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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Students find graphic design ‘fix’ on campus, despite program gap

Illustration by Sophia Zhang
Students look for ways to incorporate graphic design into their college experience outside of the classroom.

From club posters to on-campus publications, digital art and design can be found all around Northwestern’s campus. And online platforms like Canva have made graphic design accessible to the masses –– especially at NU.

McCormick sophomore Ryan Murphy says graphic design has a large presence with campus clubs due to accessibility and its variety of uses. Murphy works on design for Wavelength, NU’s music magazine.

“Graphic design is a great thing because it’s not just for art people,” Murphy said. “(Graphic-based) marketing on social media is huge for clubs right now.”

However, NU does not offer graphic design-centered classes or programs, and leaves students to seek out clubs and outside organizations to grow as digital artists.

One of these students is Weinberg senior Julie Elorza, who says she explores her interest in digital illustration by majoring in Art Theory and Practice and taking Radio, Television and Film classes. But, she also relies on clubs and organizations on campus to get her the practice she needs.

“I found a lot of people do their own different things to try to get their fix for graphic design,” Elorza said. “It’s a self-taught kind of thing.”

Despite a lack of a graphic design program at NU, clubs and organizations often use programs such as Canva for posters, social media graphics and projects. Graphic design and illustration are also a mainstay in many of NU’s on-campus publications, including North By Northwestern.

Medill senior Hope Cartwright is on the Creative Team for NBN, which uses programs like InDesign and Photoshop to design their quarterly magazine. She says she frequently sees the use of graphic design for clubs and publications on campus.

However, she also says she doesn’t mind the lack of graphic design classes on campus, as she believes it keeps clubs from becoming too selective.

“I don’t know if there would be NU students who would be into that,” Cartwright said. “I feel like NU students kind of have a competitive streak, especially when something becomes academic. So, I feel like it might get cut-throat.”

Despite graphic design’s frequent pairing with journalism, NU is one of the only schools in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of top 10 journalism schools, which includes NYU, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Texas Austin, without a graphic design program.

For students interested in pursuing graphic design while at NU, there are a few programs that develop skills that overlap with graphic design.

Art Theory and Practice offers art as both a major and minor to undergraduate students. While the department offers no digital art-centered classes, platforms such as Photoshop and InDesign are utilized in class projects. The department also offers Adobe access in its computer lab.

Elorza says that, despite her interest in graphic design, she rarely creates digital projects for her classes.

“The art major is very traditional,” Elorza said. “I do wish there was more. I don’t want to say there isn’t an openness to digital art and graphic design, but I do think it’s not seen as legitimate.”

The Media Arts and Game Design module is another graphic-design adjacent program at NU at the School of Communication. The module offers classes in computer animation and teaches 3D animation programs.

Communication senior Austin Lopez McDonald is pursuing the Media Arts and Game Design module. While he entered NU through McCormick, he hopes to enter a career in video game design. But, he says he has been disappointed by the class’s preparation for future jobs he is interested in.

“The way these classes are structured is that if you want to get into the industry, but don’t know how to do it, these classes aren’t going to teach you,” Lopez McDonald said.

To find his design outlet, Lopez McDonald joined the Illustrators and Animators Club and helps teach other students what he knows about graphic design.

Illustrators and Animators club is a student organization that focuses on teaching 2D and 3D animation. Lopez McDonald says he likes to help teach others what he has learned about the illustration industry through the club.

“I really wanted a space where I can talk about and critique design,” Lopez McDonald said. “And show people different design processes and give feedback that NU doesn’t.”

As the graphic design industry grows, many students are continuing to explore digital art skills regardless of their career goals, as Murphy says he finds it a more practical way to find a career in art.

“Before, there was talk about how parents would be worried about the starving artist stereotype,” Murphy said. “And nowadays, it’s not really true if you like graphic design because of how big it is.”

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