary (packaging)
Beckmans College of Design, Sweden (design)
Royal Academy of Art, The Netherlands (photography)
Strelka Institute Of Media, Architecture And Design, Russia (architecture)
Institute for Fashion Design, Switzerland (fashion)
Shenkar College Of Engineering And Design, Israel (packaging)
Tama Art University, Japan (design)
ESAD Reims, France (design)
NBU, Bulgaria (packaging)

American schools

Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (architecture)
Cooper Union, NYC (architecture)
RISD, Providence, RI (design)
School of Visual Arts, NYC (packaging, visual communication)
Yale, New Haven, CT (photography)
Art Center College Of Design, Pasadena, CA (visual communication)
Parsons School of Design, NYC (design, photography)
Brigham Young University, Provo, UT (packaging)
Washington University, St. Louis, MO (architecture)

So, what does this say about US design students?  Well for one thing, we’re playing in the same league as the best in the world.  Our educational institutions are providing students with the skills and tools to successfully compete with leading contemporary designers across the globe.  Also of importance are the variety of outstanding design programs in the U.S. from which students can achieve their goals.