Oct. 2, 2020
CWU Graphic Design Graduates Find Their Footing in a Competitive Industry
One key metric Central Washington University can use to gauge the strength of its academic programs is job-placement rate.
CWU Art + Design associate professor David Bieloh doesn’t know exactly how many of his graphic design graduates are working in the industry, but he says the majority of them have found jobs as professional designers — some at high-profile, multinational companies.
There’s no question CWU graphic design students are receiving precisely the training they need to excel in the industry.
“My goal is to position them as well as I can so that when they graduate, I will feel comfortable, they will feel comfortable, and the companies that hire them will feel comfortable,” said Bieloh, who joined the CWU faculty in 2013. “In a way, our reputation precedes us, and hopefully, that will inspire employers to come back to us.”
Bieloh and his colleague, Justin Beckman, work with about 25 Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) candidates each year, preparing them to be professional graphic artists. In a typical year, the program trains 80-100 graphic design majors at different phases of their education.
Bieloh keeps in touch with most of his former students on social media, and he maintains an “After CWU” webpage to chronicle the program’s placement proclivity.
Recent CWU alums have landed jobs at Sid Lee, Nordstrom, Tommy Bahama, Owen Jones, Brand Juice, Blamo Corps, Tube Art Group, Ibotta, IHS Markit, and Gravity Creative. Others have gone on to work for newspapers, school districts, nonprofit organizations, and media conglomerates — not to mention, their alma mater.
“We are doing very well and our students are finding high-profile jobs every year,” said Bieloh, who credited retired professor Glen Bach for building and strengthening the program. “Something is working, so we’re just going to keep doing the best we can and make adjustments when we need to.”
Three prominent examples of instant career success are Ryan Moffat (’17), Amanda Smith (’19), and Anjerie Jarman (’19).
Moffat works as a user experience (UI/UX) designer for IHS Markit, an international website and app development company; Smith is a designer at Sid Lee, one of the premier advertising agencies in Seattle; and Jarman is the communications director for the West Valley School District in Yakima.
Bieloh commended Jarman for taking on such a high-profile position right after graduation, but he is confident CWU prepared her well for the challenge.
“We take a well-rounded approach, and we don’t focus too much on one thing,” he said. “The students’ portfolios show the many different design areas they have been exposed to, and we do a lot of real-world projects for actual clients. Our goal is to give our students a good arsenal to work with when they enter the job market.”
Coming from a computer science background, Moffat wanted to find a career where he could work with computers but also tap into his creativity. CWU’s sequence in user-interface design helped him discover the best of both worlds.
“There are so many channels you can go into with graphic design,” he said. “CWU helped me go on an adventure and find the areas I liked most. I wasn’t sold on the UI/UX world until the end of college, but being exposed to it helped me figure out what I wanted to do. Now, I’m doing all kinds of cool things, and it’s been very rewarding.”
2016 department video
Building a Foundation
Smith and Moffat said they appreciated CWU’s diverse curriculum, which gives its students a solid foundation by emphasizing design history and theory. Once the students understand the evolution of art and design, they can apply their contemporary skills to create their own high-quality work.
“Design principles are the same across all media, whether it’s typography, use of color, or use of hierarchy on a page,” said Moffat, who is based in Boulder, Colo. “The same principles apply for a brochure or a website. But you have to continue to educate yourself about how design changes. You have to be aware of what’s going on in the industry, and the CWU professors really seem to pay attention to that.”
“There’s a lot of foundational learning,” Smith added. “You gain that experience first and then learn to conceptualize and create more advanced artwork as you keep going. Those classes were a great stepping stone.”
A seemingly outdated skill like typography can often help set a young designer apart in a highly competitive field. Bieloh pointed to 2019 graduate Isabelle Grotting, who was hired this summer by Ibotta — a mobile technology company based in Denver — because of her strong background in illustration and typography.
“They said they loved her hand-lettering and ad campaign experience,” he said.
That’s not to say the graphic design students don’t spend a lot of time on computers, because they do. They spend hours upon hours perfecting their skills on Adobe products such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.
The more industry-standard work they produce during their time at CWU, the more effective they will be in a professional environment.
“What helped me most was the sheer amount of design we had to do, and learning how to use the Adobe programs,” said 2017 graduate Samantha Lee, who works as a production manager for Yakima Valley Publishing. “But the group critiques, the projects that involved working with an actual client, and the occasional surprise project with a fast turnaround also ended up being applicable to my job.”
2017 CWU graduate Ryan Moffat
Aside from what Bieloh teaches his students in the classroom — or online, as he has the past two quarters — the most important contribution he has made to his students’ careers is introducing them to his professional network.
Moffat and Smith both said their former professor’s connections provided them with a big advantage during the interview process.
“He introduced me to a couple people and it just cascaded from there,” said Moffat, who has been with IHS Markit for three years. “I laugh now because the job boards usually say ‘five years of experience required.’ But I have found that it’s more about having those connections with people on the inside. David helped me a lot with that.”
Similarly, Smith received a boost from Bieloh when she was seeking an internship — and later, a job — at Sid Lee (formerly Hornall Anderson). Her internship in the summer of 2019 eventually led to a full-time position as a consumer packaged goods designer.
Smith called the program’s focus on portfolio development “invaluable,” but most of all, she liked how her classes mirrored what industry-leading agencies like Sid Lee are doing every day.
“My professors at CWU gave me the network connections and provided me with the skills I needed to get in the door,” she said. “I definitely feel like CWU prepared me well. … We have a lot to be thankful for with this program.”
Media contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs, David.Leder@cwu.edu, 509-963-1518.