About the Programme

Graphic Design as a Profession

These days, it is increasingly difficult to uniformly define graphic design as a profession, since it includes a large number of different activities and creative outputs.

Wikipedia provides a short, but relatively precise, definition of graphic

“Graafiline disain on loominguline protsess – enamus juhtudel kaasates klienti ja disainerit ning teisi tehnilisi osapooli (näiteks trükikoda, programmeerija jt) – mille
eesmärgiks on edastada spetsiifiline sõnum (või sõnumid) kindlale publikule.
Mõiste “graafiline disain” võib viidata ka erinevatele kunstilistele ning
professionaalsetele distsipliinidele, mille fookus on kommunikatsioonil ja
presentatsioonil. Erinevaid meetoteid kasutatakse, luues ja ühendades sõnu,
sümboleid ning kujutisi, et luua visuaalne tõlgendus ideedest ja sõnumitest.”

The British graphic designer and design historian Richard Hollis writes the
following about the history of the profession in his book Graphic Design: A
Concise History

“Visuaalsel kommunikatsioonil selle mõiste kõige laiemas tähenduses on pikk ajalugu. Kui ürginimene märkas jahil olles pori sees looma jalajälge, siis see, mida ta nägi, oli graafiline märk. Looma ennast nägi ta vaid vaimusilmas. […] 
Graafiline disain on märkide loomine või välja valimine ning nende paigutamine
tasapinnale konkreetse idee edastamise eesmärgil. […]
Omaette elukutsena on graafiline disain eksisteerinud alates 20. sajandi
keskpaigast. Sinnamaani kasutasid reklaamitellijad ja nende agendid nn
kommertskunstnike teenuseid. Nende spetsialistide hulka kuulusid
kujunduskunstnikud – maketitegijad; tüpograafid, kes panid paika juhtkirjad ja
teksti detailse paigutuse ning andsid trükilaoalaseid juhtnööre;
illustraatorid, kes tegid eri liiki illustratsioone alates diagrammidest kuni
moejoonisteni välja; retušeerijad; kirjakunstnikud ja teised professionaalid,
kelle käe all lõplik kujundus reprodutseerimiseks ette valmistati. Paljud
kommertskunstnikud, nt plakatikujundajad, valdasid mitmeid nimetatud oskusi.”

Alluding to the youth of the profession, the members of M/M Paris, a
world-renowned French design partnership, say the following about graphic

“Graafiline disain võib sisaldada suurel hulgal tegevusi, selle definitsioon ei ole paika pandud, see on pidevas muutumises. Kuna see on suhteliselt noor amet, siis parimad graafilised disainerid on need, kes taasleiutavad oma eriala ning seeläbi oskavad üllatada.”

We are living at a time when many professions have intermingled and the
creative fields no longer have clearly defined boundaries. Therefore, we should
include the following thought expressed by graphic designer and design
theoretician Stuart Bailey that graphic design exists entirely in relation to
other subjects:

[…] graafiline disain saab eksisteerida vaid siis, kui eelnevalt on juba olemas teised alad. Tegemist pole a priori distsipliiniga, vaid kummitusega; olles korraga nii kaardistamata ala kui ristumispunkt — mõistete lahknevus — või sõlmpunkt, mis tuleb esile vaid siis kui jooned sellega ristuvad.

As we can see, there is no simple and clear answer to the questions, “What
is graphic design?” Maybe we should keep in mind Richard Hollis’s short, but pithy

“Graafiline disain on omamoodi keel, mida iseloomustavad ebapüsiv grammatika ja pidevalt laienev sõnavara.”

That is we expect from our department and our students – the creation of
new rules of grammar and additions to the vocabulary, in order to continuously
reinterpret and redefine this interesting specialty. 

Nature of the Department, It’s Mentality and Philosophy

The goal of the Graphic Design Department is to educated designers who are capable of analysis, who know how to substantiate their decisions and see design as something more than just the creation of attractive visuals.
A designed object is not an autonomous work of art. It deals with communicative issues – it induces, forbids, informs, alludes, etc. Therefore, it is essential to possess knowledge about the functioning of society, psychology, history, technology and culture. We seek to impart this knowledge through theoretical subjects as well as with the help of discussions and instruction related to practical design subjects. Before starting to create an image or design, the targets and possible solutions are thoroughly discussed.

It may turn out that instead of a logo, a business plan is needed; or instead of flyers, an audiovisual clip is required. Therefore, the department does not offer any medium-related subjects like “logo design” or “poster design”, which
are typical of applied art schools. More important than the medium is the method for finding the solution. The methods we use include gathering and analysing material, teamwork, consultations by specialists, participatory experiments, etc.
Based on the above, the technologies (computer programs like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop) are not taught as separate subjects, but these skills are acquired in the course of everyday work. More important than the acquisition of manual skills is the ability to identify and analyse the problems and find the appropriate solutions. 
Naturally, in the case of specific assignments, we deal with the required tools (AfterEffects, FontLab, etc.).

What are the studies like?

When studying in the Graphic Design Department, the students deal simultaneously with several projects, involving a wide spectrum of visual culture – from very practical design problems to issues that require more abstract reasoning. For example, a student might be working simultaneously on all of the following:

– communicating the content of a poster with the help of choreography

– designing the layout for a 250-page book and preparing it for printing

– creating a work of art that speaks to passersby in the public urban space

– designing for an operating fund

– constructing a musical instrument, composing and performing the music and designing the record cover
The lectures, which occur under the supervision of a faculty member, take place while sitting around a table. And in addition to completing their homework assignments, all the students are expected to actively participate in the analysis of the work of their fellow students. Besides completing the creative project-based assignments, the students also attend history and theory lectures.
Independent work plays a very large and important role in the studies.

The Department provides studio space, where we encourage students to work outside their classrooms and to interact with their fellow students. We feel it is very 
important that the students attending all three years of the BA programme share one workroom, where the students can become better acquainted and an active exchange of ideas can occur.

In addition to the local faculty members, we try to involve as many professionals as possible from abroad. Each academic year, about five intensive workshops take place in addition to the usual studies. 
Trips abroad also play an important role in the curriculum. The annual trip to the International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno in the Czech Republic has become a tradition. We also visit other important events in the field, such as the Lahti Poster Triennial in Finland; the International Poster and Graphic Design Festival in Chaumont, France; and the Bold Italic conference in Ghent, Belgium. On trips abroad, we always try to visit several design studios and important exhibitions, as well as to learn about the local design culture and art scene.

Graphic Design at the Academy of Arts

The approach of the Graphic Design Department is partly based on the “ERKIDISAIN” attitude of the Bruno Tomberg era (unity of form and function, questioning the status quo, modernist belief in the possibility of improving things and
1966 – The first students are accepted to study industrial design in the architectural department of the State Art Institute of the Estonian S.S.R. The department is headed by Bruno Tomberg.
1971 – The first four designers graduate. The profession indicated on their diplomas is artist-designer. The faculty members are Udo Ivask, Bruno Vesterberg, Mait Summatavet and others.
1979 – The term ERKIDISAIN is adopted, which is meant to indicate a new phenomenon born of the collaboration between the students and the instructors: the Estonian school of design.
1982 – Villu Järmut’s teaching breeds a talented group of poster artists. Exhibitions of artist’s posters are organised, which have an innovative impact on the Estonian art scene. 
1983 – Udo Ivask is appointed to head up the department. Graduates of the department are invited to join the faculty (Hugo Mitt, Heiki Zoova, Margus Haavamägi, etc.).
1988 – Bruno Tomberg resumes the post as head of the design department.
1995 – The existing departments is split in two, into the product design and graphic design departments. The product design department is headed by Arvo Pärenson; the graphic design department by Villu Järmut.
1999 – The graphic design specialty is renamed media graphics.
2000 – The first product designers and graphic designers graduate from the Estonian Academy of Arts.
2005 – Ivar Sakk becomes the head of the Graphic Design Department. Kristjan Mändmaa becomes an assistant professor.
2006 – The 40th anniversary of design education is celebrated. During this period, 403 people have received a design education; of them 59 graduated in product design and 76 in graphic design.