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Dr. Mark Mabry is a graphic and web designer and owner of Mabry Creative. He Chairs Nossi College of Arts’ Graphic Design and Web and Interactive Design programs.
Web and interactive design is a varied discipline. At its core, the goal of professionals in the field is to design products that allow users to achieve the desired outcome through visual representations, sound, words, motion and more. To do so, designers must possess a command of design and technology along with a solid understanding and appreciation for human motivations and behavior. Nossi College of Art offers a Bachelor of Graphic Arts in Web and Interactive Design that we’re taking a closer look at today.
Located just north of the vibrant city of Nashville, TN, Nossi is the state’s only private art college and is nearing its fiftieth anniversary of instruction. It offers students instruction in the arts as well as integral collaboration with instructors and fellow students on and around its robust campus. Students within its Web and Interactive Design program enjoy the merits of Nossi’s approach to art education, as well as close proximity to a host of opportunities. Dr. Mark Mabry is a graphic and web designer who owns his own design firm, Mabry Creative. He brings his real world experience in the field to the classroom and chairs Nossi’s Web and Interactive Design program. He recently took time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Enjoy!
ACR: Mark, thanks for filling us in on Nossi’s Web and Interactive Design program. As technology progresses, the field does, too. Tell us about the current landscape of interactive design.
Mark Mabry: Thank you for the opportunity. As an ever-changing field of study, interactive design focuses on the meaningful interaction, or communication, between humans and technology. The internet and mobile devices are prime examples of this pervasive interaction (e.g., e-commerce, social media). We emphasize to our students that the relationship between society and technology is reciprocal; they each drive and shape the other. As such, successful interactive design should prioritize the whole user experience…it should be human centered with clearly defined goals and an attractive, intuitive, user interface.
A degree in Web & Interactive Design from Nossi can qualify graduates for a wide variety of jobs within the profession including UX/UI designer, app designer, game designer, metadata specialist, social media manager, IT analyst, usability analyst, and information architect.
ACR: What was the genesis of Nossi’s Web & Interactive program?
MM: The Web & Interactive Design program was created in 2016 to help satisfy a need in the regional market for entry-level developers and front-end designers with a solid command of UX and UI Design. We understand that students have access to many different resources from which they can merely learn to code, but we teach them to utilize those coding skills to best satisfy the core needs of the user and ensure a pleasant user experience. This requires that students learn both the hard and soft skills.
ACR: As a web designer yourself, what attracted you to chairing the program at Nossi?
MM: Prior to becoming Program Chair, I had the privilege of teaching courses within both the Web & Interactive and Graphic Design programs at Nossi. During that time, I saw an opportunity for the Web & Interactive program to grow while continuing the emphasis on user experience. By slightly re-structuring the program and redefining course objectives, we can better prepare students to enter the modern workforce with the skills more conducive for lateral and upward movement within the profession.
The student-to-instructor ratio within the Web & Interactive program is favorably low, and it has been my experience that students generally learn better under those circumstances. Our instructors can dedicate more time to one-on-one instruction. This is particularly advantageous to students learning web languages, which can be especially intimidating to beginners. It is also understood that by placing qualified, active web professionals as instructors we will expose our students to the latest, most relevant trends in technology and workflow.
ACR: It’s been said that UX designers humanize technology. Walk us through Nossi’s curriculum and how it develops students with the broad skills necessary of an interactive designer.
MM: It is a varied discipline and the field is ever-changing. Consequently, our Web & Interactive curriculum is constantly evolving to reflect these changes. Process is emphasized in every design-related course within the Web & Interactive and Graphic Design programs. Nossi’s Web & Interactive program offers courses that walk students through their development as interactive designers. Both web and graphic design majors take foundational courses like Design Composition and Graphic Design Fundamentals, which teach the basics of design and how those elements and principles can be applied to all commercial design. Both web and graphic design majors begin by learning the basics of HTML and CSS and how the basic principles of design apply to the online environment.
ACR: Students also learn the human psychology side of things, as well as business acumen, don’t they?
MM: Yes, our Experience Design course delves deeply into human-centered design and students participate in team-based design sprints structured to effectively address the needs of users, leading to better integration of familiarity. To your point regarding human psychology, the Experience Design course, among others, delves into Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and the ability to empathize with the user to better understand their motivation and core needs. From there, our Web & Interactive majors continue their education through advanced major-related courses that venture more into development and server-side scripting. In those courses they will get familiar with concepts like React (JS), Laravel (PHP), APIs, SQL, Continuous Integration/Delivery/Deployment, DevOps, Python, Ruby, and more.
Business acumen, as you bring up, is another important component of our design programs. Our required Business Marketing for Creatives course investigates the wide ranges of traditional and emerging business topics and considerations. Recently re-structured, this course gives an overview of U.S. Copyright Law, project management, conflict resolution, proposals and RFPs. Students create self-branding, professional resumes, business cards, invoices and boilerplate contracts.
ACR: It sounds like there’s ample cross-pollination between the Web & Interactive Design major and the Graphic Design major at Nossi, which you also Chair. How do these majors and others at Nossi collaborate?
MM: Yes, absolutely. The basic elements and principles of design apply across the board. Both graphic and web students share several fundamental design courses early in their programs. Around their sixth semester at Nossi they begin to take courses that are more specific to their majors. Students within the Graphic Design and Web & Interactive Design programs are encouraged, when appropriate, to collaborate with those from other programs at Nossi- whether that be Photography, Commercial Illustration, and Video & Film. Many of our upper level graphic design courses now have projects with required interactive components. Along those lines, our Advertising Art Direction course has been formally rewritten to include a required collaboration with the Photography Program. It is a team-based course that requires the student Art Director to work with a photographer to help bring the team’s vision to fruition. It is emphasized that successful collaboration is rooted in good communication.
Regarding our faculty, it is important that students be exposed to different perspectives from instructors that share common objectives. Within the Graphic Design and Web & Interactive programs we are fortunate to have highly qualified instructors that fit well within the courses they frequently teach. For that reason, our instructors are rarely asked to teach courses within both programs. I am the exception, not the rule.
ACR: Does the program and its students partner with organizations or companies on internships or projects?
MM: Yes. Nossi All Access is a department dedicated to building student-client partnerships. It gives students a chance to pursue exclusive real-world creative opportunities before they complete their degree. The college currently partners with several high-profile organizations, such as Country Music Association, Nashville's Arts & Business Council and Lightning 100 (local radio). Students get insider access to events, working alongside Nashville’s creative elite and helping to build an impressive, relevant portfolio. Beyond All Access, program faculty regularly share the many paid and unpaid internship opportunities that we are made aware of from our peers within the profession. I am pleased to say that a good portion of our students take advantage of the opportunity to apply the competencies we’ve helped them develop in the classroom.
ACR: On the subject of work experience, opportunities for interactive designers are far-reaching across industries as you mentioned earlier. How do you prepare students to be adaptable as technologies evolve and market demands shift?
MM: A solid foundation better allows for adaptation within the workplace. We maintain a variety of course offerings and a variety of projects within our courses that mirror common professional challenges. Having highly qualified instructors with diverse experiences and backgrounds exposes the students to different methodologies and viewpoints while maintaining the same human-centered objectives. I believe that keeping students out of their comfort zone teaches them to expect the unexpected- such as project specifications changing halfway through a project. It is emphasized that change is constant, and within interactive design that change is accelerated.
ACR: Speaking of that, any emerging areas of interactive design that interest you?
MM: It is always interesting to observe the latest trends in the field. Interactive design trends often seem to emerge overnight, and those trends can range from the less substantive like typography and color trends, to the more substantial like rotating animations and scroll-triggered animations. As a designer, I find rotating animations to be interesting because they allow the user experience to vary each time the site is visited or refreshed. This extends the life of the site content, which helps cut down on aesthetic revisions. Funny how this too will soon be considered antiquated as technology storms forward.
ACR: Lastly Mark, what do you value most about Nossi College of Art and its approach to Web & Interactive Design that you’d like to share with readers?
MM: Nossi is currently Tennessee’s only private art college, and that alone makes the college unique. In terms of the Web & Interactive program, I am most excited by the senior leadership’s desire to grow the program, and their trust in me to lead that growth. I value the smaller, more intimate classroom settings which allow for a more engaged and effective learning experience for all involved. There is a family-like atmosphere that gracefully combines the formal and informal aspects of college learning. The faculty and staff genuinely care for the students that come through the doors at Nossi. It’s been my experience that these are characteristics less prevalent at much larger universities, and I anticipate that this unique culture will persist even as our program and college grows.
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.