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Announcements Cary Estes May 16, 2024

Douglas Barrett, MFA, leading a class.Graphic and digital design are coming into even greater focus at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences.

The Department of Art and Art History has long included a wide variety of graphic and digital design courses as part of an “area of focus” to go along with more traditional courses such as painting, printmaking, sculpture, and photography. But in August 2024, the department will launch a new concentration specifically in graphic and digital design, giving students expanded opportunities for professional development as they pursue a B.A. degree with a specialty that they can showcase.

“Before, it was a much more general art degree,” said Douglas Barrett, MFA, associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History. “This will allow students who want to be super-focused on graphic and digital design to have fewer fine art classes and take more courses where they’re learning about things like packaging, branding, typesetting, animation, and sound and video editing.”

A brochure design by BFA student Rachel Doyle for her design research project that explores the lure of placing oneself in dangerous situations in the context of outdoor exploration.In addition, Barrett says he wants the courses to focus on the intricacies of why this work is being formulated, rather than simply how to do it.

“We are interested in creating idea people,” said Barrett. “Certainly, we’re going to teach people how to use programs like Photoshop and Illustrator and InDesign. But just knowing those programs does not make a graphic designer. We want our students to leave with a much more polished aesthetic.”

“As artificial intelligence comes into play and more things can be done with the press of one button, the thing that is going to differentiate you is being able to come up with ideas and concepts. Taking the needs of a client and turning it into a plan. The conceptual skills of the person doing the design are increasingly more important as everything is becoming more automated.”

Ryan Meyer, MFA, has witnessed that in the decade since he received his BFA from UAB in 2014. Now, as Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Graphic Design within the Department of Art and Art History, he wants current students to learn about the latest technologies while also expanding their innovative capabilities.

“This is going to be a great program for allowing students to exercise their creative muscles,” said Meyer. “They’re going to have graphic design skills and these other digital media skills as well, and that’s going to set them apart in this industry. They’ll get to hone in on these specific creative skills, which will lead to a better portfolio they can take straight into the workforce.”

Design student Miranda Hart recreated the romance of old-fashioned luggage labels using local Alabama cities and natural attractions as inspiration.Even before graphic and digital design became a concentration, UAB students have had the opportunity to utilize these skills on real-world projects though the student-run BLOOM Studio, a 400-level course based on UAB’s Service-Learning Initiative. Barrett estimates that BLOOM students have worked with more than 40 area non-profits over the past 10 years, including designing logos and license plates for such nature organizations as the Cahaba River Society, the Audubon Society, and the Alabama Wildlife Center.

Samantha Richardson, a 2017 UAB graduate, said working on those types of projects made her realize she has a passion for using graphic design to help with social causes. While at UAB, she worked for a year—with Barrett as her mentor—on a branding project involving the historic Fountain Heights community, which includes the Birmingham Civil Rights District. The project won two American Advertising Awards (ADDYs) and a Mosaic Award from the American Advertising Federation.

“That project gave me the exposure that led to me getting job opportunities and my first clients. It really jumpstarted my career,” said Richardson, who continues to freelance through her samrich.co website. “All the work that I did as a student at UAB has really built toward what I am able to do now as a professional.”

It was a similar story for 2018 UAB graduate Tyra Robinson. She says she started off simply taking some art courses but soon gravitated toward graphic and digital design and became intrigued with using the medium for social impact work. Today, these include her Unforgotten series (focusing on victims of police brutality) and her Good People Vote organization, dedicated to voter education.

Working in small groups, BLOOM students explored a mid-century modern aesthetic in creating a series of nested brochures to promote different Cahaba River Society programs.“All the graphic design classes I took at UAB definitely helped pave the way for me to be versatile,” said Robinson. “The biggest thing I learned at UAB is how to think through different challenging situations when it comes to design. Then once you understand those foundational core elements that you get from the classes, it helps you have that footing where you can explore different areas.”

“There are so many possibilities you can choose from within graphic design. You don’t have to limit yourself to one medium. Because no matter what way you’re doing something, it’s art. It’s always art.”

Visit the Department of Art and Art History website to learn more about the new Graphic and Digital Design Technologies concentration.



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