Did you know? Located at the intersection of art and commerce, Academy of Art University's Graphic Design program integrates practice, theory, and inquiry, while refining and encouraging innovation, critical thinking, visual literacy and conceptual problem solving. Learn more.
James Reiman is an Assistant Professor at RMCAD and serves as Chair of the college’s Graphic Design and Photography programs
For creative individuals who are keen to leverage their skills in a variety of ways, there are few fields as diverse and ripe with opportunity than graphic design. From advertising, branding and product design, to UX/UI, web design and production art, graphic designers are employed across a large number of industries. They visually communicate by storytelling through imagery.
Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design boasts one of the west’s strongest graphic design programs that uniquely offers its BFA program to both on-campus and online students. As Chair of RMCAD’s Graphic Design program, James Reiman brings his enthusiasm and insight to his students- whether they be on the college’s beautiful Denver campus or studying remotely.
Reiman’s career and interests span commercial work as well as the fine arts, indicative of the field at large. He and his faculty colleagues foster innovation and individuality among students while preparing them to adapt to change and become professionals poised for leadership roles in the field. For those curious if graphic design and RMCAD may be a good fit for them, read on to learn about the merits of the degree in our interview with Reiman.
ACR: Let’s start with the big picture. What interests and inclinations should a graphic designer possess, and what skill sets and traits are crucial for a graphic design student to develop?
James Reiman: I think people that are interested in Graphic Design should have a passion to create- either by hand or by other means. While it helps to be able to draw, if they are not the best draftsman that is not necessarily a problem as long as they can grasp the principles of design and apply them in software. As far as an interest or inclination is concerned, students should want to create with purpose. Graphic Design is all about problem-solving through design thinking: how to make something better, more effective, and visually pleasing are questions designers must consider regardless of what area of design they pursue.
ACR: What are the merits of RMCAD’s Graphic Design program that attracted you as both a designer and educator?
JR: I learned about RMCAD shortly after a friend started teaching here. Knowing my work history and dedication to student success elsewhere, he strongly encouraged me to apply (for a teaching position) and I did. I began teaching Photoshop and InDesign courses online within the Graphic Design Program. As I became more familiar with the online structure, I was offered opportunities to develop online courses.
I immediately discovered that RMCAD was a school that moved quickly and allowed faculty agency to make changes for the better which was very appealing to me having taught in more ridgid higher education systems that did not offer such freedom. When the opportunity to apply for the Chair of Graphic Design position came up, I knew it was the right move for my family and career, and have not had any regrets. RMCAD has a tight-knit family atmosphere that is hard to describe until you feel it. We support each other and we care deeply about our students in ways I have not seen at my previous institutions.
ACR: As a BFA, RMCAD’s graphic design students take courses in a variety of subjects. In your view, why is this an important component when it comes to fostering their growth as artists and thought-leaders?
JR: We believe in well-rounded design education. Our Graphic Design students complete a year of Foundations when they start the curriculum. The Foundations courses provide a broad view of how to create using different mediums (2D, 3D, and time-based) and how to conceptualize what they are doing and why they are doing it.
From there, the program looks at design from a human-centered perspective, meaning that we are always designing or solving design problems with the end-user in mind. Students are exposed to ways of using various design software applications and methods of visual communication. Design is such a broad term with a variety of potential career paths. Our goal is to show students as many approaches to design as we can to allow them to cater their portfolios to the path that suits them best.
ACR: Do narrative and storytelling play roles in RMCAD’s Graphic Design curriculum?
JR: Narrative and storytelling play huge roles in our Graphic Design program. As mentioned, our program is driven by the concept of human-centered design, so understanding the story of the end-user and their needs drives everything we do. Our students often create elaborate user personas to reveal who their design solutions serve and why. When they pitch their design concepts, the user personas and user stories provide context to why this design is needed and how it will serve its intended audience.
ACR: As UX and 3D have continued to grow, how important is it that your students become skilled to work with an ever-growing variety of mediums?
JR: Design has changed so much in the past few decades. It is certainly not as print-oriented as it was even a decade ago. The UX/UI area of design has exploded. The same for motion graphics and 3D work. We try to expose our students to the potential of all of these design career paths in the core curriculum, and then allow them to learn more specifics via elective courses.
RMCAD’s Graphic Design Curriculum requires four design electives - these courses focus on a variety of subjects including UX/UI, Web Design, Experimental Typography, Screenprinting, and more. Students also have an option to use these electives to take courses outside of the major including 3D animation and illustration. Because the design field changes so quickly, we also offer our alumni the option to retake updated courses within their completed degree major for free through a program called RMCAD Renew. This is a service we provide our grads to help bring them up to speed on new methods of working.
ACR: On that note, there are more job and career-path opportunities for graphic designers than ever before. Where do today’s graphic designers work?
JR: Essentially, there are three types of employment with any design career: working at a firm or agency, serving as an in-house designer at different companies or organizations that do not focus on design, and lastly self-employment. Within those three umbrellas there are countless employment options because there are so many design specialties and needs. Design firms and agencies may specialize in wayfinding, branding, print services, advertising campaigns, package design, app development, etc. Self-employed designers may specialize or be versatile based on the market they are working in. In-house designers may also need to know a little of all types of design to help their companies which more than likely are not design-minded in the least- think government, museums, hospitals, airports, etc.
ACR: RMCAD leverages commercial partnerships, as well. Tell us about some of the opportunities that they present to students.
JR: We maintain relationships with several design professionals and organizations which provide opportunities to our students. These opportunities are diverse and include internship opportunities, studio visits and industry perspective. We are huge supporters of professional organizations like AIGA, AD Club and the One Club for Creativity. In fact, all of the core graphic design faculty are members of AIGA- some of us even serve on the board of AIGA Colorado.
Through these connections, we are able to bring in guests speakers for classroom visits, portfolio reviews and assistance on our advisory board. Our advisory board is a group of professionals that serve as a means of keeping our curriculum relevant and forward thinking. Lastly, we often partner with commercial or non-profit organizations on design projects for specific courses. For example, a recent section of Design Systems worked with Lakewood Sustainability Awards on a rebrand and design system roll out.
ACR: The Graphic Design BFA is offered both on-campus in Denver and online. Does the online education differ greatly from the on-campus?
JR: We aim to provide the same level of education and support that a student would receive on campus to our online students. RMCAD has been providing online education for around a decade, and we have learned what works and what doesn’t. That said, we are still willing to experiment with innovative online education solutions. We understand that our students are artists and we are always looking for new ways to provide an extra level of interaction in our online courses. We recognize that our online students choose online for a variety of reasons which is why our online courses are in an asynchronistic format in order to provide flexibility. The biggest difference from our on-campus and online modalities is the access to facilities and resources.
ACR: Speaking of that, RMCAD’s facilities are state-of-the-art. Tell us what awaits on-campus students.
JR: Our campus is beautiful and has a lot of fun tools to play with. We have a FabLab (short for Fabrication Lab) that we utilize frequently in on-campus courses. The FabLab has many tools used for creating prototypes and implementing design solutions including a laser cutter/engraver, vinyl cutters, 3D printers, large format inkjet printing and a vacuum form machine. We try to offer online students the opportunity to learn about this equipment via virtual workshops, but I can see how it would be difficult to learn how to use them in and out when you can’t easily go in there and play with them. That being said, we certainly do our best to accommodate an online student if they ever expressed an interest in learning more about this equipment.
ACR: Last but not least, what do you look for in applicants to RMCAD’s Graphic Design program?
JR: I look for people who are excited to get started and open minded to explore the possibilities of design. For me personally, their willingness to learn and apply themselves is more important than their starting skill level. Skills can be learned and honed, but the passion to create lies more within the student than the teacher.
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.