WHAT DO graphic designers do?  

It’s a huge, rapidly growing profession (because of the use of computers, digital animation and the internet) that is currently made up of dozens of specialized branches. In general, most graphic designers prepare typeset texts (words) and pictorial images (illustrations) for publication in one form or another, whether in print-based media (such as magazines, newspapers, and books) or in computer-based media (such as websites, CDs and DVDs, or animation). At the moment, whether print- or web-based, in general there tend to be at least three kinds of graphic designers: 

First, there are typographers, who work primarily with letterforms. They decide which typefaces (or fonts) will work best in any project. Typographic designers may also design typefaces.                                       

Second, there are other graphic designers who may not work with type at all, only with pictorial images. Known as illustrators, they create images of all kinds, for use as supplements to texts. In the past, most illustrations were produced by drawing and painting, but today an increasing number are made by methods that have been derived from photography, including collage, montage, animation, and the manipulation of images with software such as Photoshop.

Third (and perhaps this applies to most people in the graphic design profession), there are people whose main responsibility is to integrate texts with illustrations, and to arrive at effective arrangements, called layouts (whether printed pages or website pages on a screen). Known variously as art directors or layout designers, they may work in combination with typographers, and they often commission the services of photographers and other illustrators. Most of the time, experienced layout designers have a firm grasp of typography, and may even be adept at creating their own illustrations. And of course they also have to know about a wide assortment of other things, including color, paper, print production, postal regulations, and copyright law.
As a website designer, I am grateful to UNI for providing me with the various skills I needed in order to be competitive in the world of art and design.

Joel Laneville
BA 2003
web designer
Cedar Falls

The UNI graphic design program assisted me in finding employment after graduation. That work experience, combined with the proper knowledge instilled in me by the Department of Art, gave me the confidence to open my own design business.

Alex Mullan
BA 1997
design firm owner
San Diego CA
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FAQ about
graphic design department of art
university of northern iowa GRAPHIC DESIGN is the largest studio component in the Department of Art at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. UNI design students (called an Art Studio major with a Graphic Design emphasis) regularly participate in "real world" projects with clients, such as planning the interior of a new museum, producing posters for the theatre season or the International Studies program, illustrating short stories in the North American Review, or designing the uniform badges for a local paramedic unit.

WHAT IS graphic design?

The profession of graphic design is more or less the same field that used to be called "commercial art." It is also sometimes called advertising art, communications design, and publication design, but for the past forty years or so, most people in the profession have referred to themselves as graphic designers.

Don't confuse graphic design with "graphic arts," a traditional term for printmaking. Also, don't mistake it for "graphic communications," a term that is commonly used to refer to the technical training associated with commercial printing and printing management.  WHICH OF these are emphasized in the UNI Graphic Design Program?

All these areas are emphasized, from beginning to end. We give particular attention to typography and page layout for both print and web (because those are the areas of greatest demand), while we also place strong emphasis on illustration, digital animation, portfolio refinement, and the history of design.

We have graduates employed as graphic designers in all areas of the country—in Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, St. Louis, Dallas, New York, Boston, Chicago, New York, London, Los Angeles, Omaha and Milwaukee, to name a few—and throughout the world, in countries such as the People’s Republic of China, United Kingdom and Argentina. Some have established their own design and advertising firms. Others have gone on to graduate schools (at Harvard, Yale, School of Visual Arts, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota and others), and now teach design at colleges and universities.

A considerable number have either remained in Iowa or have moved back, and are now working for book and magazine publishers, newspapers, commercial printers, television stations, web design companies, or design and advertising firms throughout the state.

In addition, some of the country’s most talented, award-winning illustrators (e.g., Gary Kelley, Jim Buckels, Margaret Huber and John Patrick) are graduates of the UNI design program. In particular, the illustration branch of our program has benefited greatly from a 30-year affiliation with the country’s oldest literary journal, the North American Review, which is edited and published on the UNI campus. Since the early 1970s, works by our students and faculty have regularly been featured as the cover art or as illustrations for the stories that appear inside. During those years, the magazine has earned a number of design prizes, and has twice received the prestigious National Magazine Award.
© Emily Chace
© Tim Embretson
© Chelsey Steen
© Dixie Fleege
 WHERE COULD I find out more about graphic design as a profession and see examples of the work of leading graphic designers?

The easiest way to learn more about the profession is to look around in university libraries or at major bookstores, ones that carry a wide selection of books and magazines. Of particular value are such well-known design magazines as Print, Communication Arts, Graphis, How, I-D, Eye magazine and Step Into Design. In each issue, these magazines feature scores of full-color reproductions of the finest examples of current graphic design, including book covers, magazines, annual reports, logos, brochures, postage stamps, billboards, posters, CD covers, package designs, maps, games, calendars, signs, exhibits, charts and diagrams, websites, and so on and on. As for books on the subject, one of the best overviews of the design profession is the latest edition of Becoming a Graphic Designer: A Guide to Careers in Design by Steven Heller and Teresa Fernandes (New York: John Wiley).   

HOW MUCH does a graphic designer earn?  

It is not possible to state a reliable salary figure, because average salaries are constantly changing, and because they also vary from one area of the country to the next. Depending on location, experience and the level of any position, a graphic designer can earn a very good living. A better way to obtain current information about design-related salaries (keyed to specific locations) would be to go to a website that features a current design salary survey or to search the internet for comparable websites.

HOW CAN I find out more about the Graphic Design Program at UNI? 

Because our design program is within the Department of Art, any student who enrolls in it is classified as an Art Studio Major with an emphasis in Graphic Design. Be careful not to confuse our program (which often happens) with other non-art programs on campus with the word "graphic" in their titles. For example, our program should not be confused (as often happens) with the Graphic Communications major at UNI, which is a branch of Industrial Technology, in which students learn to work in the commercial printing industry. Program descriptions, degree requirements and course listings for all undergraduate art majors are described in detail in the current UNI Programs and Courses catalog, as well as on the university website. 

It would also be wise to look closely at the portions of the UNI website (under the College of Humanities and Fine Arts) that pertain to the Department of Art and to the Art Studio major. Beyond a doubt, the best way to learn about our program is to visit us. If you choose to do that, we can set up a personal interview with a graphic design faculty member. We can show you student work, and provide a personal tour of the department, including the Gallery of Art, our computer lab, and other studios. To schedule a weekday visit, you could contact the Office of Admissions at 319 273-2281, or you could call the Department of Art directly at 319 273-2077.

WHAT UNDERGRADUATE degrees in graphic design are offered at UNI? 

We offer two undergraduate programs for Art Studio majors with an emphasis in graphic design: the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree (120 credit hours) and the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree (130 credit hours). All art majors enter their freshman year as candidates for the BA degree. Only later, as they end their sophomore year, can students apply for admission to the BFA program, which requires a minimum grade point, evaluation of a portfolio by the entire art faculty, and completion of a senior show. Most graphic design students complete only the 4-year BA degree. When graphic design students do apply for the longer BFA program, they usually do so in order to build an exceptionally strong portfolio of work, in the hope of doing better when interviewing for graphic design positions or applying for graduate school. But those same goals can also be accomplished through the BA program.

DOES THIS mean that I am not required to submit a portfolio of my artwork when I enter as a freshman in the graphic design program at UNI?

Unlike some universities and art schools, anyone can enroll as a freshman art major at UNI, as long as they satisfy the university’s admissions requirements. We do this for good reason: Our experience is that our students come from a diversity of backgrounds, and mature at vastly different rates, so it’s not unusual for a freshman with an unimpressive portfolio (a person whom other design programs might initially reject) to eventually become one of our strongest students. Of course that doesn’t always happen, but in the end, as graduating seniors, the portfolios of our students have consistently stood up to those from more restrictive schools. (In admitting transfer students, we do sometimes ask to look at portfolios, to help us determine which of their art-related courses can qualify for transfer credits.)

IN TERMS of work quality, how do graphic design students at UNI compare to those at other schools?

From comparisons of student work at portfolio exhibits, we know that our students are among the finest in the state and probably in the region as well. We know this from the prizes they win; from the enthusiastic comments they receive while interviewing at design and advertising firms after graduation; and from their subsequent success as designers. Our program also stands up well nationally. For example, in 1999, when Print magazine (the prominent New York-based graphic design periodical) selected the top 20+ young graphic designers in the country, two of those students were graduates of the UNI graphic design program. We were the only school in the state whose students were selected. (In the previous year’s competition, four of the students selected were from Yale University.)

HOW MANY graphic design students are in the Art Department at UNI? And how many faculty are there?

At any one time, there are usually about 350 undergraduate art majors in the UNI Department of Art. About half of those tend to have an emphasis in graphic design, which is the largest studio area in the department. At the moment, there are 16 full-time faculty members in the Art Department, three of whom are on the Graphic Design faculty. In addition to its full-time members, we also commonly hire about 4 to 8 part-time art faculty each semester. Every faculty member in the UNI Art Department teaches undergraduate students, and nearly all of them teach at all levels, from beginning to advanced to graduate. In our department, while we do admit a small number of Master of Arts graduate students, we do not allow them to teach undergraduates.

HOW LARGE are the graphic design classes at UNI? Will I receive individual instruction?

At UNI, the largest art-related classes (which are beginning-level art history and art appreciation lecture courses) typically have about 40 or 50 students. Other art classes are smaller, and most studio courses have an enrollment of about 10 to 20 students. Graphic design studios, which are among the largest, have a typical enrollment of 20 students. Individual instruction is an important part of nearly all our courses, but particularly of studio courses.

ARE THERE intern or cooperative education positions in design?

We work very actively with the UNI Cooperative Education Program (which is part of Academic Advising and Career Services) in setting up design-related intern positions for our undergraduates. In these positions, students are often paid while also earning academic course credit for working part-time for local businesses or non-profit organizations. In recent years, for example, our students have held internships at local museums, art centers, public relations offices, advertising agencies, web design studios, and printing firms. In addition, we frequently bring clients into the classroom to present actual design problems. Graphic design students have produced banners and logos for the University Museum, posters for the Department of Art, exhibition brochures, posters and CD covers for the university jazz band, restaurant menus, insignia for medical emergency units, books for local publishers, layouts for magazine articles, and scores of other "real world" design assignments.

WHERE DO design graduates work after they leave UNI? 

Most of our graduates apply for design-related positions at either graphic design firms or at advertising agencies. They interview in part by presenting a portfolio of their finest works. Since 1990, when the current design faculty began to be hired, our graduates have found design-related positions all over the country. Among the firms where our graduates have worked or are currently working are ABC News (New York), Gray Advertising (New York), IPM Promotional Marketing (Chicago), University of Illinois (Chicago), Ignition (Columbus), Falk Design Group (St. Louis), Douglas/Gallagher (Houston), Motorola (Chicago, Boston and London), Tribe Design (Houston), Larsen Design (Minneapolis), Minneapolis College of Art and Design (Minneapolis), Target (Minneapolis), VO2 Media (Minneapolis), Discovery World Museum (Milwaukee), Hansen-Dodge (Milwaukee), Planet Design (Madison), University of Wisconsin (Eau Claire), Cooper Smith (Des Moines), Meredith Corporation (Des Moines), Groves Design (Des Moines), Mauck + Associates (Des Moines), Design Ranch (Iowa City), University of Iowa Hospitals (Iowa City), Iowa Hawkeyes (Iowa City), Get Smart Design (Dubuque), Engineering Animation (Ames), Parsons Technology (Cedar Rapids), Henry Russell Bruce (Cedar Rapids), Stamats Communications (Cedar Rapids), Starter Galt (Cedar Rapids), The Gazette (Cedar Rapids), Strong Productions (Cedar Rapids), WDG Communications (Cedar Rapids), Wartburg College (Waverly), Waterloo Courier (Waterloo), AdFax (Waterloo), Darning Pixels (Waterloo), Hellman Design Associates (Waterloo), John Deere (Waterloo), ME&V Advertising (Cedar Falls), Spinutech (Cedar Falls), Helix Interactive (Cedar Falls), T-8 (Cedar Falls) and Team Technologies (Cedar Falls).

WHEN STUDENTS near graduation and begin to search for employment, does the university offer placement assistance? 

UNI has a centralized Career Services office specifically for that purpose. It provides career advising; resume and cover letter development; job and internship postings; sponsors on-campus interviews and career fairs; teaches career-readiness skills; conducts mock interviews; and oversees the Cooperative Education and Internship Program. To learn more about these and other services, visit their website at <www.uni.edu/careerservices>.

In addition, the UNI graphic design faculty makes a great effort to assist students in the preparation of design-related resumes and portfolios, alert them to job openings, advise them on application strategies, write letters of recommendation, and set up contacts with alumni who are now employed as designers. Related to this, former graduates of the design program are regularly invited to return to the university to talk to current students about their work and life experiences.

WHAT SCHOLARSHIPS are available for graphic design students?

There is a link on the UNI website at <www.uni.edu/finaid> that offers information about scholarships and other aid that is available to incoming freshman, transfer students, and current UNI undergraduates. (Currrently, about 85% of all UNI students receive some financial aid.) Through various undergraduate scholarships, the Art Department alone provides tuition awards to about ten percent of all art majors. Each year, all other undergraduates (transfer students, freshmen, sophomores, and juniors) are invited to compete for departmental scholarships. A generous number of other awards are offered annually, including those funded by private endowments, cash prizes at the annual Art Student Exhibition, and a number of competitive scholarships from the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

DO I NEED to be proficient with computers and design-related software before enrolling at UNI? 

Not really, although it would certainly be to your advantage. If nothing else, it might enable you to concentrate more fully on less technical, art- and design-related matters while at the university. But many of our students (probably the majority) have only limited computer experience when they arrive as freshmen, and nearly all do rather well. It is widely acknowledged that, throughout the country, most graphic designers prefer Macintosh computers. Among the software most commonly used by designers are typography and page layout programs like QuarkXPress or Adobe InDesign; illustration software like Adobe Illustrator; photographic imaging software such as Photoshop; and website and animation software such as Dreamweaver and Flash. In our computer lab, every machine has access through our server to Quark, Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Flash (the major programs that we use), along with dozens of other, more specialized software programs.

DO I HAVE to be proficient in drawing in order to be a graphic designer?

That was certainly the case about twenty years ago. And it’s still true that someone who can draw well has certain advantages over someone who can’t, in part because it’s so valuable in visualizing solutions. But  all our graphic design courses are now computer-based, and it’s increasingly common for successful graphic designers to make only limited use of traditional drawing.

AS A HIGH school student, what skills should I generally emphasize in preparing to study graphic design at the university?

Our best design students are not only good at art or proficient with computers. They also tend to be interested in a wide variety of subjects, skills, and thinking strategies. As a high school student, you would be well-advised to develop such general skills as reading, writing, speaking, drawing, and problem-solving (working within limits). It would undoubtedly also be wise to spend a lot of time browsing in libraries, bookstores, and museums, trying to learn as much as possible about the histories of art, design (of all kinds), and architecture. 

IF I WERE to study graphic design at UNI, who would I be working with?

Nearly all UNI design courses are taught by three full-time members of the graphic design faculty: Roy R. Behrens (graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design), Philip Fass (University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana), and Soo Hostetler (Iowa State University). All three of these people are unusually devoted to teaching, and are widely known and respected for the amount and quality of their work as designers, lecturers and writers. The quality and commitment of its faculty has always been the greatest strength of the UNI Graphic Design Program. 

UNI Graphic Design Faculty

• Roy R. Behrens completed his undergraduate degree at UNI, and his graduate degree at the Rhode Island School of Design. As an artist, designer and writer, he has published several hundred articles and a number of design-related books, the most recent of which are False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002); Cook Book: Gertrude Stein, William Cook, and Le Corbusier (2005); and The Man Who Made Distorted Rooms: The Ingenuity of Adelbert Ames II (in press). more…

• Philip Fass earned his BFA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and an MFA from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. His areas of expertise include typography, publication design, bookbinding, and aspects of the study of plants, especially orchids. He is well-known for his numerous prizes (with repeated inclusion in design anthologies), and especially for his poster designs. He is a recent recipient of the Board of Regents Faculty Excellence Award. more…

• Soo Hostetler (born Soo-Kyung Chun in Korea) received her MFA in graphic design at Iowa State University, where, as a graduate student, she was invited to teach advanced typography. For several years, she worked professionally as a publication designer for a large magazine firm. She is also an experienced typeface designer, but is particularly expert in the areas of website and animation design. She is the newest addition to the UNI graphic design program, having joined the faculty in 2005. more…
© Nicholas Schrunk