Making a Difference by Design

Art and social justice come together with new Digital Design degree

Story by: Annie Beckmann
Published: 2013-01-28

You realize there's impressive learning going on in Seattle University's Digital Design program when you consider that major Seattle-area companies such as Boeing, Costco, Microsoft and Starbucks and New York City's Marvel Comics and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) have all had student interns from this program. What's more, these respected employers frequently hire those SU design interns once they graduate. 

That's just one aspect that makes the new bachelor's degree in Digital Design a big draw. It's an intensive balance of design and artistic exploration combined with social responsibility in a rich, liberal arts environment. 

The way Fine Arts Associate Professor Naomi Kasumi sees it, visual language is universal. 

"Digital design is not about computers, but a way of thinking," says Kasumi, who teaches in the program. "We're aided by technology, yet the computer is just a tool. You're not a carpenter simply because you have a hammer in the same way that having a brush doesn't make you an artist." 

Digital Design candidates participate in a two-year course with a portfolio review at the end of their  sophomore year. Students who pass the review then go on to complete the Digital Design degree.  

For the major, students explore the history of design. Kasumi teaches classes in typography, design and color and graphic design. Over time, students tackle web design, video, interactive graphics and digital imaging taught by Fine Arts Assistant Professor Alexander Mouton, who joined the faculty in 2009 to bring digital media to the program. 

When she arrived at SU in 2003, Kasumi realized she had a blank canvas to develop the new Digital Design program. That was one of its enticements for her. She quickly realized the need  to understand what was distinctive about a Jesuit education and one at SU in particular. 

"I challenge our students by asking what they can do as artists or designers to make a difference. I'm really a bridge to what service-oriented projects we can do as artists for a community," she says. "If my soul is right, I can teach their souls, too." 

In addition to classes with a service-learning component, students create an annual fundraising campaign for local nonprofits and design and sell sustainable items such as reusable shopping bags, according to Kasumi. 

A program that unites passions for both design and service is a plus for students. Laura Staley, a senior who will be one of the first BA Digital Design graduates in 2013, speaks of how her digital design skills and knowledge make positive and constructive contributions. 

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This design was part of a poster created by a Digital Design student to promote a clean water awareness campaign.

"I chose the digital design program at SU because I saw it as a unique way to study design through a social justice-based education. There are few digital design programs out there, let alone at Jesuit institutions, so I feel very lucky," says Staley. 

Megan Newell, a 2011  Fine Arts grad with an emphasis in digital design, is now a graphic designer with Liberty Bottleworks, an eco-friendly manufacturer of recycled aluminum water bottles. She designs custom bottles for clients and says she's proud to be working for such an environmentally friendly organization in her hometown of Yakima. 

"My experience with service learning in the Digital Design program helped me find a purpose to my work and I learned the value of using my skills to support others," says Newell, who created publicity for Battle of the Bands and Quadstock as a graphic designer intern with the Student Events and Activities Council. 

A liberal arts background, Kasumi suggests, means Digital Design graduates are more critical, articulate and engaged. Mouton agrees. 

"We put more emphasis on creative thinking, not only on technical aptitude," he says. "Our students get a broad sampling of digital design and a deep grounding in the world of ideas related to design." 

Josef Venker, S.J., who chairs the Fine Arts Department, says Digital Design students are poised to literally create a more just and humane world through good design and more conscientious choices.


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