Mary Scott & Phil Hamlett Named "Educators to Watch" by GDUSA


(L–R) School of Graphic Design Director Phil Hamlett and Director Emeritus Mary Scott. Photo by Sean McGuire (B.F.A., ’06).

Every year, Graphic Design USA (GDUSA) honors and recognizes influential creatives, both professionals and students, with its perennial “People to Watch” and “Students to Watch” lists. What was missing, however, was the recognition of the middle-person standing between student and professional designers: Teachers. 

This year, GDUSA published its first ever “Educators to Watch” list acknowledging “design education and educators have more influence than ever on the fast-changing shape of design, media and culture.” Mentioned at the top of the list is the Academy of Art University’s own School of Graphic Design Director Emeritus Mary Scott and Director Phil Hamlett. 

“What really got me is when I read the (GDUSA) graph and they called us ‘legends,’” Scott said in her office overseeing the Financial District in San Francisco. 

With nearly 50 years of design experience between the two of them, both Scott and Hamlett have respective—legendary, if you will—portfolios as designers and educators. 

Scott got her start designing album covers at Capitol Records before moving on as partner and creative director at Maddocks & Company in Los Angeles. There, Scott’s clients included names as large as Disney, Sony, Microsoft, Avon, Procter & Gamble and countless others. 

In 1981, she was invited to become an adjunct instructor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She taught there for many years (with a stint at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles) before moving on to the Academy in 1999. 

As a commercial designer, Hamlett ran studios on both coasts. Coupling his design expertise with experience in communication roles, Hamlett led companies such as Turner & Associates in San Francisco and EAI in Atlanta to identify creative problems and work extensively to solve them. 

His forward-thinking sensibilities and problem-solving led him to co-author “Living Principles for Design,” in addition to founding Compostmodern, which opens discussions on how designers, scientists and thought leaders can create a sustainable future through design. 

Hamlett was invited by Scott to teach at the Academy after the two served as AIGA (a design professionals membership organization) board members in San Francisco. Hamlett had taught in adjunct positions similar to Scott, so teaching was always a part of his “career diet,” but he didn’t consider becoming a full-time educator until Scott offered Hamlett the graduate director position.

At the time, “it was a growing program with a demand[ing] student population.” Scott needed someone to take it on full time and Hamlett was up for the challenge. 

“At the Academy, they hire people they trust,” he explained. “[The Academy] gives [instructors] latitude to prepare students as they see fit, as long as we continue to get good results. I’m left to my devices to sculpt the program, which is relatively unique in the world of education.” 

As far as ‘good results’ go, the School of Graphic Design (GD) has had more than their fair share. Scott said that she and Hamlett like to maintain strong relationships with their students and keep track of their careers; some have gone on to hold creative lead positions at companies such as Amazon, Starbucks and Nike. Seeing the students succeed, she said, is one of the best parts about being an educator. 

“Teaching has always been an integral part of my life and [I] have found that teaching is the best way to learn,” said Scott. “Sharing your experiences and knowledge with students and then watching them go out into the world and become successful is certainly addictive.” 

That success, of course, usually comes back to the key philosophies Scott, Hamlett and the entire GD department teach their students. Though they are always looking forward, Hamlett emphasizes the importance of teaching design fundamentals, from core principles to processes and techniques. 

“We want to make sure people are working both sides of that equation,” he explained. “We want to make sure they know what’s happening in the 20th century and where everything is going, but not chase that rabbit at the expense of getting their core skills buckled in.”

“[Graphic design] is very complex,” Scott chimed in. “People who are drawn to graphic design really care about detail, refinement and understanding how to make things not only look good, but have meaning and power. Designers have to be good storytellers.”

As designers and educators, Scott and Hamlett acknowledge that the constantly-changing design landscape and a technology-driven generation of young people present new challenges and opportunities. Even as educators teaching students, they are also learning about design all the same. 

“Education is a fun bag, that’s for sure,” said Hamlett. “Constant stimulation, there’s always something new. I’ve got students that are endeavoring to solve any number of problems, both within and without the world of design, so I’ve always got a steady diet of interesting problems and challenges. It’s extremely engaging and fun and satisfies my sense of curiosity and the world.”