Growing up, Adam ('04), Eben ('02) and Naomi Cook ('03) may have sat at the breakfast table imagining any number of things, but attending the same university and majoring in the same subject wasn't one of them.
Although they did land one by one in UNT's communication design program, today the three have very different, yet quite successful, design careers.
The outcome doesn't surprise longtime UNT art professor Jack Sprague. Design is everywhere in American culture, he says, and majoring in communication design, as the Cook triad did, can launch a career in a kaleidoscope of directions.
"Some people perceive that communication design is about software and computers, but it's not. Those are tools to execute your ideas," Sprague says. "Good design is good storytelling, really. And, in our program, communication design is a large umbrella that allows our students to move through on several different paths."
Medal of Honor
Eben, for example, used his hands-on experience as a student illustrator to gain what some would consider a dream job — working as a video game designer.
After graduating, he took a job at a small video game firm in Dallas that he quickly parlayed into a position with EA Games in California. Although Eben is proficient with three-dimensional illustrative technology, he says the fundamentals of drawing make the difference for him day to day.
"With the traditional art background in figure drawing and other skills, I developed a really astute eye for all the details that polish the work," Eben says.
He currently works on the Medal of Honor series. When the series debuted in 1999, it was the first to feature World War II history in the sometimes controversial "first-person shooter" genre. But many people respect the games' connection to the congressional medal, Eben says, and the company works with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society to make sure that the games reflect the ideals and integrity of the award.
Eben went directly into UNT's communication design program after graduating from high school, but Naomi and Adam took more circuitous routes. Naomi began college as a computer science major and, after realizing how much she enjoyed the web design classes, she began studying graphic design. Eventually, she changed her major to communication design.
"I probably drew more than most kids, but not as much as Eben and Adam, which made me think I wasn't the artist that they were, and I liked to play 'make believe,'" Naomi says. "When I was older, I read a lot of books and took art classes all through high school."
Naomi's career path in advertising reflects her interest in combining storytelling with design. Now an art director with The Richards Group, one of Dallas' largest advertising companies, she works on accounts for major clients such as Home Depot.
"It's a lot of fun. Every couple of months we're on a new project at another location," Naomi says.
After Adam graduated from high school, he worked full time at a phone company for a while before starting college, even though he had taken art classes and knew that art would always be a part of his life. He made his way to UNT as a community college transfer student.
He then went to work at the now-defunct Brainstorm, a small Dallas design studio. Currently, he works for Meat and Potatoes, a design company in Los Angeles that creates DVD and CD covers. He recently had a small art show at a nearby coffeehouse and sold one of his works to a TV producer.
"I was really excited about that," Adam says.
He believes the reason that he, his brother and his sister all found success in creative careers was that, while growing up, they used art as a way of expressing themselves.
"In our family, it was always fun to ask, 'What if?' although it was not in any formal way. But our family was never a place where you couldn't talk about possibilities. Some people might say that you were silly, but we never got that at home," Adam says.
All three Cooks received nominations for outstanding student portfolio awards upon graduating from UNT, and Naomi won Outstanding Portfolio in Art Direction in 2003. She says the recognition, awarded by the consensus of the design faculty, meant a lot to her given the competitiveness of the program.
Sprague says there have been other students who were siblings and successful in the communication design program over the years; however, the Cook siblings were especially inquisitive and imaginative.
"But they didn't approach the program in the same way," Sprague says. "They each had their own unique spin."