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Heather Shaw - Graphic Design Faculty
"The challenge of majoring in a visual field is that there's no right or wrong, no true or false; there are only degrees of better or degrees of worse," says Heather Shaw, assistant professor of graphic design at Curry College. "So we teach students how to become creative and critical thinkers - design thinkers - and creative problem solvers."
By developing intellectual and conceptual skills, with technology as part of the process, Professor Shaw and her colleagues at Curry encourage design majors to explore, experiment and consider the best media and resources for creative problem solving. "It takes time. It takes lots of practice, but it can be extremely rewarding."
After teaching for eight years, previously as a full-time lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Professor Shaw arrived at Curry in 2009 and is exploring new teaching models for design education. "Because design is a relatively new major at Curry, I was excited to join a program that offers room to grow and opportunities to be flexible. For instance, in my first year at Curry we introduced an elective, Elements of Dynamic Media, which added motion and interactive design to the curriculum. Last semester, students designed and rapid-prototyped iPhone applications."
As Shaw emphasizes, design isn't about mastering software applications - and she encourages students to draw and get comfortable working with their hands. "We established both design and technology objectives for our courses because students who hold a working knowledge of the digital tools make better decisions about which ones to use for an assignment. Ultimately, the studios and organizations who hire our graduates look for creative and conceptual abilities first and technical skills second." Motivated students have held internships at Jackrabbit Design, Rockport/Reebok and the Curry College Publications Office.
In a senior Independent Studio class, one of Professor Shaw's students worked with the nonprofit Help Women Heal, an organization dedicated to providing Afghan women with scholarship funding for health care education. His project involved interviewing the group to assess their needs and goals, and developing a creative strategy to bring their message to the world. He designed a visual identity for HWH and built a site in WordPress - enabling members of the organization to update the site themselves. Professor Shaw notes: "The student realized that a printed artifact such as a poster or flyer wouldn't have the necessary impact for this group. Instead, he launched a flexible application that empowered the client to maintain its own voice while reaching a global audience."
Outside Curry, Shaw continues to design professionally. Her work spans both print and interactive media for clients such as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, MIT, Harvard, Tufts, Brandeis University and the Perkins School for the Blind. She freelances for a small studio in Lexington, MA, and takes on outside projects independently. "Design is a professional practice geared toward serving a client's need, so I'm constantly doing research and user-testing since each project poses a unique set of challenges."
Professor Shaw currently serves as the Education Director for AIGA Boston, one of the oldest and largest U.S. chapters. (AIGA, The Professional Association for Design, is an organization dedicated to advancing design as a professional craft.) She also started an AIGA student group at Curry, engaging students with local AIGA events, lectures and exhibitions and inspiring them to connect with the Boston design community. In 2011, the student chapter attended AIGA events such as the Annual Student Portfolio Review: New Voices, Unique Visions (an all-student exhibition) and the lecture/exhibition of The Graphic Intervention: 25 Years of AIDS Awareness Posters.
Professor Shaw enjoys the dynamic environment at Curry College. "With new faculty, new buildings and so many initiatives unfolding everywhere, Curry is bound for motion. It's amazing how quickly change can happen here. We're in a great location that offers our students many possibilities for experiential learning - our proximity to Boston, Providence and New York City provides access to museums and other cultural outlets. These resources make Curry an excellent choice for students interested in pursuing design."
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