Articles > CCA problem solves with Adobe tools

CCA problem solves with Adobe tools

by Kern Toy
Kern Toy has been a graphic designer for 25 years and a design educator for 12.

California College of the Arts

I think we can all agree that software is both wonderful and frustrating. It gives us the ability to do so much if we really master it, though we have to continually learn additional skills and methods with every new release. So designers who position themselves as knowledgeable with software are really viable experts for a short time (18 months, the average software product cycle) before they have to catch up again.

Problem solving skills, on the other hand, are never outdated or need catching up. That’s why the Graphic Design curriculum at CCA (California College of the Arts, San Francisco) has as one of its core principles the goal of teaching students problem solving first and foremost. We want students to become media agnostic, choosing the most appropriate form for a given problem. Whether the solution is a book, video, website, or something entirely different is up to them.

Incoming Students Need a Foundation in Three Major Titles

To that end, the Graphic Design program requires that all students coming into the major demonstrate a solid working knowledge of three major programs (Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign) beforehand. When the students have a solid foundation of software skills before starting courses in the major, they can focus primarily on problem solving with the benefit of having a good technical base.

Since students have a wide range of skills, CCA offers a first year course called “Graphic Design Tools.” This course introduces and emphasizes the most critical aspects of Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign in a single semester course. This ensures that everyone enters the Graphic Design program with the same proficiency level.

Common Interface Speeds Ideation, Learning, and Retention

The course is intense, but the common interface, consistent functionality, and interoperability of the Adobe Creative Suite has made learning easier. If you start with Illustrator, you can pick up Photoshop and InDesign relatively quickly. After that, the other programs (After Effects, Premiere, SoundBooth, Fireworks, and Flash) are almost variations on a theme.

We love that! As instructors, we can concentrate on teaching design while students become facile with technology and concentrate on problem solving and on generating ideas.

Senior Graphic Design student Matt Delbridge is a prime example of someone who uses the Adobe Creative Suite to jump between print, web, and video. Here’s one of his projects that shows how he’s able to maximize the flexibility of the Adobe Creative Suite.

Hydra film Festival logo. Type filmed in water, texture inside type filmed in water, composited in After Effects.
Hydra Film Festival Interactive Exhibit Display. Graphics designed in Illustrator, composited in Photoshop.
iPhone/iPad app launch icon. Designed in Illustrator, composited in Photoshop.
Hydra iPhone App screens. Designed in Illustrator, composited in Photoshop. Shows water usage tracking.
Schedule and carrying package. Illustrator, InDesign.
Film festival schedule, Indesign, Photoshop composite
30-second video spot, Video, After Effects, SoundBooth

“The Hydra Film Festival is a proposed film festival whose goal is to raise awareness about the growing scarcity of clean water,” Delbridge explained. The deliverables for this film festival include branding, a web site, brochures, premiums (t-shirt, fabric bag, water bottle), video, signage, exhibit graphics, iPhone app graphics, PowerPoint presentation, entry ticket, and more.

The idea for the logo is to be a constantly moving element in video form, so the logo was filmed under water with several elements and composed in After Effects. Any stills required for print use or web graphics are exported from After Effects. Additional assets are created using Photoshop and Illustrator or photographed and composited.

Delbridge shot a 30-second video with self-made assets, using found objects and locations and assembled in Premiere and After Effects with Soundbooth to tweak the audio. He also used After Effects to simulate a website with animation.

The quality and scope of work for this project is incredibly impressive and it’s even more impressive that the turnaround time for this entire project with all its components was about 7 ½ weeks start to finish. (Additional project images and other projects can be found at

“The Adobe Creative Suite is pretty easy to pick up. Its components are all so closely related, that if you know a few of the basic programs you can pretty much pick up everything else,” stated Delbridge.


Adobe has really put together an incredible suite of products for the design community. Whatever form your solution takes, Adobe’s Creative Suite of tools will help you express your ideas quickly and let you concentrate on design rather than having to fight the software.

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