Meet the Graduates 2017: Alysha McDowell (Graphic Design)

With a fresh new batch of students graduating this month, we have the exciting task of hosting our Graduate Degree Show June 2017. Here at the IDI Blog we’ve sat down with some of our most recent graduates to get a little insight into studying, and graduating, with IDI.

BA (Hons) Graphic Design graduate Alysha McDowell talks us through her love of illustration and passion for innovative design. She also tells us about the thriving design scene in Ireland and shares with us her design process and influences…


I love illustration. When I first began my studies I intended to work as an illustrator once I had finished my degree. I’ve since found a passion in graphic design, but I still love to incorporate original illustrations into my designs.
Alysha McDowell
BA (Hons) Graphic Design

My creative journey began in 2011 when I learned how to use Adobe Illustrator as a step towards my dream of being a graphic designer. I quickly realised there was a lot more to achieving that goal than simply knowing how to use the tools. An opportunity arose to study for my formal qualification with IDI and I grabbed it with both hands. After nearly four years, I have finally realised my dream and am now graduating with an honours degree.

My aim as a graphic designer is to perfect the art of visual communication. During the creative process of any project, I keep in mind the end viewer and how my message is being communicated. The work I have chosen to present here reflects my personal style: a mix of modern, contemporary design, using texture and colour to intrigue the viewer.

Growing up, did you have any creative interests?

I was very creative when I was younger – I was always drawing, painting or making something with clay. I also loved writing stories and then illustrating them. I dreamed of being the next Quentin Blake!

What’s the design scene like in Ireland?

There is a fantastic community of designers in Ireland. The Institute of Designers Ireland provides a support network as well as hosting graduate design awards every year. The industry is definitely growing – there are so many fantastic designers and illustrators coming out of Ireland at the moment.

I love the work of Steve McCarthy – his children’s book illustrations are amazing. Another one of my favourite designers, the iconic David Airey, is actually from quite close to where I live currently. His book ‘LogoDesignLove’ is one of my go-to sources of inspiration.

‘Carrie’s War’ book cover design by Alysha McDowell

How did you know that you wanted to get into graphic design?

I grew up reading Roald Dahl and I just loved how Quentin Blake’s illustrations would make the stories come alive. Even now, I love picking up children’s books and studying the illustrations. My current favourites are the ‘Octonauts’ books, illustrated by design team Meomi.

I’ve since found a passion for graphic design, although I still love to incorporate illustration into my design. My mum is also an inspiration to me; I definitely get my creative side from her! If I’m struggling to come up with ideas I will always brainstorm with her, she’s very creative.

How have you grown as a designer during your studies?

My skills as a designer have definitely grown throughout my studies. Before I began my studies I would have thought of design as creating something that looks good, but my studies have given me a solid foundation in theory and visual communication.

I’ve learned to use design to solve visual problems rather than focusing solely on aesthetics. Studying with IDI has given me a lot more confidence in my work and an ability to create solutions for a wide range of projects.

What was the initial inspiration behind the Mytikas project?

The brief for the Mytikas project was very specific in that the result should not be reliant on technology or the internet to function, so I looked for inspiration in the era before the internet – when storytelling was a prominent form of entertainment. Greek mythology seemed a perfect way to encompass this.

Mytikas board game design by Alysha McDowell

I also have a personal interest in Greek mythology so I felt it would be a great opportunity to work on a subject matter that I found personally intriguing. I thought it would be a good way to develop my style as a designer – although there are endless references to Greek mythology in popular culture, very few had combined the subject with contemporary design styles.

I love using colour as a way to connect the design to the subject matter and it happened to work very well for this project. My inspiration for the shape of the board came from Ancient Greece – I sourced patterns and shapes found on ancient pottery and architecture. I wanted the final design to reflect the inspiration and achieved this with colour – the warm yellow colour is reminiscent of the pottery I used for inspiration.

Mytikas board game development by Alysha McDowell

How did you go about putting the Greek god and goddess illustrations together?

Mytikas board game Gods and Goddess pieces, designed by Alysha McDowell

I always begin the process with pencil and paper – there were several sketched versions before I finally decided on an outcome I was happy with. Once I had found a style which worked well for all of the characters, I used Adobe Illustrator to create them, using a combination of shape building and the pen tool to put the design together.

Mytikas board game Gods and Goddess pieces development by Alysha McDowell

Is illustration something you hope to continue to incorporate into your work?

Definitely! I love illustration and when I first began my studies I intended to work as an illustrator once I’d finished my degree. Since then I’ve found a passion for graphic design, but I still love to incorporate original illustrations into my designs.

My aim as a graphic designer is to perfect the art of visual communication. During the creative process of any project, I keep in mind the end viewer and how my message is being communicated.
Alysha McDowell

What is your idea of perfection?

For me a perfect design is something that engages the viewer and invites them to find a meaning within the design. When I see a design and think straight away, ‘that’s clever’, to me that’s a successful design.

‘Stepping Stones’ magazine cover design by Alysha McDowell

What was it like studying online with IDI?

The last year in particular was really rewarding and fun to work on because there was a lot of freedom in choosing my own briefs, so I was always working on something I found personally interesting. The best part of studying online was the flexibility of the course – I could fit my studies in around everything else rather than vice versa.

Managing my time was the biggest challenge of studying online. With no set lectures to attend, I found that it sometimes required a lot of motivation to sit down and do a couple of hours study after I’d already worked a full day. Luckily for me design is something I find really enjoyable so I always found time for my studies.

The support provided by IDI was also fantastic – not only do you have one on one support from your tutor, you also have the forums to talk to the other students. Before I began my studies I was concerned that online studying might make me feel isolated, but that wasn’t the case at all. For anyone contemplating studying online I would definitely say go for it. It has helped me realise my dreams and I couldn’t recommend IDI enough.

Starting out in illustration, Alysha later went on to specialise in graphic design. Read more about Alysha’s IDI journey.

Where will your dream take you now?

I’m quite lucky as I’m currently working as a graphic designer in a position I really enjoy. However in the future I would love to start my own business. Creative freedom is really important to me so I feel that working for myself would provide the best opportunity to have that.

Visit Alysha’s website or Behance profile for more examples of her design work.


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