Color, creativity characterize SMC graphic design projects

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, April 6, 2022

DOWAGIAC — Outside Southwestern Michigan College’s Mac lab on the Dale A. Lyons Building’s second floor, it’s easy to miss the opportunity to “stop and smell the roses,” unless you imagine aromas wafting from a burger and brew from Paddy’s Irish Pub Beef and Beer Fundraiser – or pause to ponder travel possibilities, from Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park to Taipei or even a fanciful “Fairy Tale’s Holy Land, Tenrou Island, Magnolia.” 

SMC graphic design students created nine-block infographics as part of a project for Graphic Design II, led by Assistant Professor Sam Walker. Three of SMC’s seven graphic design classes are represented.

There’s a lot to digest in the colorful display case, especially if you read research that went into illustrating a Big Mac’s anatomy, British Fashion in the 19th Century, Rich Froning Jr.’s Crossfit Games History, Dragons Around the World and Meaning of Disney Princess Names.

There’s fine print in the form of a disclaimer identifying it as student work for academic purposes so as not to violate any copyrights.

Walker, an SMC alumnus, studied under Bill Rothwell and holds a master’s degree from Saginaw Valley State University. “First year is Intro to Visual Art and Design. Combining text with images is a big leap. Posters can illustrate a quote, a destination or a made-up event with information on when it happens and how to contact them.”

“There are all kinds of infographics,” Walker said. “I give students options – how-to assembly, statistical information, geographical-based with maps, and timelines, like Big Mac prices at various times.” 

The triple-decker sandwich currently costs the most in Switzerland, at $6.82.

“I created this project for second-years last year based on serving on graphic-design advisory boards for area high schools,” said Walker, who returned to SMC in 2019 after teaching in Texas and Louisville, Ky. “Businesses were mentioning they’d like to see data visualization and how students pair information with graphics in their portfolios.”

According to Walker, there are 35-40 students taking graphic design classes, but Art 100 is an elective for other majors. Twenty to 25 are majors. In the last semester of their second year, they make portfolios for their web sites, including hand sketches.

“The demand remains constant,” Walker said. “There are about 250,000 jobs across the country, which is expected to grow about 3 percent in the next 10 years, which doesn’t sound great, but ‘graphic designer’ is an entry-level position that can launch you into art direction, advertising management or animation. It’s like an umbrella over all of digital design, expected to grow 13 percent. If you lump them all together, it’s more like 500,000 positions.”

In typography class, Walker said, students design a font. They do every single shape of every single letter by hand. The last part of the assignment is making this type specimen sheet showing the range of a particular typeface in use on William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 87.”

“It’s one of his shorter (sonnets),” Walker said. “But involves enough lettering and punctuation that it provides a good example of what their text looks like applied to everyday use.”

Graphic designers create graphics and design page layouts for print, animation and digital uses. They work for ad agencies, corporations or as freelancers. Since graphic design is needed in most industries, designers can usually find employment in an area of interest, from health care or higher education to manufacturing and the media.

Graphic design goes beyond art. While it requires understanding of such basics as color theory, perspective and hierarchy, it is also closely related to the ever-evolving world of communication, technology and design applications.

SMC offers two graphic design degrees, an associate in arts for those continuing to a bachelor’s and an associate in applied science to immediately enter the workforce after developing web design skills and creating your own site, a small business management course to equip future freelancers and a resume-strengthening internship.