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Kirkwood’s graphic design program teaches job skills that are in high demand

Kirkwood’s graphic design program teaches job skills that are in high demand
Kirkwood’s graphic design program teaches job skills that are in high demand
Photo courtesy of Kirkwood Community College
Kirkwood instructor Reggie Morrow

Marketing, communications and storytelling are more visual today than ever before. Every company and organization is battling for our attention through print, digital and social media, and eye-popping visuals and clever graphic design will win the fight every time. How can someone who’s just getting started in media gain an edge? Kirkwood Community College has the answer.

Kirkwood’s Continuing Education Graphic Design Certificate Program is a six-month program that teaches the tools and techniques to help you become an effective graphic designer. Over 11 classes, which meet twice a week at a state-of-the-art computer lab on Kirkwood’s campus in Cedar Rapids, students learn principles of design that translate to every medium, such as color, composition and typography, as well as how to use the latest professional software, including Adobe graphic design programs like Photoshop and Illustrator.

Course instructor Reggie Morrow said it’s common for his students to have already started a career in marketing or communications. “They’re employed at an organization that respects and understands that they need smart graphic design,” said Morrow, “so they will send an employee to take one of these courses to become better equipped to suit their needs.”

Brooke Batha, a recent graduate of the program, was already employed as a content creator and social media professional at the Eastern Iowa Airport when she enrolled. “I do a little bit of graphic design in my position, so it was helping me in that,” said Batha. “I learned the different concepts and principles, and I’m now able to do the basics of Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. It was a very eye-opening program.”

Photoshop is the industry standard for photo retouching and manipulation, allowing artists to control light and color in their shots, or completely change reality—removing small blemishes or massive buildings depending on their needs. Illustrator is a vector-based art software that lets users create endlessly scalable design elements and typography. InDesign and Acrobat are useful tools for creating professional layouts of books, brochures and packaging that are ready to print.

However, Morrow emphasized that the class is more than just learning how to use the latest software. “Our program starts with principles of design, learning some of those important words like balance, proximity, contrast and weight. Once you understand the principles of design, it really doesn’t matter which tools you’re using. The software doesn’t come up with the solution.”

Throughout the course, students learn by analyzing and designing familiar items: “The projects were common things that you would see in everyday life,” Batha said. “Making a newspaper or a magazine cover. There was a children’s book, a concert poster. I really liked my business card.” By examining both successful and unsuccessful executions of graphic design, Morrow shapes his students into better communicators. “Graphic design is a visual solution to a problem,” said Morrow. “Whether it be a brochure, a package or a sign. It even reaches across languages. If you need to use the bathroom, you look at the doors and there are pictograms. It’s like wayfinding.”

These core theories of design taught in the course have a way of sticking with you, Batha said. “There’s things I’ll look at now, the alignment and contrast—I used to say ‘I’m not a huge fan of that,’ or, ‘I really

like that design,’ but couldn’t explain why. Now having gone through the class those concepts make sense.”

Students who complete the course receive a certificate from Kirkwood and will have developed a portfolio of work they created during the class, but that’s not Morrow’s final intention for the students. “My goal is to have students that can be of immediate value to benefit society,” Morrow said. “They can go out there and actually start to work for someone and help with their creative needs. I want them to be ready to go when they leave the session. If they put their time into it, they will be.”

If you are interested in beginning your career in the field of graphic design, register online at For more information, call Kirkwood Continuing Education at 319-398-1022.