“A graphic designer has to be able to see things in new and different ways, then recreate that vision from the ground up.”

Melissa Kraus recently earned her online Associate of Arts in Graphic Design. She attended International Academy of Design and Technology (IADT).

Melissa studied graphic design because it brought together her lifelong passion for drawing and photography. She chose to study online because the flexibility and convenience of an online degree program suited her busy life as a single mother. Now that she has her degree, Melissa plans to move to a city with more opportunities in her field and possibly pursue a bachelors degree.

In your own words, what is graphic design?

Graphic design is the development of an idea into a form that will communicate a message. Graphic design artists take thoughts and express them visually, often with their own special twist.

Why did you choose to get an associates degree in graphic design online?

I chose to get an associates degree in graphic design at the International Academy of Design and Technology because I am a creative person. When I was younger, I drew a great deal. But when I became an adult, I began playing around with photography, and it expanded my mind and changed how I saw the world. I felt that graphic design would be the best way for me to build upon this lifelong enthrallment with visual art.

What did you find most and least enjoyable about studying graphic design?

What I found most enjoyable about studying graphic design was the ability to express myself in my work. I could develop my own ideas within the frameworks that my classes gave me. Maybe a course asked me to create an ad for a product, but how I created that ad and what it looked like in the end was up to me.

What I found challenging, however, was learning the software. I learned so much software in such a small space of time. Some of the programs I learned, like Photoshop, had tons of tools that each required time and energy to master.

When you first considered studying graphic design online what were your expectations?

When I first considered studying graphic design online, I expected that my program would teach me less than a traditional program would. So far, all of my education, including some classes I took in community college, had been at traditional brick-and-mortal schools. Now that I have completed my degree, however, I can say that traditional and online programs for graphic design are not very different from each other.

What kinds of classes did you take in your graphic design program?

The classes that I took for my graphic design program included courses in design elements and photography. Each of these courses taught me to use programs like Photoshop, Illustration and Dreamweaver, as well as basic design theories, like how to utilize focus and shadows.

Which of these classes do you think will be the most valuable for your future goals?

The classes that I think will be most valuable to my career were my visual composition courses. I can walk into a room and envision different ways to decorate it, and not many people can do that. My visual composition courses helped me develop this natural ability so that I could use it more practically in my art.

What classes do you feel were least useful?

The least useful classes I took were my math courses. I can understand why my school required them as part of my general education requirements, but algebra is just not a skill that I plan to use in my career.

What resources did you use to help you succeed in your studies?

The most important resource that I used to help me succeed in my program was the Internet. It sparked my creativity, which I often needed for the courses that asked me to design something on the spot.

My school also provided an online library that I used for all of my classes. My teachers would hand out 5 to 15 different library articles or links so that we could get a better understanding of the design process.

How did you interact with your professors?

I interacted with my professors through e-mail and discussion boards. One thing that I appreciated about my school was that the professors made themselves available to students, not just during office hours, but also during their live lectures.

Were you able to interact with your peers while studying online?

Yes, I interacted with my peers through my school’s virtual commons, which is like a Facebook page. Only students of the school can access it and everyone sets up a small profile for themselves. I also instant messaged many of my classmates and friends.

Most of the people I became friends with in my online courses were those who I had friended over LinkedIn or Facebook. I wanted to maintain contact with them after I finished school.

What personality traits do you think would help a student to succeed in a graphic design program and what traits would hinder success?

The personality trait that I think will most help a student succeed in a graphic design program is creativity. A graphic designer has to be able to see things in new and different ways, then recreate that vision from the ground up.

I also think that a thick skin can help people with the criticism that they will receive about their art. Graphic designers like to put a great deal of themselves into whatever they make, but in the business world, they have to be willing to let go of that inclination and do what their clients want, instead.

Being too emotional, however, can get in the way of someone succeeding in a graphic design program. I think that creative people are more emotional, in general, which is why so few of us have an interest in left-brain areas like mathematics. But someone who cannot balance the tendency to be emotional with a bit of reason will struggle to accept the criticism that he or she may need to improve and succeed in the field.

What was your weekly schedule?

My weekly schedule varied depending on my class schedule. Typically, however, I devoted my mornings to getting my kids out the door to school and cleaning the house. Then I would sit down to do school or portfolio work. On average, I spent an average of 8 hours a day on schoolwork, but took half-days on Sundays, which is usually when I turned in my assignments. For some of my more difficult courses, however, I spent as much as 16 hours a day trying to master the concepts.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in studying graphic design online?

My advice for students who are interested in studying graphic design online is that they need to understand just how flexible an online program is. If something comes up, I do not have to worry about missing classes because I can go look it up later in the archives. I have gone to school at a traditional campus and an online campus, and I find the online campus to be, by far, the most flexible learning environment.

I also would advise students that an online program is for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. So long as a student sets a schedule for themselves and sticks to it, then he or she can succeed.

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