Celebrating Achievement in Design

Academy of Art University students named among the finalists and winners at the competitive Adobe Design Achievement Awards

The annual Adobe Design Achievement Awards honor the most promising student graphic designers, photographers, illustrators, animators, digital filmmakers, developers and computer artists from around the world. Since its inception in 2001, over 38,000 students from 73 countries have participated in the competition.

This year submissions topped 5,300, a record-setting total indicative of a highly competitive field. Competing in 14 categories spread across the fine art, commercial and social impact segments, entrants were judged on criteria including originality, creative excellence and ability to meet a communication objective. 

After judges narrowed the pool of entries to semifinalists and finalists, the competition culminated in September with the announcement of category winners. Four students from Academy of Art University were selected as finalists and winners.


ADAA finalist Evan Tolleson’s project, Seven Stills Distillery, which competed in the Commercial - Packaging Design category. Photo courtesy Evan Tolleson.

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ADAA finalist Evan Tolleson. Photo courtesy of Evan Tolleson.

“Knowing that the judges are working professionals who are respected in their industry, it was a real compliment,” said Evan Tolleson, whose Seven Stills Distillery project was a finalist in the Commercial – Packaging Design category. 

Seven Stills, a small-batch San Francisco distiller, produces whiskey using craft beer, rather than the typical low quality grain mash. Tolleson’s challenge was to bridge the gap between the typical whiskey aesthetic and that of craft beer. His design combined illustration with a restrained color palette and modern typeface to connect the two worlds.

A literal layered approach helped, too. “A paper wrap around the bottle speaks to the craft brew industry, and once you peel that away, you get the whiskey experience,” said Tolleson.


ADAA finalist Wei Jia Tan. Photo courtesy of Wei Jia Tan.

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ADAA finalist Wei Jia Tan’s food waste production campaign, Don’t Let Me Go, competed in the Social Impact - Web/App/Game Design category. Photo courtesy of Wei Jia Tan.

Wei Jia Tan’s food waste reduction campaign, Don’t Let Me Go, a finalist in the Social Impact – Web/App/Game Design category, originated as an assignment to create a nonprofit. Tan homed in on food waste, an issue she had encountered in the Academy dining hall and at home. 

“There are so many campaigns about food waste right now, but I feel like they’re not connecting with the user,” said Tan. “I wanted to find a more human way to create empathy, so the user would think of food from a different perspective.” 

She picked the project’s name to conjure an emotional response. Illustrations lend an organic feel to the campaign’s posters and website, which provide helpful information about how long food lasts and tips for using up ingredients.

My Loyal Slaves Film Festival_by Yun-Chih Chung

ADAA winner Yun-Chih Chung’s integrated communications project, My Loyal Slaves, competed in the Fine Art - Graphic Design/Print category. Photo courtesy of Yun-Chih Chung.

Yun-Chih Chung

ADAA winner Yun-Chih Chung. Photo courtesy of Yun-Chih Chung.

My Loyal Slaves, an integrated communications project by Yun-Chih Chung, created a hypothetical film festival focused on the absurdity of human existence as portrayed in Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson’s Living trilogy. The conceptually ambitious undertaking was named the winner of the Fine Art – Graphic Design/Print category.

Andersson’s work concerns “the control of authority and the abuse of power, and how people become indifferent or numbed to power,” said Chung. “If people are indifferent to their vulnerability, then they will become negative, selfish and lacking in empathy.”

The project incorporated a festival catalog, tickets, DVD packaging, a website and more. Chung experimented with different materials to determine what best suited the message. She ultimately chose concrete as the packing material “to imply the feeling of crumbling work.”

Erik Berger Vaage

ADAA winner Erik Berger Vaage. Photo courtesy of Erik Berger Vaage.


ADAA winner Erik Berger Vaage’s Tenderloin Fanzine, created to promote the Tenderloin Museum, competed in the Commercial Print/Graphic/Illustration category. Photo courtesy of Erik Berger Vaage.

Erik Berger Vaage won the Commercial – Print/Graphic/Illustration category for his design work on the Tenderloin Fanzine, created to promote the Tenderloin Museum. A collaboration between Vaage and Marcus Pettersson, who wrote the copy, the project supports the museum’s mission to celebrate the unique, gritty and vibrant history of its namesake neighborhood.

“Since I moved here four years ago, I’ve been living on the edge of the Tenderloin, and I walk through it a lot. It’s a very different experience than the rest of San Francisco,” said Vaage. 

Through photos, essays and interviews, the zine presents an unfiltered view of the mash up of high and low culture populating the Tenderloin. “The whole point was to be very straightforward and honest, and not try to sugarcoat what it actually is.”

Semifinalists, finalists and winners benefit from professional exposure, access to career bootcamps, a one-year Creative Cloud membership and nomination into Adobe’s Creative Residence program, in addition to professional mentorship, feedback and career tips. 

The 14 category winners also receive a trip to San Diego to attend Adobe MAX 2016, a premier creative conference that attracts over 9,000 creative professionals and experts. This year’s speakers include photographer Lynsey Addario, experiential sculptor Janet Echelman and fashion designer Zac Posen.