Heather Shaw, Class of 2003

Passionate educator, Vice President of AIGA Boston, avid runner, and practitioner of yoga

Advice to incoming students: Do what you enjoy, and allow yourself the time to pursue it wholeheartedly.

Before making the decision to pursue a graduate degree at the Dynamic Media Institute, Heather Shaw was a seasoned design professional. She spent most of her seven-year career as an Art Director for White Rhino Productions, a design firm that worked on everything from print and motion design to websites and interactive CD-ROMs. For Heather, graduate school was an opportunity to provide herself with the knowledge and credentials to teach design at the college level but, more importantly, it redefined her to approach to design.

“I had been working with motion and interactive media for several years already, but my work was very formally driven. I didn’t have a clear grasp of information architecture, so most (if not all) of my work was designed from the outside-in. Visually the work was beautiful, but structurally very weak. I needed to expand my vocabulary and have a smarter approach to my process.”

While studying in the DMI program, Heather explored the art of storytelling and its intersection with dynamic media. Her thesis examined the nature of authorship and provided radical alternatives to the traditional theatre experience. She points to a desire to provide deeper relationships between the viewer and the story. “A Journey Through India [one of her major thesis projects] was designed to enlighten the user through narrative, and by tying behavioral aspects of the interface to physical and metaphysical experiences in India.” Her thesis thoughtfully approached a new type of cinematic experience, where individuals had greater control over the outcome of the story.

Since graduating in 2003, Heather has taken on many roles within the design community. She began teaching at numerous colleges before becoming an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Curry College. The transition from student to professor, she notes, was not easy. “As design professionals, our role is to solve challenges associated with client work. As faculty, our role is to create challenges for our students. This is the difference between being a design practitioner and design educator. As a professor, my ongoing struggle is creating ‘good problems’ for the students to solve — meaning assignments that provide enough constraints, but that are balanced with enough flexibility for the students to learn and produce successful varied outcomes.”

Aside from her role as an educator, Heather is a prominent design activist. As the Vice President of AIGA Boston, she is tasked with organizing and promoting events that continue to push the definition of design. In this respect, she has served as a bridge between the DMI program and the broader design community, helping to publicize several notable lectures such as John Maeda, David Small, and Hugh Dubberly. “These lectures,” she says, “have allowed AIGA to promote events that extend beyond our traditional audience and fulfill an area of programming we currently did not offer. These events have prompted the Boston board toward developing a partnership with DMI, enabling both organizations to share resources and programming initiatives. More importantly, the Boston board is pursuing a partnership because we value the intellect within the DMI program.”

Written by Dennis Ludvino

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