Sonia Davis Gutiérrez is a techie dynamo, but the mellowest one you might meet. That may be because she emphasizes the artistic side of graphic design or perhaps because her business is mostly about education. She moved to Fayetteville some 20 years ago to attend the University of Arkansas, and outside of a year attending a university in Spain on a Rotary scholarship and later two years getting a MFA at Parsons School of Design in New York City, she hasn’t left. The diversity, drive and creativity of this college town fit her, and she’s reciprocated. Her base is the New Design School, which received its state private career education license in 2006 (with plans to step up work on accreditation this fall) and has had some 500 students since. How many have graduated from its 21-course curriculum? Perhaps that’s not the best question to understand the concept. The answer is six, she said, but the tally should be up to eight to 11 by the end of this summer. That’s because the students, who generally are age 18 to 25, seem to get what they come for pretty quickly. “Some people come in, and take two classes, and they have a job. Some people take one class and have a new job,” Gutiérrez said. “All they’re doing is putting on their resumes that they’ve attended New Design School and that they have HTML [Hypertext Markup Language for writing Web pages] and CSS [Cascading Style Sheets for formatting] skills.” For her, this defines the post-Great Recession new economy – “a competencybased, skill-based economy.” Gutierrez’s school and business are in the Fulbright Building on East Dickson Street. It was built in 1962 and designed by local architect Warren Segraves to house the Fayetteville Public Library, which moved to a new building in 2004. Honored local architect Marlon Blackwell extensively renovated the Fulbright for commercial tenants. The New Design School is a 501(c)3 educational organization with a for-profit partner in 3c21 Design. Gutiérrez is president of the former and principal of the latter.
This partnership defines an unusual collaborative educational process that might explain how the center’s students pick up work so readily, often before completing their coursework. It becomes obvious in the name of the business arm – 3c21 Design. With the words fleshed out, it’s pronounced “three come to one design.” The three consist of an experienced graphic designer, the student designer and the client. It’s something of a shortterm apprenticeship that accompanies the classroom education. Twenty percent of the design fees go to the New Design School. What is produced? Logos, symbols and marks, and promotional materials, including posters, brochures, postcards and stationery. And Web sites. One client is Duane Woltjen, webmaster of the nonprofit Ozark Highlands Trail Association. “Sonia was recommended to me to redesign and upgrade our website,” he said. “We engaged her Web design services, and [have] benefitted greatly ever since. Sonia is highly skilled technically, very communityservice oriented, highly creative and very skilled in communications and graphic arts. She and Mike [Davis Gutiérrez] are thriving small business founders and life partners, generous and always very pleasant.” Resident gardener Mark Cain of Dripping Springs Farm, a longtime vendor at the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, said Gutiérrez “was instrumental in encouraging us to use a Web presence – via the website she designed for us – to announce and advertise our community-supported agriculture project,” of which she has been a part since the first deliveries into
Fayetteville. “That’s what I like about Sonia: she can inform us about the exciting possibilities of cyberspace communication while her feet are firmly planted on the ground where the veggies and flowers are planted,” Cain said. Gutiérrez’s school has another aspect that might be unusual in the 21st century: It has no Web-based classes. Students have to show up. In person. “This online thing is not working like we expected,” she said. “The completion and goal rates are low.” New Design School is fully plugged in, all the same. “We maintain a digital realm, always, with Google, a digital community, and so we can video, we can chat, we can do all that,” Gutiérrez said. “This is how we use it, as a tool. During all the ice and snow, we never skipped a day. We used it when we couldn’t meet in the physical. It’s a means, it’s not the answer. “You still need the people. There is so much that is happening with a good teacher. The teacher’s monitoring. And there’s all this other body language happening [with students] – they’re confused, they’re kind of getting it, they’re super-bored. So you modify, you modify what you’re doing. If you care. If you’re present and you’re engaged. If you’re an engaged instructor.” Second-year student James Rector agrees. “Sonia has become a great mentor and friend,” he said. “She has constantly challenged me and other students at the design school to hold strong values. In my opinion, I respect people who can stay true to themselves, and look for every opportunity to learn, which is the very core of Sonia’s influence.”
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