PLU departments merge for new visual communication program

By Genny Boots ’18

Kate Hoyt with reviewing student work in a group critique at PLU, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

Kate Hoyt with reviewing student work in a group critique at PLU, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

When Associate Professor of Communication Amy Young started teaching at Pacific Lutheran University 10 years ago, she and Jp Avila, associate professor of art and design, had talked about starting a visual communication program. A decade has passed and now that idea is a reality. PLU and the School of Arts and Communication premiered their new visual communication program in fall 2016, blending communication theory, visual concepts and digital practices.

Visual communication is the study of how visual elements makes us feel, supports or detracts from arguments, and functions in our world today.

“That idea that a picture is worth a thousand words is true if you pick the right picture,” said Young, who is also chair of the Communication and Theatre department.

This program, which bridges the gap between communication and design, encompasses many digital design elements, such as video editing and image manipulation. For students, this is an opportunity to learn digital skills and communication theory.

“These are the kinds of things I think people would like to graduate knowing, or would be a huge bonus to them personally and professionally to know how to do,” Young said. “So, even some basic coding or some basic web, and to really understand color theory and context, and have a real visual acuity, and be able to talk to creative people if you yourself aren’t one.”

Visual communication in the workplace could be anything from helping design the iPhone, working in strategic communication or campaigns to designing digital content.

“A lot of students are in need of something that is more of the 21st century, something that is interactive and speaking to technology based visual criticism, work and you name it,” Avila said.

After noticing significant overlap in communication students taking design courses and vice versa, and new curricular changes allowed for flexibility in scheduling, it seemed like the right time to add visual communication to the department’s curriculum.  

PLU has added a new position to help guide the program. Kate Hoyt, who has a Master of Fine Arts in emergent digital practices and a doctorate in communication and media studies, was hired to lead the visual communication program.

“Kate is a perfect fit for this department and for this program. Her degrees in emergent digital practices, communication studies and digital graphic design combine perfectly,” Young said. “To me, she is so well versed in both disciplines that I think she’s going to do a great job in bringing us together in a way that we’ve never been able to do logistically.”

PLU’s communication and design programs are coming together with Hoyt at the helm. The digital skills combined with communication theory make visual communication a versatile and diverse course track. Hoyt began in fall 2016, teaching two visual communication courses and a “Media and Cultural Criticism” course.

I am excited to get to work with the students and faculty at PLU, develop some great relationships, and help get some innovative ideas off the ground,” Hoyt said.

Hoyt’s goal in the first year of the program is to introduce students to the study of visual communication and teach a variety of digital skills and software. Hoyt also hopes to use the study of image and argument as a piece in PLU’s mission to greater social justice and awareness.

“I know that PLU is very much committed to social responsibility, and visual communication can help provide a framework to show how images present ideas and ideas drive more ethical behavior,” she said. “Harnessing these techniques to advance a vision of social justice is a central feature of my teaching approach.”