Design and Business: Together At Last

Take note: Ringling College of Art and Design offers a Bachelor of Arts in the Business of Art & Design.  In fact, they’re currently the only art and design college with a combined art and business program for undergraduates.

In 2008 college president Dr. Larry Thompson acted on the need to combine business and art under one roof. He brought Wanda Chaves to campus with the simple goal to “help students understand the business side of creative industries.” Since then the college’s unique program has taught students the immeasurable value gained from integrating art and business. Through courses, companies eagerly wanting to be a part of the program, and the resulting graduates employed in creative positions, there is proof that Thompson and Chaves have hit onto something successful. The school is leading the way, by building an environment where students acquire business skills in a creative context.

logoInnovative giants Hasbro, Microsoft Game Studio, Disney Imagineering, and Cirque du Soleil have each dedicated a year to give Ringling students real-life challenges and experiences that require combining their knowledge of the creative world with the real world of business. This coming fall Sesame Street and the Jim Henson Studio will take their turn.

Coursework is competitive with that at other business schools, and all faculty members are PhDs who have taught in other business programs. Yet the curriculum is balanced. It begins with one business class the first semester and builds to a total of 18 throughout the program, combined with studio and liberal arts classes. Accounting principles, managerial statistics, and marketing coexist with art history, drawing, math, and writing for designers. Specific business classes include Introduction to the Business of Fine Art, Leadership in Creative Environments, and Organizational and Management of Art and Design Businesses, providing students with the ability to explore a variety of career options.

As Wanda explained it to me, “students team up on projects across disciplines;” interior designers with animators, graphic designers and illustrators. One culminating experience is the Senior International Management class. When a Disney Imagineer came to campus students were challenged to design a resort or a mixed use retail and entertainment space. Design and business decisions affected every aspect of their projects. What role does location play in the experience? How do tourism and different cultural values affect the layout of a resort? How does design impact the experience? How do you successfully set up a business and manage people internationally? Students are taught to think strategically and incorporate newly gained business knowledge into the creative process.

The implications of this type of education are almost endless; internships and jobs follow graduation. But what I find most interesting are the students who now have the creativity and understanding of art and design, alongside the business skills and confidence to create their own opportunities. Whether working independently, for a museum, or as a creative asset in a large company these students have a more comprehensive – and complex – set of tools to bring along on their career paths.

Wanda Chaves said it best, ““Opportunities for our students are wide open.”  I hope students and other schools are taking note.

Art and Business at a Liberal Arts College

smart car 2

Smart Car

It’s difficult to find a school that combines the study of art and business for you.  It can be done, but requires time and dedication. I’ve been researching art programs at both large and small colleges across the country for a while now, and am still surprised to find how few opportunities exist for art students who want to enhance their studies with business courses.  As I referenced in an earlier post, we live in the age of iPhones, Smart Cars and ergonomic seating; the intrinsic value of combining design and business seems like it should be obvious. If you’re looking to merge the two in college, there are two paths to choose from; an art school or liberal arts institution.

The decision to attend a private liberal arts college or state university might seem like the easier road to combining art and business, but buyer beware. General studies institutions are typically larger, and offer a wider variety of introductory and even advanced business classes to integrate into your schedule. However – and this is important – attending a larger school doesn’t always solve the problem.  Here’s why. Even though a university offers business courses, that doesn’t mean they’ll be easily accessible to you. When signing up for classes, wherever you attend college, priority is always given to upperclassmen and to those majoring in that subject area, i.e. students who need the course to graduate. Some schools will open business classes to students who are non-business majors, but due to popularity the classes often fill up fast and you’ll have limited time to take them. The take away: even though a university may offer more business classes, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get into the ones you want. Unfortunately, that’s the hard truth.

Don’t get me wrong, studying art at a liberal arts institution is an excellent place to gain an arts education. That’s where I did it! Yet, unless you’re seriously considering double majoring, I wouldn’t choose one based on their business listings alone.

So, how do you overcome being locked out of those classes you want to take? Do your homework now. Talk with the admissions representatives and ask the difficult questions; “how realistic is it that I can seriously integrate business courses with my art degree?” And “what classes will be open to me?” Then, once enrolled, work with your college advisor to ensure you’ll get the classes you want. There are no guarantees, but doing your homework before you’ve committed to a school will give you a clearer picture of the environment before classes even begin.

Art schools are a different story all together. They don’t offer a lot of business courses. Some list general marketing and business overview classes while others provide professional practice classes specific to each major. Once again, each school is different, so you’ll need to do some digging to find out how each one is set up.

I’ve found some winning offerings at four art schools across the country; CCAD, OTIS, SCAD and Ringling. I don’t want my posts to go on too long, so I’ll give you the details of what makes them stand out over the next two weeks.

The Business of Art & Design

Embody Chair by Herman Miller

Embody Chair by Herman Miller

I have a pet peeve.

When I was in college I was interested in both the arts and business.  Given the opportunity to study one or the other I decided to opt for the arts, and so earned a degree in textile design.  It was the right choice for me at the time. I love textiles and all they represent; their history, their tactileness, the processes used to create them, and their cultural implications. However, as much as I love textiles, I also love marketing, and in hindsight I wish that I had included more business courses in the mix. Even though I attended a large liberal arts university, (Go Dawgs!) combining courses – let alone degrees – from such diverse fields mostly wasn’t done then.

art and business need each otherStudents today have more opportunities to mix things up a bit – and I think they should. Through my years of work experience one of the important things I’ve learned is that art and business need each other. Artists need business to promote, sell and financially succeed at their craft.  Businesses need art to graphically depict their messages; to tell their stories.

How does this affect you? Well, if you’re looking to create a career that is directly related to your artistic passions then business or professional courses will help you build that successful path.  I recommend that you take a serious look at the business and professional options available to you as you consider which college to attend.  If for no other reason, do it so you can tell mom and dad you’re planning not to become a starving artist.  (wink, wink)

Let’s consider some details.  Obtaining a degree in a fine art is different than getting one in an applied art.  What does that even mean? Applied arts are mostly those with a direct connection to a specific function.  Think fashion design and advertising.  Stereotypically speaking, fine art is mainly created for its pure beauty.  Think painting and illustration. Does that mean if you study an applied art you’ll have an easier time finding a job and building a career?  Probably yes.  Whichever path you choose, business and professional courses should boost your understanding of how art and business affect, and even rely on each other, which in the long run could help you land a coveted job.

It’s been years since I studied my craft in college, and I have to say I’m still frustrated with the limited number of business courses available for art students wanting to augment their studies.  So, how do you research what business and professional courses are available at varying colleges and universities?  Unfortunately there is no one answer to that question.  But I’ve done some research into the subject, and will share what I’ve learned next week.

The Embody Chair is copyrighted by the Herman Miller Company.

Function, Meet Design

Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman's concept for an everyday city bike of the future

Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman’s concept for an everyday city bike of the future

I’ve been intrigued by Industrial Design for a long time.  In college, the ID students worked directly below those of us in the textile studio, so I caught numerous peeks into their world.  Very cool: applying your passion for design to everyday products – whether they’re kitchen gadgets, office supplies or automobiles – and making life a bit better in the process.  This is not just art for art’s sake; it’s logical, practical, tangible, and fun!  Integrating art into the creation of a product.

Today, the terms industrial design and product design are often used interchangeably.  Either way, study of the subject provides the opportunity to integrate mechanical and technological interests with art and design to solve real-world problems.

Top notch industrial and product design programs exist at many colleges across the country including Carnegie Melon University, Cleveland Institute of Art, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and College for Creative Studies.  Each focuses on teaching critical thinking skills and learning to solve complex problems through collaboration and the application of interdisciplinary methodologies.   Cultural and economic impacts are included as well, as are the study of ergonomics, marketing and manufacturing.  Through lectures and hands-on projects you’ll learn how things are built, and incorporate functional design into the building process.

You won’t find yourself lacking for career options if ID is in your future. Stetson Hats, Slinky, or Weber Grills are one route, all designed and made in the United States. They’re also all highlighted in the April 22nd cover story article of Time magazine, which claims “Made in the USA is making a comeback.”  The impact that has on product and industrial designers is exponential, growing the marketplace for intelligent, well-designed products.  For other career routes consider furniture design, medical equipment design, shoe design, materials and color consulting, or industrial design education.

A multitude of resources exist for burgeoning and current ID’ers.  My favorite is Core77.  Spend some time there, then pick a school and you may be on your way to creating or improving some cool gadgets for mankind.

And by the way, thanks!

 

I hope that after reading my blog you’ll leave a comment by letting me know what you’re interested in, and what programs you’ve found.

Photo credit: Industrialdesignserved.com