Digital Design CURRICULUM

Specializations

As well as developing skills in Communication Design, students have the opportunity, during their year at VFS, to focus on one of the following areas of specialization.

  • Interactive User Experience Design
  • Motion Design

Creating a Design Core – Terms 1-3 (6 months)

In the first half of the year, we provide you with a strong foundation in the ABCs of Digital Design. You learn why it is important to understand the core motivations of your audience, and to create desirable products that meet both their current and future needs. You learn to navigate and manage the technical constraints of a project while considering business and brands. You also learn the latest design tools, techniques and approaches that increase your capacity for design and your ability to execute larger, more complex, projects.

Term 1 Course Descriptions

As students enter the program, they discover that they are already part of a broader design world and that engaging with that community now provides a basis for a strong professional network at graduation. The course is both topic- and event-driven, with students learning fundamental presentation techniques and networking principles.

This course provides students with tools to work as effective members of project teams. The course focuses on three key areas: team building, effective professional communication skills, and time management.

This course provides students with the methodology to envision, plan, and communicate complex information structures in a manner that is highly creative and fully professional. The course is based on a workshop/lecture model and helps students define the user experience for a specified brief.

Creative direction and art direction are strategic approaches to developing the concept, messaging, and visual language of design and media projects. They provide the framework from which design decisions can be made to ensure that all elements of the project are focused and consistent with the overall message. This course enables students to explore design principles while trying out different approaches to develop the creative direction and art direction of a project. Rather than seeking to be definitive or encyclopedic, the lessons here are structured to be more exploratory and experimental. In some cases, students are expected to generate ideas rather than conclusions, and to consider many different approaches to developing the guiding concept for a project.

This course introduces students to the principles and practices for production of digital illustration and design, and covers the fundamental tools and techniques of bitmap software. The software creates a powerful foundation for production of digital illustration and design.

Interactive Design teaches the concepts of wayfinding and affordances. Students learn how to use visual hierarchy and positioning to create successful interfaces, and develop a strong knowledge of the icon design process. Students also gain the ability to use form and context to bring meaning to the user about the function of the interface and its components. Ultimately, students begin to make appropriate design decisions with respect to the specific business needs and target audience needs.

Motion design marries the technical skills of graphics art with those of video production. A good motion designer has extensive knowledge of both mediums and the tricks and tools of each. Common examples of motion graphic work are title sequences, advertising, infographics, and music videos. In the video components of Motion Design 1, students discover the fundamental industry-standard techniques of pre-production, post-production, cameras, and lighting. Students capture and organize video files to create a short stop-motion narrative using Adobe Premiere CS6.x. After students have a basic understanding of stop-motion video production, they begin a more technical approach with Adobe After Effects. They then discover how to integrate material between Premiere, Photoshop, and Illustrator while gaining a basic understanding of animation, masks, effects, and proper workflow techniques.

This course serves as a designer’s introduction to two fundamental building blocks of the web. Students learn how to articulate content and concepts using the HyperText Markup Language (HTML), and how to describe that content’s visual representation using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Students also develop skills with the Document Object Model (DOM), understand how browsers visualize the DOM according to the CSS Box Model, and what sort of visual language the Box Model imposes.

Term 2 Course Descriptions

This course provides students with a deep understanding of brands and their impact on our lives. It serves as a launching pad for students to consider their own brand and how to market themselves after graduation. Students have the opportunity to research, plan, and create a new brand and are challenged to consider its relevance to a specific target audience.

Written language has existed for thousands of years. Typography is the practice of reproducing the written word by mechanical/digital means. From Gutenberg’s press to Adobe’s PostScript language to the explosion of online information, the mass reproduction of texts has had an enormous effect on our world’s history and culture. Students, in this course, quickly find themselves immersed in an exciting world of inventors, kings, rebels, and revolutionaries.

As part of the Adobe Creative Suite of programs, the Illustrator and InDesign course exposes students to the powerful vector manipulation tool used by leading designers within the industry. Students take skills learned in the Illustrator course and apply them in a variety of publishing media including new InDesign, DPS, and mixed media work.

Motion Broadcast Design focuses on creating high production value motion design and the development in audio and video mediums through preproduction, production, and post-production. Content includes pitching a media project, producing pre-vis documentation, camera operations, lighting instruments, lighting techniques, blue/green screen production, lower third typography, and animation. Students advance their knowledge in keying techniques and apply dynamic range and EQ processing techniques.

Students explore animation techniques using typography, graphic elements, photography, and/or video, along with rhythm and timing to create high-quality animation. They build artistic control through weekly practical workshops in After Effects. Students produce industry-standard media assets such as mood boards, storyboards delineating motion tests and lookframes, animatics, and fine cut animations. Continuing a study of techniques in After Effects 3D layer mode, students work on 2D graphics with cameras and lights inside a true 3D environment. They also explore different composition sizes and understand how to transfer footage between Premiere and After Effects. Students speed up their workflow using proxies, animation presets, render queue, memory and OpenGL, motion tracking, and particle filters.

This course covers the core fundamentals of 3D workflows, primarily focusing on modelling, texturing, lighting, texturing, animation, and rendering using a professional 3D software solution. Introductory tools and techniques of 3D animation are demonstrated in workshops where students construct various animation projects. This hands-on training challenges students to create a series of in-class exercises and assignments culminating in the creation of several still images and short animated movies. Technical practices, concepts of dynamic keyframes, and procedural animation are included as well.

This course provides practical approaches to key sub-disciplines of interactive design including competitive analysis, information design, interaction design, and visual interface design. Each lesson takes one of these topics, and discusses various practical ways of applying them to cross-screen and responsive projects.

This course serves as a designer-coder's introduction to web-based, non-expert Content Management Systems (CMS). Students extend their HTML and CSS skills by learning how to integrate a custom user interface, which they produce with the WordPress publishing platform. An introduction to the PHP Hypertext Preprocessor – the language with which WordPress is built – gives designers a view into the world of server-side programming, knowledge that helps students collaborate effectively with programmers.

Students learn the core principles of IA; the process of developing the structure and content organization of interactive applications via wireframing. They begin to classify techniques, such as schemes and schemas, are exposed to organizational exercises like card sorting, and learn various interaction methods.

Term 3 Course Descriptions

Digital design, like most professional disciplines, operates within both a creative and a business context. In order to successfully navigate the industry aspect of the profession, designers need to have the ability to form professional relationships, present their work and their ideas, understand the impact of their career choices on themselves and others, and become part of a broader design community. During the term, students research career paths, meet prospective employers through studio tours, and liaise with a visiting recruiter who discusses what digital design agencies are looking for in entry-level candidates.

The Project Management course provides students with the framework required to successfully manage projects and become knowledgeable members of project teams. The five major process groups that form the project lifecycle (initiation, planning, executing, controlling, and closing) are covered in depth, and students will also learn specific techniques from the nine knowledge areas of project management including Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Risk, Communication, Human Resources, Procurement, and Integration. 

With the web, video games, movies, and TV, today’s world is an increasingly visual one. The imagery we create has an immense impact on our culture and personal development. As a professional visual communicator it is crucial to understand the history, purpose and mechanisms of visual media. This course explores whether communication design should be a marketing tool or if it should serve the public it reaches. Should designers focus just on solving a problem or also on defining the problem itself? Are the problems we are helping to solve, creating new, even larger problems? Is the current visual pollution a sign of too much design or just of its misuse? Students are guided through a number of philosophical and ethical questions, through which they develop a guiding design manifesto that assists them in researching and defining initial grad project ideas.

This course goes beyond the concepts of branding and strategic design, focusing on a project-based approach wherein students work in teams to develop a multi-channel campaign for a real, non-profit client. They learn how the application of marketing techniques and information design transforms into stimulating narratives and compelling campaigns. These campaigns have a big idea at their core, but are executed using tools and techniques learned from the first four months of the Digital Design program. The end result is a cross-channel campaign that educates and motivates audiences to take action for a positive cause.

Building on the principles acquired in Branding Strategy, this course functions like a seminar and workshop. It’s less formal and structured than the strategy course, as the focus shifts from the strategic aspects of branding to the art direction and brand management necessary to create full brand identities and graphic standards. Students focus on creating beautiful, encyclopedic identities for one of three proposed clients.

This course focuses on the design of information architecture (IA) for mobiles and tablets. Students create the Information Architecture for a mobile project, create a functional prototype, and conduct a series of user-testing scenarios.

This course gives students the ability to analyze the world around them and turn that analysis into practical techniques. Covering abstract design, Trapcode Particular, character animation, animated infographics, transitions, and more, students dissect a successful motion piece and recreate it with provided graphics. Each lesson includes the analysis of a motion concept, demonstration of related techniques, and lab time.

Master Classes in Design – Terms 4-6 (6 months) 

In the second half of the year, you are in the driver's seat and you get amplify what you love. Digital Design provides Master Classes which enable you to create portfolio pieces in areas you are most passionate about. You tackle more sophisticated and technically complex projects, while defining and executing your graduate project. We round out the year with a 5-week Employment Boot Camp, where you are exposed to a number of influential industry members as you focus on preparing and networking your way into your dream job.

Term 4 Course Descriptions

The Graduate Project is the single largest portfolio asset generated within the Digital Design curriculum. It represents not only a larger scope than most other projects students in the program will have worked on, but also an opportunity to set a career direction and pursue an individual passion within the field of digital design. Because of its scope, the Graduate Project requires a high degree of skill and precision in its conception and planning. This course assists students in the initial development of their final projects by providing one-to-one project management assistance, lectures on key techniques in project management, workshop time for developing the project pitch and associated materials, and peer review through class presentations.

One of the most fundamental principles in Art and Design is experimentation. It is a tool that allows us to be constantly inspired and constantly learning. It is through the process of experimentation that the most creative and innovative ideas are born. Maintaining a personal practice of experimental projects helps develop visual skills and helps students stand out to a potential employer.

Understanding how to think like a designer involves understanding how to think like a user, and is a fundamental part of becoming a strong designer in the industry today. This course provides students with methods and tools to employ design thinking to their projects, particularly to their Graduate Project. Students will learn to examine the complexity found within the context of a design opportunity. 

Interactive Specialization

This two-day boot camp is dedicated to helping interactive students understand how their projects can be evaluated through different lenses in order to create more sustainable and viable projects. The entrepreneurial design world has increasing demands for designers to demonstrate a breadth of knowledge that extends beyond production. Students have the opportunity to understand the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate the startup environment and the steps necessary to launch their own Intellectual Property (IP). Focusing on marketing, lean UX, and lean startup models, students look at strategies for validating projects early in the conceptual cycle.

This course provides students with the methodology to envision, design and prototype rewarding experience. Students learn a “digital design” approach to game design. This course provides an introduction to gamer types (Bartle Player Types: MUDs,) and provides an overview of the MDA (Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics) game design model. In addition, students are introduced to fundamental topics around meta game strategies, and utilizing social mediums and sporadic game mechanics.

Interactive Specialization + Development

This course serves as a designer-coder’s introduction to advanced, in-browser interactivity. Extending their previously mastered HTML and CSS skills, students learn how to read, manipulate, and write basic JavaScript code, enabling user interactions not possible with HTML and CSS alone. In addition to local interactivity, students explore types of user interaction achievable only through integration with remote, third-party data, and social networks.

Motion Specialization

This two-day boot camp is dedicated to helping motion designers ideate and finalize their Graduate Projects. Student explore characters, worlds, and metaphors, while ensuring they have a clear understanding of how their concepts translate into compelling stories. They also look into how technical choices affect the story arc, message, and emotional connection with the audience. Boot camp outcomes include a refined concept and art direction for Graduate Projects.

Students create a title sequence that requires integrating CG graphics and live-action footage with a recorded music track. This is a seven-week elective production course for those interested in developing their skills in preproduction, production, and post-production. Students are responsible for all production positions in creating their piece, which helps them advance their knowledge in digital motion graphic media production as well as working collaboratively and cooperatively to manage digital media workflow.

Whether for a TV commercial, title sequence, or interactive story, motion graphics are reliant on 3D graphics to bring concepts to life. Students in this course put their previously-developed skills to use in creating motion graphics spots that emulate real-world, professional work. They source short pieces matching weekly themes, such as sports or children’s programming, and then break down what makes the shots work. The process includes producing storyboards, creating animations in Cinema 4D, and then enhancing renders in Adobe After Effects. The focus is on the effective use of the Cinema 4D toolset and quality of final product (taking into account pacing, tone, look and feel, etc.).

Term 5 Course Descriptions

This is a course dedicated to ensuring the quality, thinking and execution of the Graduate Project is being completed at an industry level. With the assistance and feedback of the HOD, external examiner, and industry mentors, students deliver a Graduate Project that aligns with their career objectives and fills any portfolio gaps. 

One of the most fundamental principles in Art and Design is experimentation. It is a tool that allows us to be constantly inspired and constantly learning. It is through the process of experimentation that the most creative and innovative ideas are born. Maintaining a personal practice of experimental projects helps develop visual skills and helps students stand out to a potential employer. This course allows for an open forum for students to create new innovative and inspiring work. It does not contain a definitive method, rather suggests a starting point that is constantly changing and evolving while helping progress the quality of one’s work. Students learn new techniques to aid in experimental 2D work with the aim of finding their own experimental style.

The goal for this course is the fulfillment of a final assembled package design in relation to a merchandised retail space. Students learn how to work in a three-dimensional space, make a product stand out on a shelf, and make the packaging layout fit to the die. They also develop an understanding of the hierarchy of information in a branding and packaging context.

Interactive Specialization

Understanding how to prototype, test, and iterate while working in a studio-type environment is a key part of succeeding in the design industry. Building on the T4 Design Thinking course, this T5 Studio Accelerator course is dedicated to helping students ideate and finalize their Graduate Projects. Students also explore alternative interaction techniques such as Designing for Thumbs and Minimal Attention User Interfaces. We use Agile project management methodology production techniques.

Interactive Specialization + Development

This course builds upon students' understanding of basic coding and introduces advanced scripting techniques and development environments/platforms. Students come to understand how to create prototypes using the latest tools and emerging technologies and apply this to testing and developing Graduate Projects.
 

Motion Specialization

This course builds upon earlier terms' 3D techniques and dives into the world of visual effects and compositing. With instruction and in-class demonstrations of industry standard techniques such as image based lighting, match moving, and rotoscoping, students are given a generalist’s overview of the visual effects pipeline and toolset. 

Term 6 Course Descriptions

Term 6 begins to narrow students' focus to the traditional professional expression of their path through a cover letter and résumé. Students have the opportunity to create both, moving towards employment preparation (e.g. job interviews). Topics in this area include the structure of an employment meeting, effectively responding to difficult questions, building a team with an interviewer in 20 minutes or less, and presenting oneself with confidence in the face of a panel.

Current ethical issues affecting the design industry are the focus in this course, offering students an opportunity to learn the basic legal areas relevant to designers – from copyright law to contract law. They consider different models of dealing with the business of design including freelancing versus studio environment, managing clients, subcontracting work, and defining a professional set of practices and ethics.

Students are exposed to the skills, advice, and resources to build a completed portfolio and personal identity. By the end of the term, they maximize the persuasive value of their experience and creative vision. Each student works with an advisor to define a creative vision for their portfolio and a format that best supports it, after which they determine the previous projects that should be incorporated. Using skills developed in previous project management courses, students develop a plan for refining selected works, designing, and building their completed portfolios.