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Art Center College of Design | Pasadena, California | Learn to Create. Influence Change.

Art Center's History

Like many ideas emerging from Art Center during our 80-year history, the very concept for such a school was visionary.

Edward A. “Tink” Adams was an advertising man with a radical idea in education: to teach real-world skills to artists and designers and prepare them for leadership roles in advertising, publishing and industrial design. To achieve that, he would create a faculty of working professionals from those fields. Art Center opened in 1930 with Adams serving as its director.

The viability of the idea he and a small group of colleagues launched was quickly proven. Even in the midst of the Great Depression, Art Center graduates quickly found employment.

In the years since, the caliber of our faculty and visiting artists has been extraordinary: Ansel Adams taught photography here; on a visit to campus, Keith Haring painted a mural. Our alumni include many of the world’s leading car designers, contemporary filmmakers (Armageddon, 300), ad makers (“Thatsa one spicy meatball,” “Got Milk?”), concept illustrators, (Star Wars’ Artoo Detoo), artists (The Blue Dog), product designers (Apple monitor, Oakley Zeros) and others who have shaped culture with their talents and vision.

Our original campus was in a courtyard of buildings on West Seventh Street in Los Angeles, a site sufficient for Art Center’s then 12 teachers and eight students. From the beginning, a simple filled-in circle—what has endured as the Dot—was chosen as a graphic element to add to Art Center’s printed materials. By 1940, enrollment had grown to nearly 500 students representing 37 states and several foreign countries.

After the war, returning veterans pushed enrollment numbers even higher, prompting a move in 1946 to a larger building on Third Street, as well as a commitment to a year-round schedule. In 1948, our renowned Automotive Design Department—now Transportation Design—was founded.

A year later, Art Center became an accredited four-year college, and offered its first bachelor degrees in Industrial Design, Photography, Illustration and Advertising. We played a seminal role in the founding of the first advanced-concept design studio for the automotive industry in the 1950s.

Adams was the first to encourage Art Center’s international relationships. One of the turning points came in 1956, when the Japanese External Trade Recovery Organization began sending students to Art Center. Adams and faculty members George Jergenson and John Coleman visited Japan and wrote a report, The Future of Japanese Industrial Design.

Adams oversaw Art Center for nearly 40 years. When he stepped down, leadership transferred to an alumnus, Don Kubly, who would lead the College for nearly 20 years, including our move to Pasadena.

Throughout our existence, we continued to grow with, and often anticipate, the many cultural and technological landmarks of the 20th century while refining our educational tools and methodologies to remain on the forefront of art and design education. In 1965, we became Art Center College of Design.

Reflecting the College's forward-looking momentum, new undergraduate departments would be added each decade: Fine Art in 1967, Film in 1973, Graphic Design in 1984, Product Design in 1991, Environmental Design in 1992, Entertainment Design in 2008, and Interaction Design in 2012. Graduate degree programs were launched in Film in 1975, Art in 1986, Media Design Practices in 2000, Industrial Design in 2004, and both Environmental Design and Transportation Design in 2012. Additionally, the College partnered with Claremont University's Drucker School of Management to offer a dual MS/MBA degree in Innovation Systems Design in 2014. 

We moved to Hillside Campus in Pasadena in 1976, into an iconic building designed by the modernist architectural firm Craig Ellwood Associates. In the 1980s, we were the first design school to install computer labs, spearheading the revolution in digital design. More recently, Art Center has focused on design’s potential to generate positive social change and improve people’s lives through our groundbreaking Designmatters educational program. In 2003, we became the first design school to receive Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status by both the United Nations Department of Public Information and the United Nations Populations Fund.

We have long taken a global view of the importance of design and art, and from 1986 to 1996, had a second campus in Switzerland. Today, we continue to leverage opportunities as they arise in the world, sending our students to work on projects across Europe, Asia and Central and South America, in order to address particular design challenges.

Closer to home, our Public Programs reflect our philosophy of design being integral to all aspects of life and being accessible to the surrounding community. The programs are now among those based at our South Campus—a former aviation wind tunnel—opened in 2004. South Campus is also home to our Graduate Art and Media Design programs.

In 2014, Art Center expanded South Campus by renovating a neighboring former post office building, effectively doubling the size of our downtown Pasadena location. The new facility provides dedicated space for our Fine Art and Illustration students, with a professional Printmaking Studio, added classrooms, individual studio spaces, shared exhibition spaces and a sculpture yard.

The most recent acquisition at South Campus, now spanning seven urban acres, is a six-story office building at 1111 Arroyo Parkway. The addition of the office building completes an eclectic trio of structures that have found vibrant new life as classroom, studio, exhibition and administrative spaces serving the needs of a growing student body.

We remain focused on our core educational mission of developing creative leaders and innovators in art and design. We’re leading the way with cross-disciplinary programs and studios that prepare students within and outside their chosen fields.

Our story is one that continues to unfold—and to be told.

 

Directors/Presidents

Edward A. “Tink” Adams, 1930-1969
Don Kubly, 1969-1985
David R. Brown, 1985-1999
Richard Koshalek, 1999-2008
Frank L. Ellsworth (Interim), 2008-2009
Lorne M. Buchman, 2009-Present

Art Center Timeline

Take a look at the interactive timeline we created in honor of our 80th anniversary.

History of the Dot

The Humble Origins of The Orange Dot
The Orange Dot is associated with Art Center’s identity through branding (letterhead, business cards) and is referenced in some of our publication titles (Dot, Full Circle, etc.). When the school was founded in 1930, designers were exploring primary shapes, so it is no surprise that a simple filled-in circle was chosen to augment Art Center’s printed materials. Alumni Robert Brown (ADVT 1932) claims that The Dot was his idea, while Don Kubly, the school’s president from 1969 to 1985, noted that the school’s founder, Edward “Tink” Adams, chose The Dot because it was an easy way to add a splash of color to the school’s publications.

The Multi-Colored Dot
The Art Center School, as it was then known, opened in 1930 in downtown Los Angeles in a courtyard of buildings on 7 th Street.  The glass front door had a border of red-orange, and in the front window, the name of the school carried a matching red-orange dot.

The Dot was not limited to this color nor was it the only shape Art Center used in promotions. However, the use of dots in published materials undoubtedly began nearly at the same time as the school.

The Dot Goes Into Semi-Retirement
Due to changes in contemporary design, or perhaps because of an association with the Japanese flag, Art Center stopped using The Dot, in any color, toward the end of World War II (mid 1940s).  This timing also happens to coincide with the school’s move to its second location (3rd Street in Hancock Park) and Art Center may have wanted to present a new look along with its new address. The essence of The Dot lingered, however, as many publications carried photographs cropped into circles.

The Dot Returns Cloaked in Orange
When Don Kubly (ADVT 1949) returned to the school to serve as Director and then later as Art Center’s second president, he decided to give the school’s publications a cohesive design. He chose The Dot for two main reasons:  a tie to the school’s earliest years, and The Dot’s simple ability to represent a “center.”  As for the limitation of color to orange, that was an acknowledgment of “Tink” Adam’s fondness for the color and the school’s original glass front door.  It is during this time that The Dot became “The Orange Dot,” and became a graphic representation of Art Center. It was also during this time that the school became Art Center College of Design (1965).

The Banishment of The Dot
The dot had a small setback in the late 1980s, not long after David R. Brown became Art Center’s third president. Just as Don Kubly had done before him, he decided to give the school’s graphic presentation a new look. Brown worked with alumnus Kit Hinrichs (ADVT '63) who designed a new logotype that did not include the dot. The new “dot-less” look was launched in 1987.

The Triumphant Return (Again) of The Dot
An unofficial but persistent movement of alumni, students and faculty protested the dot’s demise. The “Bring Back The Dot” campaign lobbied for a resurrection of the school’s surprisingly well-loved orange symbol. In 1990, three years after it was sent away, the dot officially reappeared. The dot was reincorporated into the school’s identity by designer Rebeca Méndez (GRPK '84, '96) and soon the ubiquitous dot appeared in many creative ways in school publications, on new student t-shirts and on the school’s web site.

The New Millennium
As the College entered into a new millennium, Takaaki Matsumoto (GRPK '80) was named creative director, and he lead an effort to re-align, update and redefine Art Center's identity. The new logo retained the historic orange dot and paired it with a modern typeface to reinforce the message that Art Center is a reliable yet forward-looking institution.

The Future of The Dot
As a college whose purpose is the promotion of creativity and the open exchange of ideas, Art Center's use of the dot continues to evolve. Whatever direction the orange dot takes next it will forever be associated with Art Center College of Design. Stay tuned!

Archives

Our remarkable history is being preserved and made available for future generations with the help of materials contributed by alumni, faculty, staff, students and others. Historical images and other documents are housed in the Art Center Archives.
   
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