Where students go to design a future.

Academy of Art University prepares students for successful careers in art and design with Adobe Creative Cloud.




Students: 9,500

San Francisco, California



Students, faculty, and staff working toward the future of art and design


Adobe Creative Cloud for education ›

Adobe Acrobat Sign ›

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Prepare students for successful careers with experienced instructors and tools of the trade

Prove that it’s possible to teach the arts online, reaching students worldwide

Increase efficiency behind the scenes by revisiting paper-based HR processes

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Provided access to Adobe Creative Cloud apps for all students, instructors, and staff

Prepared students for real-world design challenges with Adobe XD and other new tools

Built a successful online learning program that kept the university running during COVID-19

Streamlined onboarding for 600 adjunct instructors every semester using Adobe Acrobat Sign

Making the impossible possible

“You can’t teach art and design online.” That’s something Jason Shaeffer heard a lot in his early days at Academy of Art University. But he didn’t believe it. When he joined the organization in 2004, he was part of a pioneering team that built an online learning program from scratch — an effort that ultimately turned the skeptics into believers.

“At the beginning, everyone said it couldn’t be done, but our students’ success and the quality of their work proves otherwise,” says Shaeffer, who is now Vice President of Online Education at Academy of Art University. “We earned full regional accreditation, and our directors have created incredible online programs and are excited and engaged in their constant evolution and improvement.”

Today, online education is an integral part of the mission at the Academy of Art — proof of its unwavering commitment to digital literacy and student achievement in the fast-changing world of art and design. The university has a sophisticated learning management system (LMS) to streamline online coursework, and it has used Adobe Creative Cloud for education both online and in classrooms for many years — giving students an edge with industry-standard tools. That levels the playing field and makes it possible for students of all ages and backgrounds to earn a degree in the arts and start a successful career.

“I’ve been lucky enough to meet students attending classes from a farm in Wisconsin and others on active duty on an aircraft carrier,” says Shaeffer. “The best part of my job is watching them work and seeing them get excited about seeing the world and their work in new ways.”

Students succeed with help from a “good cop”

The Academy of Art is acutely aware of the responsibility it has toward students, who are making an investment in their future and deserve every opportunity to succeed. That responsibility goes beyond technology. As Executive Vice President of Educational Support, Kate Griffeath has played a pivotal role over the past 30 years in providing the support mechanisms students need.

“I’ve been the ‘good cop’ for Academy of Art University,” Griffeath says. “My teams come to the rescue if it looks like a student isn’t going to make it.”

One of her first projects was to launch the international student support program, which now welcomes students from 100 countries. As the international student body grew, she embedded language support into hundreds of classes, enabling non-English speakers to jump straight into the art and design curriculum without taking the TOEFL exam. She also established the Academy Resource Center, which provides a highly successful academic coaching service and an orientation program called Launchpad to set students up for success.

“The most challenging online classes have a support instructor, whose job it is to notice when students are struggling or falling behind — help them get back on track,” says Griffeath. “The more proactive we are in reaching out to students, the more likely they are to succeed, which is why we start working with them before classes even start.”

“One of our biggest challenges in offering an online curriculum for art and design is keeping pace with new features and capabilities. Adobe Education Exchange has been great for providing supplementary content to keep students and instructors up to speed — as well as localized content for our large number of international students."

Jason Shaeffer

Vice President of Online Education, Academy of Art University

A pandemic blurs the lines between online and onsite classrooms

All that work in online education and support services has paid off. The technology has vastly extended the university’s reach with both students and instructors — most of whom are talented working professionals who teach at Academy of Art University on the side. It also made for a swift transition when the unexpected happened.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we're very fortunate to have had so much experience with online learning,” says Shaeffer. “Training instructors was our top priority because if they aren’t successful, students won’t be either.”

When in-person classes shifted online, Shaeffer sensed a palpable shift in attitudes that had been years in the making. “Even with our success in online education, there were still barriers between in-person classes and online learning,” he says. “The pandemic has now dissolved those barriers completely — everyone has fully embraced digital tools and resources in their courses.”

Another valuable resource that helped Academy of Art University adapt during the pandemic was Adobe Education Exchange. With a wealth of educational resources to help both instructors and students transition to remote learning, it took some of the pressure off instructors.

“One of our biggest challenges in offering an online curriculum for art and design is keeping pace with new features and capabilities,” says Shaeffer. “Adobe Education Exchange has been great for providing supplementary content to keep students and instructors up to speed — as well as localized content for our large number of international students.”

Students build a career in design, starting with the foundation

Whether classes happen in person or online, students and instructors rely on Adobe Creative Cloud day in and day out. The tools are at the core of the curriculum in most departments, including the School of Advertising and the School of Web Design & New Media — where Fred McHale and Andrea Pimentel are Co-Directors.

“From day one, students start learning how to use Adobe Creative Cloud apps — they’re foundational to everything we do,” says McHale. “Our partnership with Adobe means that students automatically have access to the apps when they enroll, which removes a huge roadblock and gets them off on the right foot.”

Apps such as Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Fonts, and Adobe Stock are par for the course, and students start using them early on in their work. Recently, they’ve also started exploring mobile tools such as Adobe Premiere Rush as well as Adobe XD.

“Adobe XD is intuitive for students who already use Photoshop and Illustrator, so we don’t have to dedicate a lot of time on instruction,” says Pimentel. “We simply show students the tool, and they pick it up very quickly.”

Ease of use is key for first-level students in the UX design class. They can immediately start using Adobe XD to design interactive mockups of their websites and apps, bringing their designs over from Illustrator seamlessly. With a working prototype, they can test their solutions with target users and export demo videos to show off their work. Adobe XD is a tool McHale and Pimentel know students will encounter in the real world — one that adjunct instructors increasingly use in the industry.

Student Sara Zhang’s midterm project: Adobe XD prototype of a mobile app for a modern bakery.

The power to design a happy, successful life

Phil Hamlett is Director for School of Graphic Design at Academy of Art University, and it’s no surprise that his 600 graphic design students use Adobe Creative Cloud all day long — for whatever projects they’re working on. In his eyes, Adobe apps are tools that help students build the lives they want to lead.

“The ultimate measure of our success is when students are living happy, successful lives,” Hamlett says. “Name any world-class studio or tech company in the Bay Area, and I can give you the name of a former student who is pivotal to its success.”

Graphic design students live and breathe apps such as InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator. But they’re branching out to keep up with the changing nature of the graphic design industry. That includes using After Effects for motion graphics and Adobe Dimension to render 3D designs for product packaging, which these days — as Hamlett explains — “is more about creating assets that function in a digital setting.”

Adobe XD has been an important part of Hamlett’s classroom for years, for everything from product design to typography. The prototyping tool is a great way to help undergraduate students bridge the skills gap between print and digital, preparing them for a world in which interactive digital content is primary. “With Adobe XD, students can build things very quickly that look and feel like a real digital property,” he says. “That’s why I recommend it as the default, go-to tool, because most of what students will be doing in the workplace will revolve around interactive digital screens.”

Student Ellie Chen's product design class project: Adobe XD prototype for https://medst.org, a graphic design project that investigates how research and audience understanding create a digital product that enhances a user’s experience of learning about first aid knowledge and skills.

HR goes digital to hire instructors and support student success

Helping students succeed requires more than just great technology, tools, and instructors. Behind the scenes, efficient administrative processes are key to keeping things running and delivering an effective learning experience, whether online or in person. The HR department plays a crucial role in hiring the adjunct instructors that are so instrumental to student success — and there are 600 of them to onboard every semester. That’s where Adobe Acrobat Sign makes a big difference.

“Adobe Acrobat Sign eliminates all the back-and-forth paperwork involved in onboarding, enrollment, and other processes,” says Jadine Louie, HRIS Manager at Academy of Art University. “Now we handle everything electronically, which streamlines our work and saves us time, labor, and materials.”

Integrated with the university’s Workday implementation, Acrobat Sign makes it easy to distribute agreements, get them signed, and keep it all in one place — attached to each employee’s Workday profile. In recent months, that integration was crucial as the HR department required employees to sign the university’s COVID-19 policy. Not only does Acrobat Sign increase efficiency for HR, it has a powerful impact on instructors and the university as a whole.

“The Adobe Acrobat Sign integration with Workday has been fantastic, making life easier for every one of our managers,” says Shaeffer. “There was some initial resistance to going digital, but we overcame it — and with Adobe Acrobat Sign up and running well before COVID-19 hit, we were able to continue operating smoothly.”

A continuing vision for online education

Shaeffer sees the partnership with Adobe as an important part of the university’s mission — to give every student the opportunity to pursue a future in art and design.

“My challenge is to democratize access to technology for everyone, serving the student just out of high school as well as the retiree returning to their passion,” he says. “If I succeed in my role, the technology itself will become transparent, making life easier and more successful for students, faculty, and staff.”

It’s a vision Shaeffer believes in. And just like his efforts to help bring online education to life at Academy of Art University, he’s committed to seeing it through — skeptics or no skeptics.


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