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T-shirts design devil whispered in my ear...


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Several years ago, the American Institute of Graphic Arts (aiga) and the National
Association of Schools of Art and Design (nasad, the accrediting body for college
programs in art and design) agreed that the bachelor of fine arts with a fully
articulated major in graphic design was the “first professional degree.” As part of
that agreement, the organizations defined “essential competencies” as learning
outcomes that should result from study in these programs and have published
briefing papers that expand discussion of conditions surrounding professional
programs (on faculty qualifications, technology thresholds, degree programs, and
the role of general education—all available on the organizational Web sites).
Since that time there has been considerable debate as to the status of
preprofessional degrees (the terminology referring to associate’s degrees and
bachelors of arts, science, and fine arts with concentrations of less than 25 percent
of the total coursework in graphic design). The position of aiga and nasad is
that graduates of preprofessional programs generally require additional study to
qualify for significant professional careers in design. The frequent arguments from
faculty teaching in preprofessional degree programs, however, is that graduates of
their programs gain employment in the field (this is usually followed by an
anecdote about a recent graduate who has attained high-profile employment) and
that the graduates have addressed the professional competencies and are simply
lacking the unrelated general education coursework surrounding studio instruction
in graphic design.
I would argue that what distinguishes a professional graphic design education
from a preprofessional experience is not the one-to-one match between curriculum
and the current skill set necessary for entry-level practice, but the essential
competencies that enable design practitioners to be predictive and responsible for
transforming the field across their professional careers. It is possible, for example,
to meet most day-to-day demands of a professional office without deep knowledge
of design history or how new technologies destabilize traditional theories of mass
communication. But without such disciplinary knowledge, it is far less likely that the
young designer will anticipate and respond appropriately to the rapidly shifting
context for design. If the changing task of the designer is viewed simply as
transferring traditional skills to new problems—a recycling of form and technique—
the relevance of the field in the future is in question.