Guide to College Majors in Graphics and Multimedia

What Is Graphic Design and Multimedia?

Most professions are becoming increasingly computer-oriented. Graphics, or graphic design, is certainly no exception. As the world advances technologically, even the traditional working materials of the graphic designer such as rulers, pencils, and lettering stencils are being replaced by highly efficient computer programs. This new technology has not rendered the graphic designer obsolete, but only serves as a new tool for the designer to employ in his or her craft.

Projects that used to take many long days or months, such as designing a publication with letterpresses and typography, can be put together in a fraction of the time using drafting computer software called CAD (computer assisted drawing). With a proper working knowledge of how desktop publishing software works, graphic designers can format and combine text, numerical data, photographs, charts, and other visual elements to prepare the document to go straight to the presses.

Basic video and audio editing software has blurred the line between the work of the graphic designer and that of the video/audio engineer. Now the same person can work with static images and moving images. The recent overlapping of the skills of design, typography, video, audio, and animation has birthed a hybrid profession referred to as multimedia.

Multimedia designers employ new media, the medium of digital communication, for a variety of purposes. A few applications of the skill set that can be acquired in a graphics and multimedia degree program are:

  • Designing using computer assisted drawing (CAD) and image manipulation
  • Using design and layout skills
  • Developing multimedia programs for integrating text and image
  • Developing new software
  • Desktop publishing
  • Digital engineering of sound and music
  • Editing digital video
  • Web site designing
  • Video game design and animation

As new technology is developed, the opportunities for graphics and multimedia professionals will continue to fan out with more and more variations. When we think of advertisement today, we don't think of a static printed image with text in a magazine or on a billboard. Instead, we think of web ads with animation, text, scrolling banners, and sound. As this sort of multimedia technology finds new niches in society, more skilled and talented professionals will be required to utilize this new technology.

Trends for Graphics and Multimedia Careers: Art and Technology

It is said that if Michelangelo were alive today, he would be working in video. The relevance of multimedia to our current society and the effect that new technology may have on future social trends cannot be underestimated. Increasingly, the fine art that is made in art school studios is made not with paint and stone, but with digital video equipment and LCD projectors. With the constant presence of gadgets like smartphones and tablets, and applications like Facebook and email that catalogue the events of our lives and the people we encounter, it is easy to see ourselves, modern humans, as living at an intersection of the human and the digital.

Far from being a diversion or amusement, computer technology, a technology that has only come into its current applications in the last several decades, is the lens through which we see ourselves. The efforts of graphics and multimedia designers and programmers largely shape much of how we perceive ourselves in our contemporary culture. The visual dominance of our digital age, as seen in web site design for example, is produced by multimedia designers. The ability to make aesthetic decisions is at least as important as having facility with computer programs. In other words it is not just technical know-how, but also insight and innovation that counts in this field.

Graphics and Multimedia: Do You Have What It Takes?

Skills emphasized in the field of graphics and multimedia:

Adaptability

Progress in the realm of computer technology marches on at a swift pace. If you are interested in working in this field, you will be expected to maintain an attitude of adaptability and cope well with constant change. The ability to learn new things quickly can prevent you from falling behind in an ever-growing field.

Client focus

Most of the work, whether salary or freelance, will involve directing a project for a client, such as designing a Web site or large multimedia project. Being sensitive to the vision of the client can keep you competitive. Having an effective manner with others, communicating clearly, asserting your vision of the project while striving to please will earn you a loyal client base.

Teamwork

The nature of multimedia projects is often that several people with complementary skill sets are required to realize the project. Your ability to work well with others to realize a common vision while contributing your unique insights can keep the jobs coming to you.

Business savvy

Business skills that are essential for multimedia freelancers include finding a niche in the extremely varied field, having the ability to market and promote your services, achieving set goals and exceeding client expectations.

Passion

Expressing a genuine interest in computer technology and an authentic curiosity for its possible applications in the realms of art and design will set you apart in a career field that is saturated with both opportunities and opportunists.

Innovation

Technical know-how is not enough in this field. You must be able to generate creative solutions and new ideas, and not just continually repeat your own ideas or the ideas of others.

Career Education in Graphic Design & Multimedia

As mentioned above, graphics and multimedia exists at the crossroads of two disciplines, one ancient and one young: art and computer technology. So if you want training for this field, you should look in both arts programs and science and technology programs.

Artists usually develop their skills in a BA (Bachelor's of Arts) or BFA (Bachelor's of Fine Arts) degree program and specialize their interests in the MFA (Master's of Fine Arts) degree program, which is the terminal degree program for arts education. Information Technology professionals and computer programmers pursue degrees in Science and Technology on an undergraduate level and follow it up with specialization in graduate school. The programs listed below give a summary of two possible routes that will lead you to careers in graphics and multimedia.

With the prevalence of distance learning programs today, many institutions offer online degree programs in graphics and multimedia. The pre-requisites and admissions guidelines are typically similar to on-campus educational models. Online degree programs serve the needs of those who, because of geographic or time constraints, are not able to enroll in an on-campus program. Coursework is traditionally conducted online under the supervision of a properly qualified educator. Students may be required to view videotapes and participate in online discussions.

Associate Degrees in Graphic Design & Multimedia

Though students of this two-year program learn enough of the basics of computer art to qualify them for entry-level positions in the field, associate's degrees are often used as a stepping stone program. Both the general requirement courses and courses in a relevant subject can be used toward a higher degree. Associate's degree programs serve as a ground level introduction to the career path of the multimedia designer.

Associate of Science Degree in Graphic Design

The difference between a degree program with the emphasis on science as opposed to a focus on art is that the coursework in a science degree program revolves around technical knowledge. Developing technical skills is primary in science programs, whereas nurturing innovation is primary in art programs. At the higher level of graphic design education, the two roads merge. The associate's of science degree is a two-year course of study, which is the first step in the field of commercial graphics. The fundamentals of compositions, typography, and design are covered in this program. Exercises in creative problem solving provide students with the ability to discover solutions to design challenges. These are the basic tools that they will need to work as a multimedia designer in the business world. Tools used in this program include digital cameras, electronic imaging programs, and scanners.

Bachelor's Degrees in Graphic Design & Multimedia

The Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree differs from the Bachelor of Arts degree in length and depth. Whereas the BA is a four-year humanities program with an emphasis in art, a BFA is generally a five-year art program with a specialization in a specific medium or avenue of exploration. The BFA in Computer Arts and New Media will provide students with guidance from trained graphics artists and experts in web site design and graphics programs. Coursework will involve extensive time in the studio (or computer lab) executing projects followed by one-on-one critiques and group critiques.

Bachelor's Degrees in Information Technology (IT)

This is a program specially designed to equip graduates with a thorough knowledge of computer programming. Information technologists write programs, maintain program systems, and develop new software. Staying current with trends in computer technology is essential for this aspect of the multimedia profession, so real-world applications is a focus for this course. Students may choose to focus their education on such areas as Internet technology for e-commerce, network management, Web development, or video game development. Graduates should have designed and developed a substantial product by the completion of the course under the supervision of an instructor.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Graphics and Multimedia?

The following is a list and description of some of the specializations in the field of graphics and multimedia. The realization of a multimedia project usually involves the cooperation of members of a team of specialists. With good communication, the complementary skills of the members of the team can make large projects come alive.

Graphic Design Career Paths

Author / Editor / Content Provider

The author, editor, or content provider produces text for insertion into a design. The text must be readable as the content of the Web site or advertisement as well as being effective as a design element. Editors and authors usually have a specialized knowledge as well as experience in relevant design software.

Multimedia Artists and Animators

Multimedia artists work with story boards to compose motion pictures, advertising, and animated features. This field is a direct extension of the fine arts and requires a facility with drawing and composition. The story boards are drawn by hand and represent the sequence of images that will comprise the video or animation in scenes. Story boards can serve as a guide to colleagues that are working on other aspects of the same project, such as special effects artists and actors.

Designer

The designer acts as a project manager and creates the overall look of the final product. Larger projects, such as films and animation, require the efforts of many professionals with varying skills. The designer's job is to unify the information into a cohesive product. Therefore the skills of the designer must include the ability to perform multiple tasks and retain a total vision of a project. Complex image manipulation is usually involved and the mastery of software programs such as CAD is a must.

Graphic Artist / Illustrator

The profession of the Graphic Artist/Illustrator, though always evolving to employ advances in technology, still involves the design and layout of individual pages. Graphic artists deal with static images including basic layout, logo design, and combining text and image for literature. Graphic design programs such as Photoshop are the primary tools for the graphic artist.

Multimedia Developer

Those in this position head up groups of professionals to execute an entire project. Multimedia developers are, in a sense, multi-skilled project managers. They need to see the whole picture and be familiar with the programs that integrate text and image.

Multimedia Systems Analyst

Clients and members of the multimedia design team working on a specific project use the systems analyst as a technical consultant. He or she must have a very in-depth knowledge of computer systems, programs, and relevant software.

Producer / Publisher

The producer is the person that oversees the staffing and financing of projects. Unlike many of the others in this field, the producer's primary skill is people management.

Programmer

Programmers are fluent in the language of computer code that works to design and manipulate programs. Programmers need to be creative, innovative and have a very high level of proficiency with PCs and MACs. Visual Basic, Windows, and C++ are the languages used.

Project Manager

Someone's got to keep the ball rolling and that person is the project manager. The designers, illustrators, programmers, and technicians all focus on their specialties. The project manager acts like a shepherd keeping all the different parts moving with order and efficiency. The project manager keeps the big picture in mind and clears the pathways so that the specialists can do their jobs. If there is a roadblock, the project manager is the one to deal with it.

Sound Technician / Musicians

It takes great skill and sensitivity to compose and manipulate sounds and good sound technicians are highly sought after. Compared to seeing, hearing is a passive sense, but the audio layer can make or break a multimedia project. Those involved in large multimedia projects such as films and animation understand that sound is absolutely critical to the realization of a project. The sound technician is usually brought in toward the end of a project to add the finishing touches.

Video Technician

Most often video technicians come from a post-production background either with experience in analog or digital film-making. The primary task of the video technician is to make and edit video footage to match text and sound.

Preparing for Game Design & Multimedia Career Opportunities

Multimedia artists and animators can earn a solid salary in certain kinds of companies. However, many of the opportunities in the field of graphics and multimedia are best suited to self-employment or freelance services. While it is considerably less financially stable to work as a freelance multimedia designer, the advantage of self-employment is having the chance to specialize your work according to your interests. Like all self-employed workers, freelance artists and technicians have to provide their own benefits. The beginning of a freelance career is bound to be rocky and risky, but an established freelancer can make more than salaried illustrator.

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