Not long ago, I stumbled upon a smart and insightful piece on the pitfalls of traditional design programs written by Mike Mates of Seattle-based Urban Influence. Mike’s argument is this: Many graduates from design programs that focus solely on theory and technical ability are poorly educated on the slew of practical challenges that exist in the professional realm (client dynamics, budget restrictions and workplace communication, among others). And though I didn’t major in graphic design, I found myself reflecting on my experience in the University of Oregon’s advertising program, pinpointing fundamental reasons why its students emerge with a competitive edge. Here’s what I’ve concluded:
1. We’re multi-disciplinary. Unlike the majority of art schools and portfolio programs, the UO embraces liberal arts and compels students to delve into a wide array of subject areas. The result is a well-rounded crop of young professionals who deeply grasp the importance of cultural awareness, community involvement, and continuing education.
2. We’re given the freedom to act on our ideas. More than just a community of dreamers, thinkers, and idea generators, we’re builders and makers taught to harness our creative potential and turn our ideas into reality. In other words, we have the drive and desire to put our creative toolbox to the true test.
3. We’re offered real-world experience. Students are presented with countless opportunities to engage and interact with industry professionals while developing practical experience in their field:
- We’re mentored by notable thought leaders and innovators, including Mullen’s Edward Boches, BSSP’s Ed Cotton, NORTH’s Dave Allen and Uncorked Studios’ David Ewald.
- We operate within real budgetary, technological and bureaucratic parameters as members of one of the nation’s only student-run advertising agencies.
- We’re given endless freedom to create and discover during annual expeditions to NYC for Creative Week New York, to Austin for South by Southwest Interactive, and to NYC and San Francisco as part of a one-of-a-kind professional shadow program.
But I’m under no illusions that my alma mater is by any means flawless. So in the interest of impartiality, I’ve also rounded up three ways that the School of Journalism and Communication could improve its advertising program:
1. Expand requirements. General studies and prerequisites aside, undergrads in the UO’s ad program are currently only required to take five classes centered on the vast and ever-changing world of branding and advertising. Those who aren’t compelled to dig deeper scrape by with only a surface-level understanding of the most fundamental concepts.
2. Strengthen offerings in visual communication. While we’re routinely praised for the high level of strategy present in our work, we’re often told that our creative executions can’t compete. In terms of curriculum, the caliber of visual communication courses in the UO’s ad program should mirror the quality of its strategic offerings.
3. Embrace the little guy. Simply put, the big-name agencies aren’t the only ones doing mind-blowing, forward-thinking work. The UO’s advertising program should spread its attention across agencies of all types and sizes, providing students with a more objective and comprehensive understanding of the industry.