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Interview with Photography Graduate Christian Alarcon

Christian Alarcon just finished his photography certificate at UCLA Extension. Below he shares with us his academic and professional experience. To see Christian’s work check out his portfolio at christianalarcon.com .

Tell us about how you got interested in Photography, and why you chose the UCLA Extension Photography certificate.

I came to UCLA Extension a few months after High School in Spring 2011. I originally enrolled aiming for the Design Communication Arts ch2certificate. About mid way through the program, I decided to take Photography II as an elective. The day after I signed up, I went out and purchased my first camera, a Canon Rebel T3 equipped with an 18-55mm lens. I was HOOKED! That camera was in my hands everywhere I’d go. I didn’t even know how to properly use it, I would click the button and just hope I’d make a photo. Once the Photography II course began it was like I entered a new world. I would sit in class viewing slideshows of work and listen to my instructor Masood Kamandy and fellow classmates talk about exposure, shutter speeds, ISO’s and I had no idea what they meant. Clearly going straight into Photography II wasn’t the smartest decision, but it’s what motivated me to learn more about my camera and the art of Photography. I took a break from the DCA program and continued taking photos and learning as much as I could about photography on my own. As soon as I felt more comfortable operating my camera, I enrolled myself in the Photography Certificate program and that’s when my passion really began to grow.

For someone who is new to photography, what should they know about getting started?

img_7363_2Be very patient! Being patient with art is so important because then you’re achieving what you really want to achieve. Experiment with different styles and find what gives you that rush of emotion. Photography isn’t a competition. There will be times where you look at other peoples work and think to yourself “why don’t my photos look as good as theirs?” Don’t compare yourself to other photographers; instead look at their work as inspiration to help you get better. Put your passion into the craft and develop your own style. The most important thing is to always have fun and remember that you can never really fail if you’re doing something you love. The last crucial piece of advice I can give is learning how to save and back up all of your files. One day you will go deep into your archives and find some hidden gems that at the time you did not think were so great. And learn how to edit your work non-destructively. You will go through many different editing phases, and you will be very upset when you want to edit a certain old photo differently but you damaged the original copy.


What was your favorite UCLA Extension class and why?

I enjoyed all of my classes at Extension, but I’ll have to say Street Photography was definitely my favorite. From the moment I got my camera, Street Photography was an art that always fascinated me. Taught by the legendary John Weiss, this class really opened my eyes to the different elements of capturing great photos in the streets. Three of our class sessions were field trips, which consisted of us meeting at a certain location in the city and shooting together as a group. This gave us the opportunity to be out in the field while getting advice from our instructor, which I thought was really special. Weiss shaped me to become not only a better photographer, but also a professional. His passion and craft towards the art is truly something amazing and I can only hope to reach such a pinnacle one day. It was an honor being taught and guided by John Weiss, and for that I am very thankful.


Where do you hope to take your practice in the future?

There are so many things I wish to accomplish with Photography. My biggest dream of all is to travel. I would love to experience and capture the many different cultures of the world. Seeing the work of the greats like Steve McCurry, Alex Webb, and my former instructor John Weiss is what keeps that dream alive. I also hope to open my own studio here in Los Angeles, a creative work-space where I can offer my services and showcase my work. The possibilities with Photography are endless; as long I have a camera in my hands I’ll be happy.


What are you working on right now?img_5445

I am currently just taking my work day by day. I go out into the city with my camera every chance I get. Los Angeles is an amazing place to live and find inspiration. Everyday is a new story worth capturing. In today’s age people are so caught up in their daily routines and social medias that they don’t find the time to go out and experience the greatness their city has to offer; the people, the culture, the architecture, the food, and so much more. The work I continue to curate will eventually become a book where I can share all of these elements that make our city of Los Angeles such an iconic and historical place.

Interview with DCA Graduate Brenda Castillo

Brenda Castillo just finished a mentorship with Anya Farquhar, a DCA instructor/mentor, who helped her launch her stationery company called Sweet Llamita (www.sweetllamita.com). Below she shares with us how she developed her greeting card designs and how her experience in taking DCA courses prepared her to launch her idea.


What was your inspiration for this project?

Shortly after I graduated from college I was looking for premium-quality greeting cards for my parents, who are Hispanic and Spanish-speakers. Unfortunately, I could not find cards for them that I liked – none of the cards were in Spanish and a few funny or clever ones referenced sayings or jokes that were not relevant to them. This experience was the impetus to launching a greeting card company originally focused on just Spanish speakers; however, over time I noticed that there was also a need for people who are bilingual and who are members of mixed families, which is why I also design cards in Spanglish.


What was the process of developing it like?

The process was a lot of testing and exploration. Before I started the DCA program I was teaching myself how to use Gimp and Inkscape (the open-sourced versions of Photoshop and Illustrator, respectively) and exploring designs and messages. After starting the DCA program and becoming comfortable with design tools and jargon, I used my homework assignments as ways to explore design styles, color palettes, and even branding styles. As I got feedback from my peers, instructors (mainly my mentorship instructor Anya Farquhar) , and friends, I was able to refine my designs and slowly but surely align what I had originally envisioned early on with something tangible like the cards and brand assets.


What were the greatest challenges and greatest triumphs?

My greatest challenge was finding the design style for the cards. After only six months into the program, I was set on publicly launching my website but right before I made the jump friends told me my cards seemed more appropriate for young children versus my key demographic – bilingual women. At that point, I decided to delay the launch and keep on exploring my design aesthetic, which was the best decision I could have made. The process has been difficult because I want to make something unique that stays away from the common images and color palettes we often see geared towards the Spanish-speaking population in the U.S. I want to challenge that and show that the language you speak in the U.S. does not always determine a design aesthetic and it cachiquita-pero-picosa-tapatio-frontn still appeal to my target consumer.


My greatest triumph so far is just being able to launch this project overall. My plan was to work for a couple of years post-college, go to business school, and eventually start a business down the road. However, after a few life events after college, this idea kept on coming back. For some time I thought it could be a side hustle but eventually, I realized I wanted to fully dive in and that’s when I enrolled in the DCA program.


What are your goals as a designer?

My goal is to keep on developing my skillset and expanding my design horizons. I try to read designs books to review what I learned through the DCA program and to expand my knowledge. I also want to keep on pushing my boundaries as a designer and try new design methods or aesthetics to create a unique brand that it still authentic to my key customer but also cool and timeless. It’s kind of an oxymoron but I want to explore it.



Interview with DCA Graduate Arunima Dhar

What brought you to the DCA program?

Since my childhood I was a very creative cat. I am a kind of person who would like to mess around with little stuffs like colors, paints, glue, etc, and create something new and unique out of it.  I started learning to sketch at a very young age and I kept digging deeper day by day. When I grew up I realized its time for me to go digital and I should create good designs for my living. I love creativity and that’s how I got into this field. I did a post graduation degree in graphic design back in my home country, India. I always wanted to study in an accredited university in the US. DCA program is not where you learn only the tools of graphic design but its a hand on practical training which I really wanted to experience. It helps to think strategically and prepare yourself for a competitive market. That brought me here.

What were your favorite courses and why?f04f3937560483.576f41c6acd05

My favorite courses were Drawing for communication, Design 2, Publication Design and Advanced Typography.I still do remember how Henry used to make us draw a straight line so many times in Drawing for communication class. I love to draw and I enjoyed the class since day 1. Design 2 is  a great course and everyone should take it. After all your hard-work for 12 weeks, the outcome is worth it. You get your own creative freedom and you create something where your both strength and weakness blends. I learned so much in advanced type course that I became interested towards print design I thank my instructor Anya, all the projects she gave us were very interesting I kept improving.

As a designer, what does a potential project need to have for you to feel passionate about it?

I would say a potential project has to be very creative, should have good content, strong ideas and concepts. However I feel its more fun to work on project that you are not aware of. Where there is no idea how to begin or end but you push yourself hard enough to use your strongest skills to create something successfully which you have never done before.

If the phone rang right now and somebody offered you your dream design job, who are they, where do they work, and what’s the job?


My dream job would be to work as a magazine designer at a renowned fashion magazine company. Responsible for creating everything when it comes to designing a beautiful magazine.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently working as a digital graphic designer at a hi end fashion jewelry company.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?

I see myself as a senior designer with a lot of experience leading my own team and mentoring aspiring designers.



Interview with DCA graduate Kelly Cobb

In an interview with a Design Communications and Arts graduate Kelly Cobb, she shares with us the skills she attained by taking UCLA Extension courses. Below she shares some of the work that she produced after the certificate program.

What brought you to the DCA program?
I was working at UCLA in event planning and marketing and when my job took on the sudden responsibility of designing brochures and flyers for events which soon became the favorite part of my day. I looked into many continuing education graphic design programs but quickly found that UCLA Extension was one of the best. It had knowledgeable teachers who are currently working in the industry and had classes that fit my work schedule.

What were your favorite courses and why?Kelly.C_3

I loved most of the courses at UCLA Extension but my favorites were Packaging Design, Branding, and Photoshop. I think I got the most out of these classes because they were the most challenging. All of the material was really packed in over the 12 week period and was fun to challenge myself to stay creative and create inspiring projects on top of just merely completing the assignments. I felt like that really prepared me for a real agency setting because there is always going to be a deadline and you need to keep the creative juices flowing.


As a designer, what does a potential project need to have for you to feel passionate about it?df5a1134816821.56e2b8507eddd

For me there needs to be more of a “why” than a “what”. Anyone can create a product and go out and try to sell it but for someone who has passion and drive behind their product/project and truly try to create a community is something that I’m really drawn to and helps get me motivated to be apart of it.


How have the UCLA Extension classes helped improve your work, and or expanded your professional development in the field?

Not only did I learn an immense amount of technical and software skills, I learned the concept of design thinking. I definitely see the progression I made from my first academic quarter to my last just because I started to incorporate the lessons that I was learning in class. Additionally, I not only made great connections with many classmates but also with my teachers, some of whom I still stay in touch with.

If the phone rang right now and somebody offered you your dream design job, who are they, where do they work, and what’s the job?

I’m incredibly lucky and this has already happened. I came home to Colorado for an internship at Interact, a packaging and branding design agency in Boulder, CO, and I was offered a job at the end of my internship! I love what I do and I wake up excited to go to work. I have loved diving into the world of package design because it is so complex and I am learning new things every single day.

What are you working on right now?


Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?

I would love to be in a Senior Designer role in 5 years. I want to try to keep my hands on the projects as long as possible before moving up to a Creative Director position later in the future.

Interview with DCA Grad Katrina Gem Paray

In an interview with a DCA certificate graduate, Katrina Gem Paray shares with us her experience in taking UCLA Extension courses.

What brought you to the DCA program?

I started designing graphics around the 5th grade for fun and continued on and off for several years. It wasn’t until I graduated from college (I took up hospitality Kristina.G_01management) and after designing and selling stationery that I started getting serious about doing graphic design as a career. I wanted to get formal education on graphic design but didn’t want to do a 4-year program. My best friend happened to be enrolled in UCLA Extension around that time and suggested checking to see if there’s an art program – that’s when I learned about the DCA program.

What were your favorite courses and why?

My favorite classes were Packaging Design with John Beach and Design 2 with Henry Mateo. Both were challenging and worked with branding and collateral which is ultimately what I want to get into. 

Kristina.G_01editAs a designer, what does a potential project need to have for you to feel passionate about it?Kristina.G_MassKara

For me, every project have their own challenges, and some that you may not necessarily be into at first can become something fun/interesting down the road. I’d say that anything new and/or has an inspiring story with passionate people behind them is always extra motivating and exciting.




How have the UCLA Extension classes helped improve your work, and or expanded your professional development in the field?

They definitely gave me a better understanding in how and why we choose design elements to successfully communicate visually. The projects I did for the classes, particularly Packaging and Design 2, gave me my best portfolio pieces and helped prepare me for my current job.Krstina.G_11x17blendgreenteabiger

What are you working on right now?

I’m currently freelancing in New York doing packaging work for a healthy food brand.

Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years? 

Definitely still designing with a whole bunch of work under my belt as well as having more responsibility. I’d like to have a side business, too.





Interview with UX Student Janelle Gatchalian

In an interview with a UX student named Janelle she shared with us about her experience taking UX classes through UCLA Extensions, and her story board planning for a mobile project specifically targeted to a persona.

What was your favorite UCLA Extension class and why?

I’ve only taken two courses at UCLA Extension. Both were about UX–one with Thomas Dillmann and one with Julia Morton. I enjoyed both!

What would be your dream job?

I’ve been thinking a lot about creating immersive reading experiences lately, so a job (like the one I have now) that would let me do that is a dream. There were days when being privy to the author’s world meant curling up to a book or a newspaper in solitude, perhaps under the covers in darkness. Now that we have adopted our mobile phones as quick and superhuman sources of information, our reading experiences have already become much more immersive. Audio, video, and three-dimensional works are now part of our books. Recent discoveries in iris recognition, artificial intelligence, adaptive learning, and animations are also enhancing our ability to take in what we read. So I’m excited about the possibilities of smart reading powered by machines.

What are you working on right now?

One of our projects at the Getty is an ebook mobile app that features musical and performance scores in our collection. These artworks are multi-dimensional and come in audio, video, and 3D formats. The scores require scholarly expertise to understand, which puts the Getty in a position to publish interpretive content about them. For example, a musical score is going to come alive with a tap with a user seeing it annotated and hearing audio playback at the same time. That’s pretty superhuman! I worked on this project while in Julia Morton’s UX II: Mobile First class.

Here is some sample course work:


Interview with Photography Student Barbara Huber

After recently completing the Photography Certificate, student Barbara Huber invites us to look further into how her journey began. Below, Barbara shares her personal work and experience taking photography courses.

Tell us about how you got interested in photography, and why you chose the UCLA Extension Photography Certificate.

My interest in photography goes way back – my mother gave me the equivalent of a Brownie when I was about 8 years old and then introduced me the basics of photography.  With a hiatus of about 10 years, I’ve been taking and making(!) pictures ever since.  There came the point when “dabbling” P1250532wasn’t enough anymore and I felt a serious desire to line my passion with real technical knowledge. An acquaintance with serious photo-graphic tendencies introduced me to the UCLA Certificate Program. It provided me with the right teachers and affordable classes, but also with the scheduling flexibility I needed as a professional with a demanding day job that other programs didn’t offer. The rest is history! It was fun, it was demanding because I took it very seriously.

For someone who is new to photography, what should they know about getting started?


Don’t fall into the equipment trap when you start out! It’s first and foremost the photographer who makes the picture. The process is the same for a cheaper model as it is for a super high end camera. Once you know what you want to and what you need to get there, it will be much easier to find the right camera that that fits that particular bill. As a beginner (and despite years of snapping away I would call myself that in the days before UCLA!) I didn’t even know what my needs were, and felt completely overwhelmed by so many choices. I see much clearer now.

What was your favorite UCLA Extension class and why?

Oh, where to start… I had fabulous teachers with a wealth of information on tap; it’s a hard decision to make. But if I really had to pick, there are two that stand out. History of Photography and the Portfolio Class. Both very demanding, but immensely rewarding.P1250722

Trying to replicate historic photographs and getting into the old masters minds was very challenging, but gave me a complete new understanding of the medium.

The Portfolio class really gives you yet another push when it comes to critical and especially self-critical evaluation. By then some of us had already found our voices (or at least were pretty close to finding it), and this class really gave us a last push over the edge to professionalism. I appreciated that particular guidance very much.

How have the UCLA Extension classes helped improve your work, and or expanded your professional development in the field?

For one, I work in the film industry and the technical knowledge I have gained has made an active participation in the world of post-production a) possible and b) really fun.

For two, it has helped explore and then focus on the underlying force that drives my creativity, which is a fascination with those hidden lines of non-verbal communication that form this invisible web all around us. It pretty much informs all of my photographic work now.

Where do you hope to take your practice in the future?

I’m working on setting up a collective of photographers and subsequently mount an exhibit of our work.

What are you working on right now?

For the moment I’m working on expanding a street photography portfolio I’ve started in class, and a separate project specifically involving street performers.









UX Instructor Interview: Julia Morton

JuliaMorton_HeadshotUCLAExtension4.26.2015We’re excited to share with you an interview with one of our incredible instructors, Julia Morton! Julia is a UX Designer at Fandango and teaches our UX: Mobile course here at UCLA Extension. She will be teaching UX: Mobile in fall 2016.

  1.       What brought you to this field?

I was getting my Masters in Library and Information Studies at UCLA when I fell in love with the way UX design marries art and science to make life better for people. Taking design thinking classes, it hit me — what does it matter if you have a fabulous library collection if no one can find what’s in it? The idea of designing for better access inspired me. What motivates me now is the hope that my work can help folks enjoy or accomplish their end goals rather than have to think about how an interface functions.


Before I studied it, I used to think ‘design’ was about making toys for rich people, like $15,000 watches, or about luxury utility, like how maybe you can afford to have one well-designed task chair in your apartment, and it becomes a sacred object. That never struck me as much fun.


One of the things I love about UX design is that it’s for everyone who is using your product or service, and people expect websites and apps to be designed well enough that they don’t have to think about how to use them. That’s the great thing – these days, folks are upset when a site or app doesn’t meet their needs; we assume that sites and apps should just work.


  1.       Tell us about an especially rewarding project you’ve worked on and why you enjoyed it so much.

I work at Fandango. One of the more impactful projects I’ve gotten to work on was developing a digital movie ticket that people can use to show a ticket taker and get right into the movie they’re going to go see, with no scanning technology needed. I loved this project because it’s something that genuinely makes people’s lives easier, from the person who is walking into the theater to the ticket taker, who doesn’t have to use special equipment to check the ticket.


The work itself for this project was so much fun because it required a huge amount of collaboration with developers, business folks, and visual design. The idea sounds so simple as to be trivial, right? But we needed to take into consideration all sorts of edge cases, ways to avoid fraud, and ways to make sure people who aren’t used to using it would understand it. I’m tremendously lucky to get to work with fabulous teams — all of my most fun projects have involved lots of collaboration with tech, and have ended up somewhere I couldn’t have imagined when we started out.


  1.       Why is your course, UX Mobile, important for my UX education?


Mobile web and apps are huge channels for people to engage with digital products and services, and many companies these days work by designing mobile first. There are a couple of reasons it’s a good idea to learn how to focus specifically on mobile design:


1) Mobile is often the most important platform and the hardest to make prioritization decisions about, because there is less space available. Also, your user likely has less time on mobile. When you learn how to design for mobile first, it becomes much easier to take care of the other platforms afterward.


2) There are a number of mobile device-specific functions that offer huge advantages, such as location services, accelerometer, and camera/mic/photo/contacts integrations, and learning to think with them in mind expands what you can do.


3) In class, we look at Android and iOS, the two dominant operating systems used in mobile these days. Each system has a specific set of conventions, and it’s worth taking time to understand them and learn how to stay up to date with their rapid changes.


4) Because UX is a field where you learn by doing, the class is project based. You’ll do lots of work both in and out of class, get lots of feedback, and end up with a prototype that abides by the conventions and practices of mobile design.


  1.       Do you have a sample assignment?


Create a persona for your product, not just for your users! This is a great idea I recently learned from an Alastair Somerville conference talk (his Twitter handle is @Acuity_design, if you want to check him out).


By now, creating personas to represent the people who will be using your product is a well known step in the UX design process. Sometimes we make personas for stakeholders, too.


What we think of less often is that the product or service we are designing will be imbued with personality, perspective, and values, all shaped by what we put into it. That’s why it’s a great idea to create a persona for your product or service: it helps you define and understand what you’re building, which in turn helps you make the connection between it and your users.


  1.       Any advice for UX designers just starting out?


Keep thinking critically about how to do things. Interface patterns are useful because people recognize them and know how to use them, but we all have a responsibility to keep moving interface conventions forward when we come up with something better.


Keep building your ability to empathize with your users. Your ‘beginner’s eye’ is a precious resource – yes, your thinking will become more sophisticated as you develop, but pay attention to your first thoughts and reactions. Contemplate your ideas rather than discarding them as the dross of ignorance. You might learn something unexpected, or you might start thinking about something that will bear fruit in years to come.
When it comes to mobile design, keep your tap targets large, my friends. Keep those tap targets large.


See one of Julia’s sample assignments here: CharacterAppSiteTemplate2016


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