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Developing Skills for Success with a Visual Communication Degree: Q + A with Professor Aaron Winey

Developing skills for success with a visual communication degree. Discover a Grace College media arts degree to become a designer. Learn more

You’ve been drawing ever since you could hold a pencil. Or maybe you got a tablet for Christmas one year, and you’ve been creating digital designs ever since. Your creativity flows from you, and you’d love to hone your artistic skills by earning a visual communication degree under the watchful eye of an experienced designer. 

Aaron Winey is an assistant professor of visual communication at Grace College, program director of visual arts, and a Grace alumnus. He’s worked as a designer for several years and even started his own design agency. His visual communication degree helped him launch a career in design, and his work experience now shapes his teaching style every day. We sat down to learn more about Winey. 


1. How did your passion for art develop?

I was into sketching and drawing my whole childhood. I remember getting a Mickey Mouse poster (I must have been five or six), and I was drawing it. In elementary school, I was drawing Garfield and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for my friends. I got into screen printing in high school, and I got a little into product design, but I always gravitated toward music, visual arts, and media arts, so when I got to Grace, it was pretty natural for me to go that route.


2. How did your time as a student at Grace help you launch your career?

My time in college really defined what design was for me. I wasn’t a good student in class, but I fell in love with design. In the classroom, I learned what design was and discovered the tools of design. But while I didn’t finish my visual communication degree right away, outside of the classroom, I was involved with music. 

With music as my main focus, I used a lot of what I learned in the classroom to make posters, T-shirts, CD art, and Myspace pages — all of that fun stuff from the early 2000s. I turned all of that design work into a portfolio which helped me get hired at DePuy Synthes without an undergraduate degree. It’s interesting that although I did not engage as a student, the impact of what I learned at Grace, the friends I made, and the community all translated into me getting that first job, just in a very nontraditional way.


3. What did you do at DePuy Synthes, and how did this position help you grow?

I started at DePuy as the photographer’s assistant, but they quickly started coming to me more and more for design work. (The marketing team didn’t have a graphic designer at the time.) A coworker really took me under his wing to help me with the practical aspects of design, and I was soon making brochures on surgical techniques and design rationales. Eventually, I went from a contract job to getting hired full-time as a graphic design specialist. 

Over my seven years at DePuy, I grew up a lot. Not only did they assist me in finishing my undergrad degree at Grace, but they also helped me learn 3D illustration and motion graphics.


4. What other opportunities have you had to use your visual communication degree?

I have been designing on my own since 2014. I worked at Todd Allen Design (TAD), a full-service creative agency, then at Da-Lite, an audio-visual equipment supplier, and then I  started my own studio, Blue Note. Every iteration of my career has been a learning process.

I also do a lot of work as a subcontractor for Beyond Marketing in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ve become their designated brand specialist. Through them, I’ve done work for TotalEnergies, one of the largest energy providers in the world; the International Skydiving Museum and Hall of Fame; and a project called Carolina Long Bay. I’ve done more national and global projects with them, which has been a lot of fun.

With Blue Note, I create logos and identity systems, which are guides for the visual elements of a brand. Since starting Blue Note, I’ve designed more than 150 logos and more than 50 identity systems for companies, including Light Rail, The Village at Winona, Wildman, Pottery Bayou, Oak and Alley, B+B Courthouse Market, Rocksteady Pizza Parlour, and Clearly Kosciusko.


5. Blue Note is a unique studio name. How did you come up with it? 

I started out in punk and indie rock music, and eventually, I got really into blues. Within the blues and jazz notes, you’re working with a very standard scale, and changing just one or two notes in that scale makes it a blues scale. That one little change makes the scale more soulful and gives it more character. Musicians call the one changed note the “blue note.” The whole idea is that paying attention to the little details can make all the difference.

My goal with all of my clients is to help them discover, or rediscover, why the product they are selling or the service they are providing is something they should be passionate about. Every company starts with some kind of passion, but as companies grow, that passion gets diluted. My job is to bring the soul back into their organization through branding and storytelling. I ask questions such as, “What story are you trying to tell?” and “Why are you doing what you are doing?” and “How can we represent that in the design solutions we provide?”


6. How does your experience shape the way you teach design students at Grace?

My experience really drives the classroom. Design jobs require students to be able to create work with meaning, work with clients, follow a brief, meet deadlines, and create presentations and multi-deliverable systems. These soft skills are not only needed to conceptualize but also communicate and get buy-in for your designs. This is the end goal in the classroom. Of course, you’ve also got to learn programs, but being able to function intelligently in the professional world is important. I’ve worked with designers who have gotten a BFA and graduated from art school, and they’re great artists, but a lot of times, they don’t have the soft skills, and they don’t know how to work with clients. Our goal at Grace is to develop well-rounded students. 

At Grace, our professors have experience in the fields they teach, and they will help you grow in your passions and in the skills you’ll need to turn your interests into a career.

If you dream of pursuing a career in visual communication, learn more about Grace’s visual communication degree and take Grace’s quiz to see which visual communication design concentration fits you.

Tagged With: Art, Faculty, School of Arts and Humanities