New design studio creates prioritized space for graphic design students

Daniel Ketchelos —Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Daniel Ketchelos

The Dordt University Art Department recently opened a new design studio for graphic design students to build their digital skills with state-of-the-art Mac computers. 

The space, located in CL 1223, contains 23 2021 M1 iMacs available for use throughout the week. All graphic design, web design, and motion graphics courses will be held in the new studio, whic also features multifunctional desks where the iMacs sink into the desks when more space is needed for physical design work. 

“I’m very excited to bring the graphic design students into the art department,” Vaughn Donahue, instructor of graphic design, said. “For the longest time graphic design students have been in the digital media lab, and outside of the physical walls of the art department. I’ve realized that a senior who has a fine art emphasis and a senior who has a graphic design emphasis don’t necessarily know each other, and I think that’s a problem. So, this [design studio] allows us to all be in the same place and to take better ownership of the space we have.” 

The design studio is a transformation of the drawing studio for the Art Department and features large whiteboards along each wall for students to sketch out ideas and mount work for other students to review. The room will eventually feature a lounge area in the back of the studio with couches for students to sit and discuss current projects and brainstorm design elements with each other.   

“I think they’ve updated the classroom well,” Emma McGaughey, a sophomore graphic design student, said. “It’s a nice way to separate digital media and graphic design and have a special space for both groups.”

Previously, all graphic design students worked in the Digital Media Lab, which is prioritized for students working in video production. While graphic design work can still be completed on Windows PCs in the Digital Media Lab, the Design Studio offers a place for graphic design students to work on Macs, the industry standard in graphic design.

“Any graphic design student that will be going into the field of graphic design needs to know how to operate a Mac operating system,” Donahue said. “The chances of them being given a Mac at their first job is very likely.”

The design studio was first conceptualized three years ago during a review of the current Digital Media Lab, asking what students need to learn properly today. This discussion led to the idea of splitting the current space into two—a dedicated studio with Macs for graphic design students and the current Digital Media Lab for digital media students. 

“This was a bit of a dream that seemed like it was quite a way in the future because it is a pretty expensive thing to do,” Donahue said. “The computers aren’t cheap, the desks aren’t cheap, and the changes to the room aren’t cheap. Something of this size usually needs to be worked into longer-term plans and scheduled, but we happened upon a donor, a Dordt graduate who understood our need for a new lab, and we were able to work with him and a few other donors to get the funding that we needed years ahead of what we thought was possible.”

While the Design Studio is almost fully functional, there have been challenges in the formation of the space. 

“The launch of the design studio has been a little rocky,” Donahue said. “All the necessary parts came at the end of the fall semester, and it takes a lot of work to get it up and running properly. We are making it work by being flexible in our courses as we get the computers to a place where they need to be to serve the students well.” 

The Design Studio will be tailored toward the needs of graphic design students and what works best for their learning style. Many of the elements yet to be incorporated into the space will be open for students to input ideas. 

“I’ll be relying on students to help me design other aspects of the room including where we’re putting different tools, how to organize the supply closet, and the brainstorming area in the back of the room,” Donahue said. “So this first generation of students that are using this lab will have some ownership of how we put it together.”

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