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Tuesday, Apr 23, 2024

OC Leader Board: A Design College that Helps Companies

Editor’s Note: Steve Brittan is president and chief executive of the Laguna College of Art + Design, which began in 1961. The college, which has 700 full-time students, offers 11 undergraduate majors, three graduate degree programs, nine minors, and a post-baccalaureate program.

Some might think of Laguna College of Art + Design as teaching students how to paint the world-famous lovely Laguna Beach coastline. True enough. But about 90% of our students are taking classes to learn how to use the newest technology to produce the best video games and lead the design industry into an environmentally conscious era.

Laguna College of Art + Design (LCAD) is symbiotically positioned, both geographically and through its curriculum, with the local creative economy of Orange County and the greater California region. Among some of the most popular bachelor’s in fine arts majors, game art and game design, animation, entertainment design, and graphic design and digital media feed directly into this local, regional and global creative economy.

This alignment with industry is even more poignant as we find higher education under attack with increasing public skepticism about the ROI on tuition and more options being sought to circumvent the educational pathway to head straight into the workplace. There is a greater burden of proof for the relevance and job-readiness skills provided by a four-year bachelor’s degree, with more companies eliminating this as an entry requirement for jobs.

LCAD Design Method

Our college applies heightened focus on relevant learning experiences linked to jobs and the economy through direct mentorship with industry professionals and decorated instructors from their respective industries. In an ever-changing and uncertain world, it is incumbent on higher ed institutions to connect and align education with the workplace, innovation and future careers. It is, however, not just jobs that are important, but how we are preparing students to problem-solve.

One of the best ways available to be effective changemakers in education is to partner with industry and institutions who are innovating in sectors that align with subjects and disciplines we teach.

Our curriculum is frequently adjusted and stress-tested for relevance with new developments and societal change, and resonance with economic forces. It integrates critical thinking with creative processes for identifying challenges and building solutions. This involves creative interdisciplinary problem-solving through human-centered design, integrating impactful technologies such as AI, while developing competence and understanding in all emerging techniques, tools and methodologies.

Enhancing the value proposition of Design (with a capital “D”) is this generation of students’ desire to fix the existential problems that they have inherited; most notably, the impact of global climate change and socio-political instability. To add to their challenges, students are facing a rapidly changing professional environment with the breakdown and outright elimination of traditional careers, jobs, and skills as they are studying for their degrees.

Generative AI has unlocked many new tools and techniques in artistic creation and creative problem-solving. It reveals new ways to explore, ideate and brainstorm while also challenging traditional notions of what is human creativity and authentic human authorship.
AI will continue to facilitate a transformative shift in the creative process, while also forcing new conversations around its ethical implications, impact on the market, and copyright issues. LCAD is at the forefront of actively integrating the latest AI developments into its curriculum.

The Game Industry

Orange County provides multiple options for work, as innovation and vibrant companies are emerging and/or growing from existing stable and high-performing sectors. Two areas where LCAD is uniquely positioned in this creative economy of Orange County specifically, and California more generally, is the video game industry and the action sports industry (in both apparel and product design), both strategically linked to our campus in Laguna Beach.

There are over 40 video game companies within a 15-mile radius of the LCAD, including industry giants like Activision Blizzard, Obsidian Entertainment, Turtle Rock Studios and Amazon Games. The game companies in Orange County contribute significantly to the industry’s global economic impact and play a vital role in placing California in the top ranks among states with direct in-state video game industry output in the United States.

This thriving industry is projected to reach a revenue of $250 billion this year, with an expected annual growth rate of 9.3% between 2023 and 2028, reaching a projected market volume of $390 billion by 2028, according to the Statista marketing firm.

The video game industry has surpassed the music and film industries combined.

These technologies and skills apply to industries outside of video games, such as film and television, manufacturing, R&D, science and art.

Our BFA and MFA in Game Art/Design programs, led by primarily current industry professionals, provide students with cutting-edge skills and techniques, preparing them for diverse roles in interactive entertainment. Our alumni have excelled in console games, theme park experiences, mobile games, PC games, and escape rooms as well as joining the film, automotive, and architecture industries.


We deploy creative interdisciplinary problem-solving through human-centered design adapting and adopting new technologies, techniques, tools and methodologies.

This is evident through industry collaborations in our studio courses that engage students in UI/UX, immersive technology, packaging design and critical thinking.

Our Action Sports Design labs incorporate design strategies for apparel, product, footwear and lifestyle in an ever shifting and growing athletic and leisure market.

LCAD graduates are working at large companies and brands like Nike, Adidas, Patagonia as well as Costa Mesa-based Hurley and Vans. They are working at emerging and disruptive brands such as Roark and Stance and legacy brands such as Quiksilver.

In many ways this sector’s origins can be traced back to the surfing, skateboard, and ocean lifestyle culture having been established in Laguna Beach in the ’60s and ’70s. The surf action sports industry is about to experience a strong resurgence this time with a social and environmental bent. The action sports sector is undergoing major disruption and historic changes through a new lens of sustainability and environmental conservation.

This offers LCAD students’ extraordinary opportunities to move into a vast array of careers in this space.

In anticipation of this disruption, at LCAD we investigate ways to improve the material choices in a course called CMF (Colors Materials, Finishes)—away from more toxic and harmful materials needed for apparel, product, environmental, and automotive industries, learning to develop and design sustainably, and challenge conventional models of production/fabrication, supply chains, distribution and disposal, exploring new paradigms to eliminate waste and reduce the carbon footprint (in a course called Circularity).

We learn and take our design cues from nature through a course called Biomimicry. Guided by faculty, our students are exploring and finding ways to extract and repurpose invasive biological species to convert them into eco-friendly materials for clothing and home accessories.

The two areas of study and research in Game Arts and Action Sports represent learning at the forefront of these sectors using new technologies, closer alignment with industry partners, and an opportunity to provide a pipeline of talented graduates who will bring innovation and growth to this robust creative economy, right outside our doorstep.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.

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