Connecticut Creatives | Art School Confidential
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Art School Confidential

We asked four young designers to tell us about their experiences at the four major undergraduate design programs in the state: Hartford Art School University of Hartford, University of Connecticut, Central Connecticut State University and SASD University of Bridgeport.

Christa Tubach
UCONN Magazine
Hartford Art School, Class of 2011

I had a wonderful experience at the Hartford Art School, and a big part of that was the professors. They get involved starting freshman year, and by the time you start taking major classes you already feel comfortable around them. The class sizes are small, and the programs are oriented around learning the programs and experimenting, leading up to the sophomore review. Once passing the review, you are on to the real deal. This is where the professors and students get to express their love for design. The professors all bring something different and great to the table.

Mark Snyder was always there for me, helping you get where you need to go; Deb Kline was a hardass who wants to see you succeed — in the best way; Natacha Poggio was very involved outside of the actual classroom, and Kevin Sepe will get you out of any jam — no matter what it is. And there are more who have been involved at different points in the years, they have all been a great inspiration.

The classes are very creative. People who come out of the HAS can think on their feet, come up with great ideas and truly perform under pressure. The classes are arranged so that you get an overview of basic technical skills from the professors, and while you are on your own during class time, they are there for you whenever you need help. It is a great learning experience. I know that I can always learn the newest Photoshop technique on my own, but learning how to be a design problem solver without the aid of professors and peers is much harder.

The professors are constantly hearing from past alum, colleges and friends of theirs, so whenever they find information about an internship, freelance position or job, we are the first to know. They not only announce it to the classes, making sure everyone hears first hand from them, but they also post it on a board for future interest. I knew I could always count on Mark and Deb to help me out. They know a lot of people, and do what they can to aid in any way.

The HAS focuses on creativity, and they lead us there in many ways. We have three-hour block classes in which we have time to research, sketch, brainstorm and start projects. With all of your peers around you, it is easy to bounce ideas off of each other. We also never leave the lab… It is a wonderful feeling when you come back to do work and you see more than half of your class working hard after hours to make the best project they can.

You spend hours with these people. They become your friends, and people who want to see you succeed. Our critiques are most likely the same as other art schools, but if you were to walk into a crit at the HAS, you would notice how much people are talking. We really know how to talk about our work, other peoples work, and help each other as much as possible. There is nothing like an 8:30-11:20 morning class followed by a 7:30-10:30pm class with the same people. We know how to work with a team, because we have been doing it for years.

Kathryn Keller
University of Connecticut, Class of 2010

While UConn is a huge public university, the Art Department is a small building in the corner of campus. The communication design program is an even smaller concentration in which only 16 students are admitted to each year.

Design Process, taught by Mark Zurolo, was the first course I took before I was admitted into the program. The course was my introduction to the attention to detail required in design. Everything was hand lettered and bound, no computers. While some of my classmates complained of the tedium, I loved every minute of it. Randall Hoyt taught me web design, which is probably the reason I’m employed today. I went from not even knowing what HTML was to using Javascript in a semester. Later, I was given the opportunity to join Design Center where I designed some of my best work. Each of my professors inspired me, pushed me, and encouraged me.

The most valuable experience I had at UConn was the opportunity to work at Design Center for three semesters. With direction from Edvin Yegir, my classmates and I worked with clients from on- and off-campus. We created campaigns, brochures, catalogs, identities and websites. I think the experience of managing projects, meeting with clients, and creating and collaborating is something that can only be taught in a studio environment. Essentially, Design Center is a design studio. The only difference from any other studio is students create the work.

I think the strength of UConn is its multi-disciplinary program. In addition to the sequence of design courses, I took classes in web design, motion design, and digital photography, as well as many other fine arts courses. Having that experience in so many disciplines of design gave me a bit of a competitive edge. I feel like designers are now expected to do everything — especially if you’re like me, working for a small company. It’s good to get your feet wet in a few different mediums, but I do think there is something to be said about specializing.

We never left the lab… It is a wonderful feeling when you come back to do work and you see more than half of your class working hard after hours to make the best project they can.

James Grendzinski
Sportika Export
Central Connecticut State University, Class of 2010

Before you can even get full acceptance to the Graphic/Information Design program at Central Connecticut State University, you have to take a class where you learn the basics of design. The catch is you are only allowed to use Microsoft Office programs as your “creative software” for your assignments, so it puts everyone on an even playing field as far as experience with software. It lets the student’s creative problem solving shine through.

We had a wide range of professors — in the sense of personality and specializations. From hard-asses who pushed your concepts as far as your patience would allow, to free spirits that let your creativity flow, to obsessive professors that taught you the meticulous details of print design. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to mold me into the designer I am now.

The design program at CCSU has to be one of best in New England. It’s a portfolio-driven curriculum, so when you walk out the doors, you have a nice collection of projects that are interview ready. In fact, in the final design class you take at CCSU, you prepare all the work you have made into a self-promotion piece – including a logo, website, resume, business cards and portfolio. You are also given the chance to revisit and revise old projects – to ensure that they match the skills you are leaving with instead of the ones you came in with.

I participated in Central Design – an award-winning, for-credit and student-operated full-service design studio which, under faculty supervision, provides design service to selected real world clients. Students are accepted into the program based on portfolio review. This experience introduced me to interfacing with real clients and helped me build an even more robust portfolio.

The department coordinator, Jim Bryant, would post jobs in the area he found on creative job board and often had alumni calling looking for recommendations of people to fill openings at their agencies. After I graduated I also got a couple leads from professors.

The program as a whole is very well rounded – requiring not only the core design and art classes but classes in marketing, advertising and communications. It goes deeper than just techniques and making a good-looking design – into concepts and strategy. Sue Vial was the department head at the time when I started, and I remember her telling us on the very first day, “We are not here to teach you how to be designers, we are teaching you what you need to be art directors and beyond.”

Anna Gitelman
Tommy Hilfiger
SASD, UB, Class of 2011

The program and professors at Shintaro Akatsu School of Design were both top quality, in my opinion. We were taught a variety of things by talented professors who both worked in the real world and helped us adjust from college life to post-grad life. Classes varied from illustration, to type design, to drawing, web-design, motion graphics…the list goes on, really.

I think the most important classes were the studios. Starting from sophomore year, we were all required to take a studio class every semester. In these classes, we really learned how to become designers. We were lucky to be taught by professionals like Brian Miller, Gary Munch, and Emily Larned.

Each professor taught us something different. Brian really helped us to understand what makes something an amazing graphic design piece. No one knows as much as Gary does about type design, and Emily focused a lot on client relations, as well how to properly brainstorm your ideas and understand what it is the client needs. I was really lucky to be able to work with all these people.

A class that really helped was Design Service. They started offering it when I was a junior, and it’s a good thing they did! Design Service is a student-run design team under the instruction of Emily Larned. So what happened here was basically, we’d have a client meeting, take notes, ask questions and whatnot. Then once they left, we’d have a meeting of our own, brainstorm, and start working on the project. It was really quite helpful and pretty much as real world as you can get while still enrolled in school.

Internships were always available. We have a good connection with Fairfield University, and every semester Gary Munch would send one of us talented people over there to help in the Marketing and Communications Department. I did it one summer, and it was really a good experience. It was great to work in the department and learn how to work as a team…plus the environment was awesome.

Emily was the big job e-mailer. As soon as she’d hear of a job she’d either post it on her blog, or send us an e-mail.

We were also encouraged to join AIGA, TDC, go to events, and also to submit our artwork to competitions. Brian was really good at enforcing this. At the end of his studio, he sends our work into competitions. I was one of the students to win my sophomore year. I got awarded the Gold Pencil Award from the Advertising Club of Connecticut. It’s a really great way to get your name out there…and you get a big wooden pencil.

The variety of classes offered is amazing. I think what our school has that distinguishes us from other schools is our strong emphasis on typography. It’s always great to know how to make some awesome effects in Photoshop, but what we learned about type from Gary is really something else. And I see how that’s coming in handy now. When I’m designing at work, half the time it’s something computerized, but nothing compares to a clean beautiful typographic design. We really learned how to appreciate it and use it correctly.

Something else that I think makes us special is our drawing program. I’ve always loved drawing and painting, but Rick McCollum really pushed us to the next level and in my opinion, every design should start from a drawing, or at least a sketch. Rick’s an amazing artist, and he helped me to become a better one.