Making Splashes in Graphic Design

Professor Antony O’Hara’s computer graphic art class is learning how to design ads like the pros.

June 25, 2015

One student squints. “This iPhone ad is artsy, it’s vibrant, and gives off a more bohemian feel. It’s saying, ‘you can have access to pretty much anything in the iPhone,’” continues the student. “Which I think conveys a stronger message than the serious Droid print, which looks like it’s geared exclusively for professionals.”

Professor O’Hara, nodding, then delves into a mini-lesson about color and shape connotations, and switches to another Droid ad with an arrow pointing upwards. “See how the line goes up like a smile? In ads you’ll rarely see lines pointing down, because that connotes negativity.”

He throws out tips like these about every half a minute as he paces around the room in front of the screen projector.

Welcome to the New York School of Career and Applied Studies (NYSCAS)’s Computer Graphic Design III, taught by Professor Antony O’Hara every Wednesday afternoon in Brooklyn.

While they’re currently imagining creative ways of designing advertisements for a product’s print ad campaign, the class has already created movie posters, book jackets, and web graphics. After analyzing current and past ad campaigns, the class works backwards to try and emulate the design techniques used to achieve the final results.

Last class, students started working on double-exposure images. “When you put two images together, it almost always evokes something meaningful,” O’Hara explains. The small workshop class allows for extensive critique of students’ work, so the professor walks around to each student’s Photoshop to check out progress on the blended images so far.

By the end of the course, students will have become masters at airbrushing, mask layering, and vectors. Besides for being scored on their demonstration of aesthetic development, they’re also being graded on imaginative design concepts and project planning. “Being imaginative is probably the most valuable tool in your graphic design toolbox,” says Professor O’Hara, praising one student, Alea Anderson, on her choice of a dandelion bush acting as the background image to a photo of a young girl smiling to the left of the camera. The result is intriguing: it appears as if the girl is holding a cluster of flowers in her right hand, while clouds pass over the bridge of her nose.

After offering suggestions on their work, the professor turns again to the projector to do a live demonstration on creating an imaginative product advertisement. He asks the class to think for 10 minutes and come up with an idea together for a new iPhone ad. Their consensus? A smartphone falling into a sea of water, signifying both durability and innovation. “Make a splash,” one student calls out; and the slogan is approved.

After choosing a high-res image of a smartphone (“Nothing kills a project worse than low-quality,” the professor emphasizes. “Resolution is key; scrambled pixels are a nightmare”), O’Hara shows the students how to place the asset into a bed of water. He then plays around with vectors, masks and blend modes to make the bottom half of the iPhone look like it’s underwater.

 “A vector mask offers you more control, hardness of edge than a layer mask,” Professor O’Hara adds before he liquefies the waves. “Randomize the splash, because imperfection is natural,” he reminds them.  “The key to success of a print ad is a high level of attention to detail. You need to ask yourself, what’s the nature of a droplet of water? What does it look like in real life? And how can we recreate that as best as possible?”

It’s this attention to detail, explains the professor—who also teaches at LAS- Flatbush, Lander College for Women, Machon L’ Parnasa, and the Graduate School of Technology’s Web and Multimedia Design Program[YF1] —that can make the difference between getting hired or rejected for a coveted job.

And so far, several creative alumni have already made the cut. One recent alumna, for example, has become the in-house art director in a Manhattan advertising company. Another NYSCAS student, Oksana Saulenko, who continued on to earn a Masters of Arts at Touro College Graduate School of Technology in Web and Multimedia Design, is now a Graphic Designer at Lesti Publishing Corporation.GraduateMalka Goldfein is the founder and creative director at RedDot Studio.

The students here are aiming for those companies. One student plans on continuing her education to earn her master’s in digital technology so she can be a more competitive applicant. Another student is already doing work for his own graphic design freelance company so he can gain experience.

“A marketable designer's portfolio must exhibit artistic creativity; the ability to attract and engage, design intelligence; the ability to solve a design problem and effectively communicate, and the mastery of the digital tools for efficient production in a fast paced, media intensive world.

“In every lesson, these are the elements we try to instill in our students,” says Professor O’Hara.