Academy of Art University Celebrates Anniversary by Highlighting 90 Years of Graphic Design


Among the many events to celebrate in 2019 is the upcoming 90th anniversary of the renowned Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Representing one of the oldest and most prestigious design schools in the United States, this unique educational institution has been providing an exciting and constantly evolving curriculum for students seeking careers in art and design for nearly a century.  An early innovator in the study of graphic design, this historic institution has much to celebrate as one of the nation’s leaders in the field of art and design education, with a trajectory of expansion and growth, as well as an untiring commitment to excellence in teaching and mentoring the nation’s top art and design professionals.

Established in 1929 by Richard S. Stephens, the Academy of Art College (as it was known then) opened in a rented loft at 215 Kearny Street to begin teaching advertising art. From the beginning, the school’s philosophy was set: was to hire established professionals to teach future professionals. Stephens began by hiring practicing art and design professionals to assist him at the school. Art and design, the foundations of today’s field of graphic design, formed the foundations of what was to become the Academy of Art University.

Celebrating 90 Years of Creative Innovation

Today, the Academy reflects an ongoing commitment to creative innovation in every department. From its small beginnings in 1929, the university has expanded its offerings to include over 30 areas of professional study, most with five degree programs offered, as well as some sub-specialties. Students come from around the world to engage with working creatives who guide them in learning with industry standard facilities and equipment.

The Academy of Art University campus has expanded across a large portion of downtown San Francisco, which lends its own creative flair to the school’s course offerings and learning environment. Students can live on campus while engaged in a program of study or enjoy online classes while developing their skills from afar. Academy of Art University is proud to be on the cutting edge of artistic education, shaping generations of artists, thinkers, and leaders who will continue to push the envelope of creativity and artistic expression.

The Stephens family has heavily invested in the vision of the school’s founder: providing arts education to a wide audience of creative people. Currently led by the founder’s granddaughter, Dr. Elisa Stephens, the university is one of the largest private schools of art and design in the United States. Under her excellent leadership, the Academy of Art University is continually expanding its curriculum to stay current with new technologies and industry trends, as well as developing amazing facilities and resources.

An Early Beginning for Graphic Design

Graphic design has been a part of the Academy of Art University since its inception. The school’s founder began his teaching based on his own training and experience in advertising art, which was the embryonic form of what has grown to become graphic design. Graphic design has been described as, “the sphere of human activity that lies on the crossroads of several directions, first of all, visual arts, communication and psychology.”

At its core, graphic design seeks to communicate messages to others through the medium of visual elements of different style and complexity, using different types and fonts, pictograms, shapes and sizes, colors and shades, lines and curves. Professional graphic designers combine all those elements to visually transfer the message of his or her client. In short, graphic designers are engaged in art not for art’s sake, but for the purpose of communicating. Graphic arts is purposeful art.

In the early days of advertising art, simple illustrations and words sought to convey a message of persuasion, in order to draw the attention and patronage of consumers. The concepts were simple, yet creative and refined, and included the focal areas listed below. This early beginning has grown into the broader field of graphic arts, which covers the following areas of focus in much greater detail:

  • Big print items (billboards, posters, etc.)
  • Editorial design
  • Icons and pictograms
  • Identity (logo and branding) design
  • Illustration
  • Interface graphics and elements
  • Packaging
  • Print advertisements
  • Signs
  • Typography

Modern graphic design seeks to fulfill the primary objectives of branding, beautification, explaining, and navigating. Some would call it a form of stylish communication with character.

The School of Graphic Design at Academy of Art University

Academy of Art University’s School of Graphic Design focuses primarily on eight foundational forms:

  • Branding
  • Communication Design
  • Editorial Design
  • Environmental Design
  • Experience DesignO
  • Innovation
  • Packaging
  • Typography

Coursework in this discipline spans the above practices and careers in the graphic design field include user experience design, product design, and service design. Students are mentored by faculty members with years of graphic design experience working with top-flight studios and brand-name companies with strong ties to the industry. They enjoy the latest equipment, software, and technology in order to keep up with the rising tides of innovation and creativity that propel the modern era of graphic design. If the pros are using it, so are the Academy of Art University students.

Graphic Design students at Academy of Art University experience the real-life design industry first-hand by working on actual industry projects that integrate disciplines.  For example, as part of their studies in 2018, students from the Schools of Graphic Design, Industrial Design, Fashion, Web Design & New Media worked together with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to re-imagine design features for the 2030 Maserati and Alfa Romeo automotive lines.

The faculty at the School of Graphic Design, as is true for all of the university’s faculty, are composed of top-level industry professionals, such as Phil Hamlett, Director of the Graphic Design program. Hamlett is a former member of the national board of directors of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), as well as an officer of the board of the AIGA San Francisco Chapter, where he was appointed as President in 2014. Hamlett is also the founder of Compostmodern, an AIGA project that brings together designers, scientists and idea-generators to imagine and design the future of the planet and civilization, and co-author of The Living Principles for Design, in which he sets forth an agenda for sustainable business practice as applicable to the design community.

Every year a talented and savvy new crop of graphic design professionals graduate from the Academy of Art University, expanding the field with innovative new ideas and concepts. Graduates of the school’s School of Graphic Design have landed dream jobs with such notable companies as Square, Nike, Adobe, Clorox, Google, IDEO, and Apple. Students may choose from five graphic design degree programs, and classes are available on campus as well as online.


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