Design Department helps students find success

Western Washington University’s recent design graduates are finding impressive job placements since graduation day last June with job and internship offers from companies like Starbucks, HUGE, Facebook, Ten Gun, Hornall Anderson, and more, said Brittany Schade, a WWU assistant professor of interactive design.

“The design department is amazing,” Schade said. “We do a lot for our students in terms of professional preparation.”

One thing the department does that leads to a high level of graduate job placement is placing students who are accepted in the bachelor of fine arts program in internship positions at large companies and firms in such places as Bellingham, Seattle or San Francisco the summer before their final year of college, Schade said.

“The BFA in design used to be a year of self-initiated independent studies courses, instead of a full-fledged department supported and designed program,” said Anna Gray, a former bachelor of fine arts design student.

In the design department, some students complete a three-year bachelor of arts degree in design, and a few design students enter into the competitive four-year BFA program.

“There were quite a few people who applied [to the BFA program,] and only 11 of us got in,” said Anelese Webster, a recent graduate of the program.

To be accepted into the design major, students must submit a portfolio of their design work and be approved by design department faculty. In order to be accepted into the BFA program their final year, students submit another portfolio to the faculty to be approved and fewer students are accepted, Webster said.

“We are really the only department that offers that to our students,” Schade said. “That’s one way that we are able to have such a high level of graduate placement is because we start placing [students] ourselves the summer before they complete their BFA year.”

One of the many successful design department graduates, Webster found a job quickly after graduation and credits a lot of her success to the BFA program.

Webster went to New York City for an annual international design portfolio competition called Portfolio Night through the Art Director’s Club in May 2014.

According to ADC’s website, “Portfolio Night is the world’s largest portfolio review for young creatives looking to break into the advertising industry.”

Webster saw that HUGE, a large graphic design agency in New York City, was hosting this year’s Portfolio Night, and she had been interested in working for HUGE ever since she was accepted to the design program at Western.

HUGE, a design firm with locations around the United States, London, Brazil, and Singapore, works with major clients like Google, TED, and Gucci.

“I convinced my parents to fly me out [to New York] so I could go to the portfolio night, but more specifically so I could talk with the people from HUGE’s agency and also to get constructive feedback on my portfolio,” Webster said.

By the end of Portfolio Night, Webster received more from HUGE than just constructive feedback. She won a Portfolio Night All-Star Award, and HUGE offered her a job.

“I can honestly say that every single teacher that I had in the B.F.A. program was like a mentor to me,” Webster said. “If it wasn’t for them putting me in connection with the right people and the right names, I don’t know if any of this would have happened. But, you definitely have to push yourself, too.”

Webster accepted an associate visual designer position at HUGE and moved to New York City one week after graduation.

“I’m surrounded by so many creative people, and people who are really pushing me,” Webster said. “I’m learning a lot from them too and just working at a big agency in general is pretty rewarding.”

Webster still remains connected to the design department at Western, specifically with one of her main teachers throughout her academic career, Kent Smith.

Anna Gray, another recent graduate of the BFA design program, credits her post-graduation success to the program and the network it provided her through professors and fellow classmates.

She mentions the design department faculty and more specifically Professor Kent Smith’s support in networking and career information.

“I genuinely enjoyed, cared for, and learned a tremendous amount from each of my professors in the design program,” Gray said. “However, you could say Kent Smith is the godfather of the design department. He’s been in the business for years as a working designer and a teacher. Kent knows everybody who knows someone, who worked somewhere of significance, who could get you some kind of information or access to the design world.”

As a member of the BFA program, students have an advantage when it comes to job placements, Gray said.

“Due to the reputation we were gaining as a class and as a program, there were a few important people who already had their radar on the Western Design BFA students for potential employment,” Gray said. “In my case, some higher ups at Starbucks Global Creative team had seen my portfolio site through the Western Design BFA webpage. They invited me in for an interview about a month after I graduated.”

Gray was hired as a contractor and designer on Starbucks Global Creative team, where she is working on packaging and promotional materials for Starbuck’s brands like Tazo and Teavana.

“Out of the 11 [students] that made it into the BFA, the vast majority were employed before even walking for graduation,” Gray said. “And the rest of us, myself included, slowly but surely trickled into the working world.”

The BFA program is not the only new introduction to the design department. A new course called Principles of Interaction Design, developed by Schade, was offered this past summer quarter. The course was unique to the design department, because it allowed students from other majors to register for the class.

Interaction design is designing experiences or systems for people to interact with technology, including anything from mobile application design to user experience, Schade said.

The course is multi-disciplinary and students worked on design projects together similar to how a tech start-up company would, Schade said.

“Students worked in blended teams and they all brought in their strengths from their own majors to produce digital products,” Schade said. “The class itself was really just an overview into interaction design.”

Western junior Nicole Rogers, a student in the Principles of Interaction Design class last summer, found the interactive design experience beneficial.

“It was hard to work with people that are not in the design major, but that’s definitely how it’s going to be in the real world working with people from a whole bunch of different industries all trying to create one interactive thing,” Rogers said.

Students from majors including design, industrial design, business, and computer science registered for the course.

“I felt that almost every single discipline at Western can be a part of interaction design,” Schade said. “It’s not just for designers or engineers, it’s for everybody and everyone can bring something to the table.”

As the design department enters the second year of the BFA program, design department faculty hopes the Principles of Interaction Design class could eventually be included in the regular curriculum, Schade said.

“We are already seeing great success,” Schade said. “Our [BFA] interns this summer had a great time and some of the companies already said we would be really interested in hiring them.”