“Design” is both noun and verb, product and process. The products of design form the interface between humans and the environment. Design as a professional field of study is based on the foundations of visual communication. The study of design encompasses cultural, aesthetic, ergonomic, technical, ethical, and economic fields. Designers create communications that serve many needs–everything from warning labels to multimedia interfaces. They solve communication problems of all types and sizes. The solutions require creativity, lateral thinking, research, and excellent verbal and written communication skills.
The Department of Design prepares students to successfully communicate information and abstract concepts visually. The faculty strives to provide each student with a broad educational in visual communication. The curriculum is designed to promote intellectual rigor, critical thinking and creativity, through a combination of courses that are both theoretical and practical. The theoretical component emphasizes creative problem solving and critical assessment. The practical component focuses on the building of aesthetic and technical skills. The development of these two components culminates in a portfolio of design work. The portfolio also provides evidence of the student’s creative and analytical talents, enabling the student to apply their scholarship in regional, national, and global communities. Each portfolio is highly personalized allowing the students to exhibit specific strengths and interests, thus promoting the diversity of perspectives for which our students’ portfolios are known in the professional design world. The development of specialized skills in spatial organization, color, visualization, problem solving methodologies, conceptual thinking and the acquisition of digital tool skills, in combination with an excellent liberal arts foundation, provide graduates of the program with the skills necessary for seeking employment as a graphic designer or pursuing graduate studies.
CRISTINA de ALMEIDA (1997) Chair and Professor. BFA, Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; MFA, University of Massachusetts.
PAULA S. AIRTH (2012) Associate Professor. BA, Western Washington University; MFA, University of Utah.
ALEXANDER EGNER (2017) Assistant Professor. BFA, University of Northern Texas; MFA, Virginia Commonwealth University.
JOHN GIALANELLA (2017) Assistant Professor. BFA, Siena Heights University; MFA, University of Arizona.
KACEY MORROW (2008) Associate Chair and Professor, BA, University of Iowa, School of Art and Art History; MFA, University of Illinois, School of Art and Design.
BRITTANY SCHADE (2013) Associate Professor, BFA, Florida Atlantic University; MFA, Florida Atlantic University.
AUSTIN SHAW (2020) Assistant Professor. BS, New York University; MS, Pratt Institute; MFA, Savannah College of Art and Design.
The Department of Design utilizes a curriculum that emphasizes the process of problem solving to direct students to make connections between culture and design and their role as responsible visual communicators. As a professional field of study, students learn to combine personal expression and critical thinking as they create solutions that connect industry, individuals, and institutions to specific audiences and themselves to the world. Students develop adaptive learning strategies to sustain successful communication careers in a constantly changing world.
Why Consider a Design Major
Career opportunities are found in all segments of industry, both in the private and public sector. Western Design graduates go on to work in advertising agencies, design firms, in-house departments, as well as serving as private consultants in corporate identity, environmental graphic design, packaging, publication, UX and web design. They work as Designers, Project and Production Managers, Product Designers and Web and Interactive Designers.
The Department of Design offers both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in design. The liberal arts BA degree in design provides students the opportunity to develop visual communication talents through courses in print and digital media design combined with a minor to broaden the educational experience. The BFA degree is the professional degree option providing a fully integrated professional senior year in the development of the exit portfolio. The BFA degree requirements also include a paid summer internship with contracted firms. Admittance to the BFA is through a junior portfolio review during winter quarter.
Learning Outcomes for Design Majors
1. Demonstrate functional competence with principles of visual organization, visual language and theory as applied to visual communication problems.
2. Understand and apply creative and abstract thinking skills to visual communication problems.
3. Understand, embrace and use current tools, software and technology as a vehicle of effective communication (conceive, design, produce, and create visual forms to successfully communicate ideas, opinions, concepts).
4. Demonstrate facility in visual communication practice, including written and verbal communication skills.
The Learning Outcomes identified for the Design Program reflect the expectations of National Association of Schools of Art & Design [NASAD] for accredited professional design programs as well as recommendations by AIGA and an external advisory board.
Formal assessment occurs in concert with strategic planning and catalog revisions. Access to an advisory board provides additional layers of informal review to stimulate positive change. The nature of lab pedagogy results in the constant observation and evaluation of student work (outcomes) by faculty and students. Students are consistently involved in assessment of their learning through reflection, class and self-critique of their work and the work of their peers.
Advisement and Plan of Study
Once admitted in the major, the student should meet with their assigned advisor within the first quarter of acceptance. Students are expected to meet with their advisors regularly. All Design BA majors are required to declare and complete a minor, or the equivalent of, a minor of 24 to 30 credits. A second major will also complete the minor requirement. A list of suggested minors will be available through your advisor.
Design majors must maintain a cumulative 2.50 GPA both overall and in Design courses taken at Western.
The junior portfolio review in Design is only for students wishing to apply for the BFA degree.
Most classes in Design are currently restricted to majors only. To access classes, a formal application to the Department of Design is required. Application for the major is made with a portfolio of work. The portfolio will be reviewed by the Design faculty and evaluated on the basis of a demonstrated understanding of the elements and principles of design and visual communication, technical proficiency and originality.
Applications and portfolios are submitted electronically and reviewed once each academic year. The application must be submitted online by 5 p.m. on January 31. Incomplete portfolios will not be reviewed.
All applicants of the Design major must submit a portfolio of 12 works. It is recommended that the portfolio include recent pieces. Work can be in any media and must demonstrate basic visual and design skills.
- Understanding of formal principles
- Technical skills
- Ability to use visual language to communicate ideas
- Originality and risk taking
The application and portfolio are described on the major application form that may be downloaded from the department website: www.wwu.edu/design/admissions.html.
Once admitted in the major, the student should meet with their assigned advisor within the first quarter of acceptance.
The Department of Design offers a limited number of scholarships to recognize individual talents, promise, and meritorious achievement. Please consult the scholarship brochure available through Student Financial Resources for information on other scholarships.
Courses numbered X37; X97; 300, 400 are described in the University Academic Policies section of this catalog.