Creative Visuals: Current Students on Notre Dame's Visual Communication Design Concentration

Author: Shannon Rooney

Visual Communication


Thanks to the evolving ways in which people consume media, more and more organizations are looking to make their visual identities and brands more impactful. Digital marketing has made it increasingly important for brands to communicate via a growing variety of visual platforms—and in small, digestible bites that still pack a punch. 

Students in Notre Dame's visual communication design concentration are learning to design in ways that fill this need for organizations. Visual communication design is, basically, "a creative process that combines the visual arts and technology to communicate ideas," according to the program's website. In the hands of designers, an organization's message is "transformed into visual communication that transcends mere words and pictures." 

From understanding user experience on websites to digital animation, to creating magazine layouts, logos, and clothing labels, students learn to use color, type, movement, symbols, and images to "inform, educate, persuade, and even entertain a specific audience." 

At Notre Dame, visual communication design is one of two concentrations within the design major. The other is industrial design. Students may pursue a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of fine arts with the visual communication design concentration. They also have the option to minor in collaborative innovation through the same department. 

Foundational courses in the design program include 2D Foundations, 3D Foundations, and Drawing I, which introduce students to design theory and craft via a variety of media, from hands-on to digital. Students are also introduced to contemporary artists and designers whose work gives concepts real-world context. 

"Among those three classes, design students get caught up on what they should know before going into their area of concentration," explains Emily Beck, associate professor of the practice, Foundations coordinator, and director of undergraduate studies. 

Students with a variety of interests are attracted to the visual communication design concentration. Some may choose to major in marketing via the Mendoza College of Business and add on a second major in design with this concentration, for example. The concentration also attracts students with interests in journalism, English, and computer science, among many others, says Beck, because visual communication design spans a breadth of applications in other fields. 

Students who graduate with the visual communication design concentration go on to many different careers, from working with large and small design firms to in-house design departments for global companies (think Walt Disney and Estée Lauder) to starting their own businesses.

"The possibilities of what students might do is kind of endless," says Beck. 

Each year, the department hosts an Alumni Design Conference, which brings alumni, from five to 20 years out from graduation, back to the University to present to and interact with current students. That kind of connection is one of the benefits of studying design at a place like Notre Dame. 

Another benefit includes being "placed within a liberal arts university," says Beck, through which students gain a more holistic education than they might at a design-specific school. 

The design program focuses on human-centered design, a problem-solving approach in which the people affected by a problem are given consideration throughout each step of the process. 

"And so what we think our students gain beyond just the technical skills is the human skills, along with the human-centered research skills, the ability to write, the ability to present in front of people without fear, and the ability, especially for our double majors, to make the connection between multiple interests," says Beck. 

The students below have made the most of their design major and concentration in visual communication design. Keep scrolling to learn about their experiences. 


Anna Frericks '22

Major: Design - Visual Communication Design

How did you choose design as a major? 

Design is something that I knew I wanted to do after graduating high school, so I did not spend much time deliberating my major when I came to Notre Dame. I had a brief moment freshman year when I considered going into studio art instead. Luckily, so many of the courses overlap, so I could still take requirements for both without getting behind in either. I ultimately chose VCD when I realized the potential design has to help other peoples' goals and dreams become a reality. Seeing the joy from someone as their dream comes to life with my design help is still priceless.  

Have you always been interested in these topics? 

I was very into art before I had ever tried design, so I loved how the VCD program included a mix of studio art classes and design. Through all the course offerings in the design department, I realized how multi-faceted the design industry is. The experience that I had in the program could have been very different because of the amount of flexibility we are given when choosing classes.

Which class in the program has been your favorite and why?

My favorite class has probably been VCD 2: Typography. It was a huge period of growth for me, and a class where I really began to realize the depth of thought that it takes to be a designer. I spent a lot of time after class talking to my professor and he would point out why elements of a design were working vs. not working in my work and the work of famous designers. This course is super important to the design program at Notre Dame, and I would recommend taking it immediately after VCD 1 to build the right foundation as future students move into more advanced courses.

Do you have plans for a career in design?

Of course! I’m hoping to work at a design agency after graduation because I love the variety of projects and clients that I would come in contact with. This is a common path for new designers because it allows for a lot of growth and experimentation while working a little more fast-paced. Beyond this, I’m not really sure what kind of career I want. I hope that I can make a positive impact in other people’s lives through design though.

Have you done any related internships or research projects outside of class? 

I’ve worked in football recruiting since freshman year helping out with design work, which has been an amazing experience. I’ve also done a lot of freelance work for a few of my professors and a start-up company run by other students. I had an internship this past summer at Goodstory, a design agency in Chattanooga, TN, and I still do freelance for them this year. 

What makes visual communication design at Notre Dame unique? 

From what I’ve heard from some of my other friends at other schools, their design program spends a lot more time on developing technical skills, like printing and software, and less time conceptualizing and thinking creatively. I think the latter is a much more important skill to develop early, and there is always a chance to learn technical skills when needed. Creative thinking is invaluable. 

The design department at Notre Dame is also smaller in size, which I've found to be beneficial because it has allowed me to build more personal connections with all the professors. It is a very collaborative environment, and everyone definitely wants you to succeed. 

Three of Anna's designs: 




Alena Huang '22

Major: Design - Visual Communication Design
Minor: Computing and Digital Technologies

How did you choose design as a major? 

I actually started off as a Computer Science major for my first year at Notre Dame, but I always had an interest in art and design. It wasn’t until after taking 2D Foundations and talking with Emily Beck and other professors that I began to consider VCD as a major. I made the switch to VCD during my sophomore year when I realized that I was more passionate about design than anything else. As I went on to take more design classes and worked on different projects, I’m so glad that I decided to become a design major.

Have you always been interested in these topics? 

To be honest, I was originally only interested in taking classes that were related to user experience design and technology, including Interaction Design and Digital Media Design. However, after taking other classes, I’ve realized that I really enjoyed the range of classes that the design department has to offer. From Design Thinking to Packaging Design, I’ve grown so much through learning across different disciplines of design.

Which class in the program has been your favorite and why?

My favorite class would have to be Motion Design. Though it was really challenging, I loved bringing my designs to life through motion. Not only did I learn how to use Adobe After Effects to create different animations, but I also learned how to tell a story in a meaningful and engaging way through motion and sound. It was amazing to see what animations other students and I could come up in such a short amount of time.

Do you have plans for a career in design?

After graduation, I’ll be working at Amazon as a User Experience (UX) Designer. I’ll be on the Prime UX team, where I’ll be creating and improving the Prime member experience for people around the world. As I gain more experience in UX design, I hope to become a mentor for other young designers! 

Have you done any related internships or research projects outside of class? 

Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to work as a UX intern from a few different places ranging from government agencies to start-ups to mid/large-size companies. One of my first internships was actually at the IDEA Center at Notre Dame, where I helped design prototypes for student and faculty startups.

More recently, I interned at Reconstruct, a construction tech startup, through Notre Dame’s Silicon Valley Semester program in fall 2020, and at Amazon this past summer. In both of these UX internships, I was able to collaborate with product managers, engineers, and other designers to create new experiences across web and mobile platforms.

What makes visual communication design at Notre Dame unique? 

I think there are two things that I really like about Notre Dame’s VCD program. First, I like how it focuses on human-centered design. Through the program, I’ve learned how to take real problems and solve them through design. In many of the classes, we focus on researching the problem space to get a better understanding of who we are really trying to solve for and what pain points they may have. From there, we are able to come up with different solutions that we can further develop and test.

The second thing that I like about the program is the ability to choose your own path in design. As I mentioned earlier, the department has classes in a variety of design disciplines. I’ve really enjoyed being able to pick and choose the classes I'm most interested in and it has ultimately helped me become a more well-rounded designer. Overall, these two aspects of Notre Dame’s VCD program have really allowed me to learn and grow, and I feel prepared to take on the design world after I graduate.

Three of Alena's designs:




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