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WAKE  TECHNICAL COMMUNITY COLLEGE

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IS A CAREER IN WEB & UX DESIGN OR GRAPHIC DESIGN RIGHT FOR YOU?

Julie Evans is an Associate Professor of Web Technologies at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh. Julie has spoken at several national and regional higher ed teaching and learning conferences. She is an Excellence in Teaching Award recipient and has developed courses recognized by Blackboard as being exemplary. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts–Design Degree from the UNC-Greensboro, and an Associate Degree in Advertising & Graphic Design from Guilford Technical Community College. She has also earned the Google UX Design certification.

Daniel Bent is a Junior Graphic Designer in Wake Tech’s Communications & Marketing Department, where he designs print and digital marketing materials for the college, and works on marketing campaigns. Daniel also founded his own freelance design business, Daniel Bent Design. Daniel grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. He enrolled in Wake Tech’s Advertising & Graphic Design degree program in August 2019 and graduated with an Associate in Applied Science degree in May 2022. He has also served as vice president and president of Wake Tech’s Graphic Designers Association club.

Julie,  I am so thrilled to be able to be able to talk to you today. I was most impressed by what I was able to learn at Wake Tech and now I have my own business and am employed by Wake Tech as well!  I don’t think that I could want anything more. 

 

I think that readers might want to know what kinds of skills and interests someone thinking of pursuing a career in curriculums like Graphic Design and Web & UX Design should have today,  Can we start there?

Daniel,  I am really grateful for the opportunity to share an overview of Wake Tech’s Graphic Design and Web & UX Design programs with everyone.

Someone thinking of pursuing a career in graphic or web design should have a variety of skills and interests to be successful in these fields.  Overall, a successful career in design requires a combination of technical, creative, and communication skills, as well as an interest in keeping up to date with industry trends and developments.

Creativity is certainly important as graphic designers and web designers must have a strong creative flair to produce original, visually appealing designs.  They should also have strong technical skills in software programs such as Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc.), as well as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Julie, these are so very important, so can you mention a few more for us?

Attention to detail is also important as they must have a sharp eye for detail and be able to identify and correct errors in their designs.  And of course good communication skills are necessary  to understand client requirements, convey their ideas to others, and collaborate effectively with team members.

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There are several other skills and traits we look for like time management, interest in trends, user experience (UX) design, marketing and branding, and problem solving.

 

For perspective students and their parents who wish to learn more, I would suggest arranging a meeting with one of the college’s academic advisors.

What about parents?  What should they look for in a child that might incline them to think that one of these two fields may (or may not be) right be right for them?

Creative talent is important.  If your child shows a talent and passion for art, drawing, and design, they may have the  potential to excel in these fields.   Technical skills are also important -  is your child interested in computers and technology? Do they enjoy experimenting with software and programs? Having strong technical skills is essential for a career in design.

While there are several other things that come to mind, I would say ask if your child enjoys staying current with the latest trends in digital design and technology, this interest can be a good indicator that they would thrive in a field that requires continuous learning and adaptation.

As a parent, there are several traits and interests you can observe in your child that may indicate whether a career in design may be a good fit for them.

For students that have entered one of these curriculums at Wake Tech, what do you think would make them successful in their studies and later careers?

Effective time management is critical to meet project deadlines and balance multiple projects. Students should be able to prioritize their work and manage time wisely.  Willingness to learn is important - graphics and web design require continuous learning to stay current with industry trends and technological advancements. Students should have a willingness to learn and adapt to new tools and techniques.

And after these, creativity comes up again - The ability to think creatively and come up with innovative designs is a vital trait for success design. Many iterations are expected before a product is finished. 

 

One thing I did not mention before, would be openness to feedback - being open to feedback and constructive criticism is essential to improve their work and learn from their mistakes.

Good points, Julie. We might tend to think that students in these fields work alone and that interfacing with others
is not very important.  I know from my own experiences that is not always the case.

Actually, communication skills are essential Strong written, oral, and visual communication skills are necessary to work effectively with clients, team members, and other stakeholders. Students should be able to convey their ideas clearly and listen to feedback.
 

And working collaboratively with others is essential in many design projects. Students should be able to work well in a team and contribute to group discussions. Both disciplines can expect to function on a team as well as independently.

Thank you, and let’s next discuss some of the course work in these programs.  Can we start with Web & UX      Design at a high level?

Daniel, at a high level, one of things our students appreciate the most is our emphasis on empathy with users. Students learn how to conduct research, build wireframes and prototypes, and test designs to ensure that they meet the needs of users.

Of course, their learning about responsive design and the principles of web design is also very important as this helps them understand how to create professional, high-quality websites that look great on any device.

And in more detail?

Students will work with a variety of tools: HTML5/CSS3, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Figma, WordPress, JavaScript, and Git/GitHub.  While most of us may not have heard of these tools, they provide essential skills for those who might desire a career in this field and become proficient in web design and user experience.

Julie, how difficult is it for you and the college to keep abreast of important advances in web and graphic design and integrate these into your courses?

Great question! In our industry, it’s essential that faculty stay current with trends and technologies. Wake Tech provides many opportunities for professional learning in-house. Faculty and students also have access to LinkedIn Learning courses to stay current with the latest software. Faculty attend industry events and conferences (Raleigh hosts many great tech conferences.)

We also benefit from guidance provided by our program Advisory Boards. Insights from industry help us develop coursework that emphasize skill sets that local employer’s demand.

I’d be remiss not to mention that Artificial intelligence (AI) is touching nearly everything we do in web and design. The near future of web and graphic design will look very different than it did less than one year ago.

The college is working hard to stay up to date with new technology. Faculty are in constant discussions about how to pivot, keep current, and train on the new tools. Courses are being updated to integrate AI technologies for our students.

What about marketing? Whether one goes into business for oneself or goes to work for another, I have learned that that getting the word out about the graduate’s business or that of their employer might be an important part of what they must do.

Yes, marketing and self-promotion is very important – whether you are in business for yourself or working for an employer. Our courses cover internet marketing, SEO/SEM, web analytics, and social media marketing to teach students how to effectively promote and market themselves, their clients, and/or their employers

What about career opportunities?  What are some of the jobs or positions one might have after obtaining their degree?

A degree in Web & UX Design opens a wide range of career opportunities including web designer, UX designer, user experience specialist, front-end developer, web analyst, SEO analyst, web content specialist, web support specialist, social/digital media marketing specialist and freelance web designer

There are many others as well, but these are some of them.

I know that the college also offers a program in Graphic Design, and I imagine that many of the things we have already touched on may apply here as well. What kinds of courses might a student be prepared to encounter here?

In our Graphic Design degree program, students take courses in graphic design, drawing, typography, and photography which help them develop their artistic skills and teach them the basics of composition, color theory, and visual communication.

Courses in Adobe software applications, graphic design, social media, video editing, web design/development, and UX design build upon a foundation of design principles. These courses are about understanding how to design for the digital space and how to make sure that designs are user-friendly.

Courses that more directly prepare students for employment include Client-Media Relations and Portfolio Design, where students produce a personal brand and a print-ready and online portfolio to promote their talent and skills. Students work with Career Services to review their resumes and participate in mock interviews.
 

Visit the Advertising & Graphic Design webpage for further details:

I know this is a very large question, but can you please pick out just one course in Graphic Design and tell us about it in some detail so we can get a better idea of the depth of one of these courses?

GRD-285 Client-Media Relations might be a good one.  It introduces media pricing, scheduling, and business ethics. Emphasis is placed on communication with clients and determination of clients' design, advertising, branding, or marketing needs. Upon completion, students should be able to use professional communication skills to effectively orchestrate client/media relationships.

 

Additional topics include evaluation of career choices, resources, job search techniques and for students to consider an appropriate personal direction of career specialization.

Can you do the same for a course in Web & UX Design?

Yes, and that would be WEB-287 Web E-Portfolio.

This course covers the creation and organization of a web-based e-portfolio that includes a resume, references, and comprehensive academic and work samples. Emphasis is placed on creating an e-portfolio with solid design and demonstrable content, the production of a resume and self-promotional materials, and interview techniques. Upon completion, students should be able to present their own domain with included professional e-portfolio elements of resume, sample work, and related self-promotional materials.

Julie, this is really good information. We have not yet talked about online courses, and I imagine there have been some adjustments in the past due in large part to pandemic.  But in a post-pandemic world, what is the breakdown between online and seated courses for both of these curriculums?

Online students are a significant portion of Wake Tech's student population, and we offer more online classes than any other community college in NC. The college's EPIC (eLearning Preparedness Initiative across the College) initiative aligns with Wake Tech's mission of improving and enriching lives through education. It aims to increase student success in online courses by helping both students and faculty become better prepared for the unique experience of online learning.

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Advertising & Graphic Design and Web & UX Design programs are both offered 100% online. Our students prefer online courses or taking a combination of seated and online courses to fit their busy lives. The average age of our students is 29, and many have full-time jobs and/or family obligations that prevent them from coming to campus multiple days per week.

What about online courses that require special software and applications?

Daniel, when I was in school, we also had access to Adobe software on campus, but were expected to purchase the software to work on our own computers. Design students are expected to purchase their own Adobe Creative Cloud subscription at a discounted educational rate.

 

Adobe software is used in some capacity in nearly every course and it’s an expected investment for those pursuing a career in graphic design. Like a Culinary student’s knives and uniform, Adobe software is a job requirement for designers.

The Individualized Learning Center (ILC) on Northern, Southern Wake, and Western Wake campuses offer one-on-one tutoring as well as computer labs with required software applications. Students can come and work at the ILC whether they need tutoring or just want a quiet workspace to do their homework. Wake Tech offers free, virtual tutoring for online students as well.

We did not talk about the possibility of getting Certificates in these programs. Can you cover this as well?

Students in Graphic Design can earn two (2) certificates while working towards their AAS degree:

 

There is a Graphic Design Certificate designed to provide students with knowledge and skills in the areas of typography and design using industry standard software.

 

There is also a Web & Graphic Design Certificate designed to provide students with a knowledge and skills necessary to design for print and Webb. Students will be trained in the use of typography, computer design, and web development tools to develop and design for print and web delivery.

And what about Web & UX Design?

In  the Web & UX Design program, there are actually three (3) certificates one can earn while working towards their AAS degree:

A Front-End Developer certificate teaches basic front-end development concepts.

 

The UX Design certificate covers the foundations of UX design, including empathizing with users, building wireframes and prototypes and conducting research to test designs.

 

A Web Designer certificate covers industry-standard technologies to design and develop basic full and mobile web sites.

Thank you again, and just a few more questions.

 

Let’s say I’m a student close to graduation, and I want to go to work for a company, what kinds of companies might I look for, and how might I go about it?

Ideally, you will have performed research about potential companies in your area that may be a good fit before nearing graduation. In  your degree courses, you will have developed a profile on LinkedIn and been encouraged to network with professionals in your area of study on that professional platform.

Faculty post jobs, internships, and employment opportunities that meet Work-Based Learning (WBL) requirements in-house. Career Services also posts job opportunities on their platform. Students retain access to this resource beyond graduation.

Is there financial aid available for either of these programs?

Yes, both degree programs are eligible for financial aid. Certificates are eligible for financial aid if they consist of 15 credits or more.

What are some things a student should consider after graduation to promote themselves as a professional designer? 

There are many things that you need to consider. Competition is high for design positions in our area. Having a portfolio of high-quality work is essential. Building a network of contacts in the design industry is also very important. I recommend attending industry events, joining professional organizations, and connecting with other designers and business owners in your area, in person or in online communities.  

 

Creating and sharing content related to design can help grow your influence online and make a positive impression on potential employers and clients. Develop a marketing strategy that includes a portfolio website, social media presence, and advertising.  

Julie, I want to thank you again for your time and if any perspective students or their parents have any questions, what should they do?

Thanks again for the opportunity to discuss our Graphic Design and Web & UX Design degree programs at Wake Tech. The Program Director for both programs is Alison Consol. Email her at ajconsol@waketech.edu for additional information, or visit the website links provided below.

 

The college hosts Open Houses each Spring and Fall. Follow @waketechcc on social media for announcements.

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