Disciplines of Design

My environment growing up was not particularly conducive to studying art (lots of engineers and scientists, very few artsy people) no matter how many art classes I was enrolled in (I didn’t really like children’s art classes anyway), and I had to find a lot of the information out myself. (Oh, college, you require a portfolio with drawings? :< Let me make some at the last minute. ) At one point during high school, I taught a short course on graphic design for my fellow students, which caught the Journalism teacher’s attention. Unfortunately he misunderstood what constitutes graphic design – his request that I do graphics for the school newspaper articles was more in line with editorial illustration. When I was looking at colleges, my dad wanted me to study Industrial Design, because it would combine my subject with his engineering, and despite having a pretty clear idea myself of what I was interested in, most of the people in my community had trouble understanding clearly what I was looking for.

Hopefully this might help give future college students a vocabulary to work with, and help people who like being visually creative but would otherwise choose something more “practical” see how artistic disciplines intersect with other areas.

Therefore I want to explain how different disciplines of visual arts vary. I’ll think of as many of I can, and hopefully provide an informed opinion – but members of the individual fields may need to correct me if I am misinformed, and different schools would of course have different syllabi.

Starting with DESIGN, as I know it best:

  • Graphic Design: How to make a pretty page; how to make logos or a brand identity (eg. Google’s 4 colors, which you recognize even without the logo); typography; printing posters, brochures, etc; design rules as applied to a flat surface and at least some text – probably even a printed flat surface.
  • Industrial Design: The shape of products in our daily lives; furniture, appliances, shoes, cars; concept art for products; elements of engineering; 3D modeling esp in things like AutoCAD; design as applied to shaping a functional 3D structure.
  • Package Design: a bit like Industrial Design except it’s for the packaging things come in; making designs that get wrapped onto 3D objects; making those cool bottles and boxes that the grocery store is full of; deciding the best way to present a product. The Dieline is awesome for reading about that stuff.
  • Interior Design: Decorating and structuring the insides of a building; principles of design as applied to interior spaces; paint, furnishings, spacial balance, feng shui.
  • Fashion Design: featured in Project Runway and Devil Wears Prada. Principles of design as applied to outfits; contrasts in texture, style, shape, size, etc for personal beauty; sewing, costume design, etc.
  • Textile Design: how fabrics get made; designing their patterns, how cloth is printed, etc.
  • Print Design: Graphic design with an emphasis specifically on printing and the technology behind it; how offset printing works; how books are made, how printers work, how to work with different kinds of substrates like a given weight of paper.
  • Web Design: Graphic design as applied to a digital surface (light is emitted rather than reflected as with paper); understanding the requirements for legibility on a screen; learning how to produce styles that will look sophisticated in the media (what looks good on a printed page and what looks good on a screen are quite different). Multimedia design is somewhat related, and at this point I think may be becoming a bit of an antiquated term, but it involves combining media such as film and photography with design and production.
  • Game Design: the elements of setting up a computer game, such as rules, gameplay, design and concept art, storyline, characters, and all the other elements that go into making a game unique. Includes everything from 3D modeling and coding the game, to writing, drawing, and GUI design.

Many of my artistic friends were in ART programs:

  • Illustration: Drawing pretty pictures in a more or less realistic way; concept art for games, books, movies; drawing, painting, some sculpture, trips to the zoo. Somewhere in between the following two disciplines is editorial illustrations for magazines, illustrations that have a point or commentary and generally accompany a text article.
  • Medical Illustration: Drawing medically-realistic pictures; images of all kinds for textbooks; learning biology and anatomy; dissections; seems to require a lot less “artsyness” and a lot more ability to accurately portray something down to the small details.
  • Fine Art: Art for art’s sake; “the starving artist” concept, making experimental art or making art of your feelings.

RIT also offers pretty self-explanatory CRAFT programs, for really working with your hands:

  • Woodworking
  • Pottery
  • Metalworking/Jewelry
  • Glass

There are also a variety of fields which these days are reliant on digital tools:

  • Computer Graphics/3D
  • Film
  • Animation
  • Photography

Many schools have some overlap at least in the first year or two; for my program I had to learn the basics of drawing, photography, and film as well as taking a couple of crafts classes of my choice. Although it was very valuable, I was very glad to be done with hand drawing and move on to digital things.

If you know of more, please let me know! I think these cover the broadest areas of visual arts, and hopefully will help students figure out what would be the most appropriate for their skills and interests. I chose my college and major based pretty much entirely on the list of courses it offered; I think this is a pretty good way to go when there are fine shades of variation between degrees. When I entered college I wanted to do web design and concept art for computer games, but if I had gone into Illustration the way I should have for concept art, I would have been very out of my element and done badly. My top priorities were web design, typography, and 3D modeling, plus some drawing and a few other things, which actually seemed somewhat disparate according to the course lists I looked at. Fortunately I was able to find the New Media Design program at RIT which combined all the elements I wanted in one way or another. Although a number of my classes were lame because of teachers or disappointing curricula, they did cover the topics I most wanted to learn, and give me a wide selection of options to try out.

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