Introducing AOEU’s Graphic Design Course (Ep. 171)

With the recent announcement of AOEU’s newest graduate course, Studio: Graphic Design, Nic wants to share her interest and find out more about the course. Today, she welcomes on Dr. Theresa Haugen, one of the course’s instructional designers. Listen as they discuss the importance of design thinking, the beauty that can be found in graphic design, and how to transfer those lessons into the classroom. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: There’s a new graduate course that is being offered by The Art of Education University that I am so excited about, and it’s going to be the theme of our podcast today. It is graphic design, and we’re going to be talking to the lead designer for the course, Teresa Hogan. She is very passionate, has a great background in graphic design, and is currently teaching in a high school. So let’s get right into talking about the course, and what it looks like, and maybe why you might be interested in taking it. This is Everyday Art Room, and I’m your host, Nic Hahn.

Today we want to talk about the graphic design course that The Art of Education University has just released, but before we do that, will you please just introduce yourself and kind of give us a background of your own story and, specifically, how it relates to graphic design.

Theresa: Well, really, my profession was graphic design long before education. I have a bachelor’s in graphic design. I had just always intended to be a graphic designer, and then I moved into… When I got to grad school, I changed and started teaching graphic design at the community college level. And then once I was at a community college that closed, I looked into a high school teaching job, and then started getting more involved in K-12 teaching. So I feel like graphic design has been my passion forever, and K-12 education was sort of a second career choice.

Nic: Okay. What was your degree in, I’m sorry?

Theresa: So my bachelor’s degree is in graphic design and my graduate school, it’s in graphic design as well, but I have a curriculum and instruction emphasis, which is what I’m doing with my K-12 teaching.

Nic: Oh, I see. Oh, excellent. Yeah, that’s interesting. I know that you’ve been working with The Art of Education University for a little over a year, is that correct?

Theresa: Yes.

Nic: Okay. How did the drive of this course come to be? Was it kind of requested by different individuals, or did AOE just want it, or did you present this to AOE? How did this come to be?

Theresa: I think all of those things. When I started, I definitely looked through the list of courses, and there were many that interested me when I applied to teach, but I didn’t see a graphic design class. I had mentioned it to Art of Ed, and they said, oh yes, we are definitely in the planning stages of a graphic design class, and we would love to have you involved in creating this class so that was… immediately hooked me. So I was ready to jump right in, and it didn’t take long before we were up to our elbows in reading assignments and discussions and figuring out exactly how this course would lay out.

Nic: Wow. It was a little bit of all of that, and it perked your interest because of your background. That makes sense. When you were starting to work on this… Actually, I’m not sure. Are you the main person on this, I mean, or did you work as a team to create this graphic design course?

Theresa: Actually, I was contacted by Paige Herrmann, who is our instructional designer and she… Initially, I guess, when I agreed to write this class, I was kind of thinking it was just sort of all going to be in my lap, and I was going to take this class over. But she really just sort of was this breath of fresh air, and she kind of breathed this energy in. She knows a lot about design thinking and had some really great ideas. So I feel like I just sort of jumped on that excitement bandwagon, and we just took off.

Then, of course, we have the head of instruction, Heather, was looking at it as well and really helping us define it, and tweak it, and make sure that it fits everything we need, that it is a class that has a lot of depth, but, yet, is a doable class within the constraints of our eight weeks. The video crew helped us make videos. There was a lot. I mean, it’s definitely a team effort. But I felt like Paige and I really had a lot of kind of open space to make this class what we wanted to do with it, which was really awesome.

Nic: Yeah. That’s interesting. I recently worked with Paige as well, and that’s exactly how I described… She is so passionate for her projects, and then Heather is that person who just makes sure it meets all the standards. I love how AOE really hires so many different people who can run the best role for each of them. It sounds like you really were able to work with Paige and create something that you, I assume, are very proud of because I’m sure it was a labor of love, wasn’t it?

Theresa: It definitely was. Yeah. It’s fun that everybody that we’ve worked with so far, no matter what their role and being new to writing classes with AOE, everybody I met was not only really great at what they did, but they loved what they did. I think that helps so much. You need all of those skills because no one person can really just make it happen.

Nic: Nope. Not with something this big. That is absolutely correct. Now this is a grad course, and it was just released in December here, is that correct?

Theresa: Yes, very recently, yeah.

Nic: That’s what I thought. It came across my email, and I was super excited because I would love to know more about that… of the subject. But what has been the reaction of people? Do you think this is going to be a popular course?

Theresa: I know there was interest before the class was even released. People had asked about it, and it’s come up. So we knew there was interest out there in a class that really concentrated on graphic design. So far, I’ve heard that it’s been a positive addition and that people are excited about it. So I hope that that excitement continues. I mean, it’s certainly a passion area for me. I’d love to see more people get involved in graphic design and make it part of their curriculum, so hoping that this momentum just keeps up.

Nic: Yeah. For sure. Now, can you tell me about if I was looking into this, what kind of strategies or what things am I going to learn by taking this course? What are the key points?

Theresa: Well, there’s a few that I’d like… One is that we really immerse you in graphic design projects. You jump in because I think that when you do it, you understand it just like when we teach students, and we scaffold things for them to give them these experiences that they need. So we can come to our students and say we know graphic design because we’ve done it. That part is really cool, but we also apply it to the classroom.

We immerse into design thinking, which I think is going to be really helpful. The other thing that was really important to me when putting this class together is that too often when we think graphic design, we think high school AP or even just a high school graphic design class, but, actually, elementary kids are doing graphic design. We just don’t call it that.

They may be working on a science project and maybe part of their science project, they’re asked to do a poster that sort of shows that they understand a concept and delves into that topic by making an art piece. That’s graphic design. That is communicating information that they’ve learned through something that’s visual. So I’m hoping that elementary teachers are just as excited to kind of apply this to their classroom as teachers that are in middle or high school.

Nic: Do you have examples of different projects when someone is about to take this class or do you just leave it more open-ended? So I’m an elementary teacher, and I’m going to take this course, and I would cater my projects more towards me, is that kind of how this course works?

Theresa: Yes. We try to make every project with variables and options so that teachers can really find something that applies to them and not necessarily something that they think, well, this might be fun, but I’m never going to use this again. So when we get into say, typography, a type project for a high school student is going to be a lot different than a type project maybe for an elementary school project. Hopefully, when teachers jump in, I think that they’re going to find that they can make those accommodations and find projects that fit what they teach or that they can use in their classrooms. There’s a lot of graphic design projects that they can make part of their digital classroom or a part of their Schoology page or something where they may be able to bring it into their classroom as well as talk about it as a project.

Nic: Yeah. Yeah. That’s true. A hundred years ago, I did teach some courses with The Art of Education University, and then I’ve taken several. I’ve taken quite a few, and I think when you have a class that comes in, there might be anywhere from 10 to 20 people in a classroom, and there’s going to be other elementary teachers, and there’s going to be other middle school teachers, and there’s going to be other high school teachers, so you really do get to learn from each other, too. That’s one of the beautiful things with the courses.

Theresa: Yeah, absolutely. Especially in the discussion boards, I’m always impressed with how much Art of Education students share and support in that discussion post.

Nic: Yeah. It’s a true celebration, isn’t it?

Theresa: It definitely is.

Nic: Do you think that people might take this course for their own personal interest? I think that’s where I was. I was like, ooh, I want to learn about this. Do you think that’s an avenue that people might want to take this course for?

Theresa: They could absolutely. One of the things that we integrate into this class is that graphic design is really… because it’s about communication and it’s about visual voice, we have a really strong advocacy component to this class. So anybody that takes it with an art background that has a passion for really any area, they can make that become part of their project within the course and part of their learning. It’s easy to make personal artifacts and personal passion projects in this class.

Nic: Yeah. That’s awesome. All right. I would really like to know about one or two lessons that you were really excited about when writing this course. Can you give us maybe a week assignment? What would that look like?

Theresa: I think we start off with something that I feel like everybody in graphic design has to do one poster in their life, right? I mean, that’s just the quintessential graphic design project, so let’s start with that one. That one comes in pretty early in the course where we’re kind of integrating some color theory and in color theory, we really dive into both additive and subtractive color theory because graphic designers can potentially do both.

I mean, I work as a graphic designer. I freelance. I’m on my computer, and then I need to go to a print piece, so I’m going from additive to subtractive colors. They don’t always match. So we talk about why that is and how to deal with that piece of it. But the poster is great because I think as art teachers, we always love to have great posters up that people can see and as they’re thinking about ideas. We bring in a poster where they can pick really their avenue, the message that they want to communicate, but they all do it through a poster, so not only do they get a chance to design with type in a color system.

We talk about the psychology of color within that poster which is, I think, something that’s maybe key to graphic design that we don’t always explore in other areas. What does that blue mean? We know what it looks like, and we know how it interacts with other colors and other objects in our design, but what does it mean?

Nic: Oh, wow.

Theresa: If it means something to me, does it mean the same thing to you? It’s different all over the world, and that we need to consider that as well, that that message needs to reflect in the color and what is the psychology of color do?

When they make their poster, they really think about what color system am I using and what does that communicate? What message am I giving? Hopefully, they design this really great piece that they can either use as a digital poster, as a PDF in their online learning or distance learning, or they can physically print it and put it in their classrooms.

Nic: Oh my gosh. You’re kind of speaking my love language here because, yes, we teach color theory, but I’ve never… You’re right. I’ve never had much of a conversation with my students on the feelings that you could get from color, so that’s pretty exciting. I’m sure that’s going to provoke some good conversation within the course.

Theresa: I hope so. Yeah. I definitely think that that will not only invoke a lot in the class, but I think when we bring it to our own classrooms. It’s always interesting with my high schoolers when we talk about color, and what does it mean, and why do we have a favorite color? Why do we not like a color. That’s always, I think, sometimes more interesting. What is your least favorite color? Then just not only the cultural connections that we have with color, but the physiological stuff, like why red is so common? Why is it the most commonly used color in a flag? Why does it mean both passion and violence? It means all these different things, and how can a color do all those in one… It’s just one color, but, yet, it can really tie into our message and really say more about our message than if we just use type.

Nic: Right. Wow. Now I have something to go home and think about. That’s amazing. These are great questions, very thought provoking. All right. What are some words of advice that you would give to people who are taking one of these grad courses; and specifically, graphic design? What would people want to make sure that they’re either seeking in taking this course, or if you have advice because you’ve worked with secondary and, I’m sorry, college level students, what do they have to make sure that they have available in their life, time or energy or passion? What are your final words of advice for someone who’s listening to this right now?

Theresa: What we do within the class, we try to incorporate everybody’s educational environment. We do talk a lot about the Adobe Suite, which is… We do work with Illustrator and Photoshop in the class, so that is something that they would need access to either through their own personal computer or through their school. But we also talk a lot about what do we do when we don’t have those skills? There’s no reason why we have to have those to make graphic design. I’ve did it with a second grade group where we just use colored pencils. We can certainly find ways to make that happen.

One of the things that we do in this class is we allow students… I come from a nonprofit background. So in between all of this when I was coming out of school with graphic design, before I got into teaching, I worked for a long time with the MS Society, and in doing that, I sort of developed this passion for helping populations that need different advocacy projects. Now I have my own personal nonprofit that I’m involved with, the LSA, and that’s my passion project. I want students also to find that passion project and they’ll be allowed to explore it and think about ways that they can help and make advocacy through design and art. I think that that’s going to be a big pole in this class that they can sort of make that happen in their own lives as well as… It’s nice to have that outlet.

Nic: Yeah. Yeah. I like that you mentioned the different mediums that can be used to create graphic design, so it can be a very equitable project or subject for any classroom.

Theresa: Absolutely. Especially, we look at symbols and logo design because that’s another one of those go-to graphic design projects. Any logo that you design has to work also in black and white, and so there’s no reason why students couldn’t look at negative and positive space with a pencil and a paper.

Nic: Right. Yeah, absolutely. Oh, Teresa, I can’t thank you enough for chatting with us. I think I see this course in my future and I’m-

Theresa: That would be awesome.

Nic: I think you’ll probably have a lot of people checking this out after listening to it. I know I’m just thrilled about it. Thanks for-

Theresa: I hope so. I know I’m excited it, and I hope that, as people dive into it, that they also start to make that part of something that they do for either personal creation or in their classrooms.

Nic: Yeah. Wonderful. Thanks.

I’m not joking when I say I think I might be taking this course. Graphic design is a passion of mine. I enjoy it personally. I bring it into my own classroom. However, I think what is most exciting is the little bit of conversation we had about color theory, not just what color goes with what, but what colors make you feel what. Why do they make you feel that, and why are certain colors used more than others? That was really interesting to me and something that I could see myself really enjoy diving into with other colleagues in the art education world.

I think it was important to note that this is a course that can be taken by anyone, someone who’s personally interested in graphic design, but also someone who is teaching elementary, middle school, or high school. So really interesting to hear what is being offered by The Art of Education University right now, and go check it out on their webpage soon.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.