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Digital Technologies for Undergraduate Art & Design Students

Professional designers and artists today rely heavily on digital technology. Technology is also central to much of the work that our students create while in school. The College of Art integrates significant digital technology into its studio classes, starting in the first year and moving to the more individualized projects of the senior year. In the first semester or two, most students will take a required course called Digital Studio that relies on regular access to a laptop equipped with a software package called the Adobe Creative Suite.

The guide below features specifications for a recommended computer package, which we use in the classroom. All first-year students are required to purchase Adobe CC through the University. The University has secured a highly reduced annual cost of $50 per license (regular retail cost is $240 per year). This cost will be billed to your WashU student account and a license will be issued to you at the beginning of August to your email. You will continue to billed each year while you are a student for this license.

These two components are the digital foundation for all majors in the College of Art. Once you select your major during your second year, specific supplemental purchases (monitors, scanners, tablets, etc.) may be requested. Communication design, fashion design, and photography, for example, ask that all students acquire additional equipment the summer before the junior year. Further details about these expectations are included in the enclosed materials as well.

One of the challenges of the contemporary digital environment is that the average life of a laptop equipped for work in art and design is three years. Machines tend to wear with use and abuse; students working in video or with other large files will find that their machines operate more slowly and need more frequent upgrading. Each student’s work is different, but typically, juniors and seniors make projects with greater digital intensity than first and second-year students and require more computing power from their machines. Therefore, it is possible that a student who starts college with a working laptop will need a new machine by senior year, particularly if the first-year machine is not new. We recommend thinking about the four-year cycle and your first-year post-college, and timing your investments in a new, high-end machine accordingly. One option would be to arrive on campus with a used, mid-level laptop able to run the Adobe Suite, and then invest in a new high-end machine a year or two later. Another option would be to invest in the high-end machine at the beginning and expect some maintenance or replacement issues by senior year.

Assistance & Advice

We understand that these are significant, weighty purchases for many families and we request them only because of their critical relevance to the fields of design and art. We are here to help you work through this, both in strategizing the timing and also the financing.

For timing/strategy/technology questions, please contact Richard Viehmann, Computer Systems Manager, at or 314.935.9286.

For assistance with finances related to these purchases, please contactt a counselor in Student Financial Services at 314.935.5900, 888.547.6670, or

Washington University wants to help all students have the tools that they need to take full advantage of their college education in architecture, art, and design, and to be prepared to be the best in their field.