Designing woman

Robyn Waxman

Photo By Larry Dalton

“Some people hear more effectively with their ears, and some ‘hear’ better with their eyes,” said Robyn Waxman, chair of Sacramento City College’s graphic-communications department. Drawn to visual communication, she finds it exciting to make decisions about color, type, art style and composition that might speak effectively to specific audiences. Waxman went to school for design, but one day she woke up and felt it was her destiny to teach. At Sacramento City College, she currently teaches courses in Illustrator, portfolio building and Web design, reaching out to students in a personable yet tough way to help them grow. A relatively new mother, Waxman also is working on a master’s degree in art and visual communications.

After completing undergraduate studies at the University of Delaware, how did you decide to come to Sacramento?

When I left undergrad, I wanted to go to San Francisco because I enjoyed the type of design that was coming from there. On the East Coast, design work was much less colorful and much harder-edged. I drove to San Francisco the day after graduation, and I lived there for two-and-a-half years. I ended up in Sacramento because my husband-to-be was going to grad school at UC Davis. Within a week I realized that it was a much better place for me than San Francisco.

What are the advantages of working here vs. in San Francisco?

Sacramento, although not known for award-winning design, is slowly getting more notoriety. We have more students than ever who want to learn graphic design and Web design. [And in Sacramento], real estate is cheaper, and life is more relaxed.

What are some current design trends?

Overall, design is coming back to the basics. What is very popular right now is hand-drawn everything: type, logos, artwork, etc. It used to be hot if you demonstrated how much you used a computer. Now it’s hot if you can use a computer and it doesn’t look like you have. Retro 1930s-1940s design is coming back, too: solid shapes, lines, all-caps type and interesting perspective. There are other graphic-design movements, too, that are more rebellious: unusual use of color (red and pink together with a splash of lime green), images that appear to be screen-printed, and red replacing typical use of black (this one originates in Japanese graphic design).

Many students say you are enthusiastic and very helpful, and has a smiley face by your name. How did you develop your teaching style?

I am a very empathetic person in general. I was amazingly bored when I went to school until I met a particular professor who changed my way of thinking. He was a harsh guy—he would literally throw projects out the second-story window when they didn’t meet expectations. He really kept us on our toes. When I decided I wanted to teach design, it was mostly as a result of being so inspired by him. Although I didn’t exactly adopt his teaching methods, I did see the effect he had on so many students. I wanted that.

Why did some students nickname you “Tough Love"?

About four semesters ago, there was a group of students that started calling me that. I always think of myself as just love; people usually find me approachable. But I will not accept under-par for what I know someone has potential for doing, and I will nicely tell them that they really need to shape up. So, I guess that’s the tough love. … I think I’m tough in that I expect students to live up to their full potential, and when they don’t, I let them know they have not. I even told a student last semester that he was incredibly talented and incredibly lazy. I added that if he didn’t do something about the lazy part, all his talent would be for nothing.

Describe the garden analogy you use on your Web site (

All the students need sometimes is a trellis to lean on, a little bit of sunshine, some water and a little bit of food. Some students and some seeds need a lot more than that. That’s when you bring out the big hoes to get ’em moving, to get ’em growing. When they’re done, they produce fruit or flowers, something that makes the world a better place.

What are your dreams for the future?

I would like our department to be known as a serious place to get an affordable education in design. I would like four-year colleges and art schools to be banging down our doors asking for students—and employers, too, asking for our students to intern for them and work for them.