AIGA’s National EMERGE initiative is back, just in time for the Fall 2019 semester. With that in mind, we will be launching a special series of interviews during EMERGE Awareness Week with the Communication Design Department at New York City College of Technology (City Tech). Below, you will find a short Q&A with Douglas Davis, current Department Chair for the Communication Design Department at City Tech.
Hi Douglas, one of AIGA’s mottos is “No matter who you are, you’re one of us.” In many ways, this is aligned with your belief in creating public paths to the world of design and communications. Can you share a high-level overview of how your department at City Tech is investing in the next generation of designers?
I’ll start by saying, when I studied design at Hampton, an HBCU, all my design professors were white. The same was the case when I arrived in Brooklyn, to get my masters at Pratt. Same story with my strategy professors at NYU. Nothing wrong with that of course but to date, I’ve only worked for one black art director at Essence, a black media brand. But then I became an art director, a strategist, and a professor.
There are many things we’re doing to invest in the next generation of creatives but the first is that our students can see themselves in the army of creative professionals that make up our faculty, and that goes well beyond race. We are invested in them because we were them.
I’m really proud that from a socio-economic standpoint, City Tech is New York. As our award-winning department documentary Imported from Brooklyn demonstrates as it tells Italian-immigrant and alumnus Tony DiSpigna’s story in the sixties, what hasn’t changed is that it’s the exact same story our current Asian, Middle Eastern, South American, Eastern European or Caribbean American students have today. This is to say: we are the dreamers—both foreign and domestic—with aspirations far beyond our resources. And more than 70 years later, we’re proud to be the public path to a creative career. There is no future in design that doesn’t include us.
Lastly and most importantly, we offer a private school education at public school prices. CUNY’s open enrollment policy extends to our Communication Design B.F.A., so that means: No prior experience with the profession needed, No portfolio required, No minimum GPA to enroll = No barriers. Now that doesn’t come without challenges. Our status as a challenger brand four or five times our private school competition with none of their resources, has forced us to do more with less. But each semester we chase relevance by ensuring our culture blurs the lines between academia and industry.
We use our location at the foot of the Brooklyn bridge to attract the industry’s best professional faculty and today we’re the first B.F.A. program within City Tech and the only accredited Communication Design program within CUNY. We’ve won over 10 industry awards in our first academic year as a B.F.A., in other words, it’s working. Our collective investment in the department mission, focus on chasing relevance, and leveraging our relationships is helping to build our influence. Most of all, it has moved our basis of competition from parity with accredited B.F.A. programs to being one.
So the investment in the design program at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge is all in, and for me, it’s personal. Our students Angelica, Jamar and Elena will speak for themselves, but their success will ensure that one day soon, the “we couldn’t find any qualified candidates of color” excuse will be behind us.
Douglas Davis also recently served as the National AIGA Diversity & Inclusion Co-Chair from 2018-2019.