Talent on Display

School of Graphic Design graduates’ final portfolios and thesis projects were packed with innovative, unique ideas at 2017 Winter Show


Photo by Bob Toy.

Over 30 combined B.F.A. and M.F.A. recent graduates from the School of Graphic Design at Academy of Art University showcased a bright variety of final portfolio and thesis projects for the department’s annual Winter Show, on Monday, Dec. 18. The show, which was held at the Atelier Gallery, served as a conversational setting for the new alumni to showcase and discuss their work with family, friends and industry professionals, some of whom were fellow alums.

The Winter Show is just one of many events the Academy curates to ensure that students are able to build meaningful connections with industry professionals to ensure a smooth transition from study to professional work.

“Here, students get qualified introductions. I connect professionals working in a field to students who tackled that topic in their thesis,” said Phil Hamlett, director of the School of Graphic Design. “Alumni come back to meet students, because they know the extent of what they learn here and what they’re getting—qualified job leads—and San Francisco is already ground zero for the design universe.”

The portfolios and thesis projects were as thoughtful as they were varied. Projects ranged from fun designs like giraffe-shaped inhalers for children to a student built brand of HIV medication meant to destigmatize the perception of illness carriers. These sometimes risky but carefully crafted projects were the standouts of the show and the spark of personality the professionals and potential employers were looking for. “When I was working on my portfolio I was working on a perspective instead of a decided goal,” said Leigh Zieske, a graphic design M.F.A. alumna that currently works at Lucasfilm. “I always see a lot of people tailoring their portfolio for the jobs they wanted. I made a portfolio for the job I wanted to create.”


Photo by Bob Toy.


Photo by Bob Toy.


Photo by Bob Toy.

“I highly encourage people to show process. It’s a really big flag for employers,” added Kyle Fiore, a graphic design B.F.A. alumnus at Trinity Brand Group. “Bring forth your ability to illustrate if you have one. Do anything you can to give your work the X factor.”

That “X factor” was definitely present in the work of the three recipients of the Winter Show Graphic Design Scholarships, each of which was worth $1,000. Brandi Steele and Jay Jeon represented the B.F.A. class and Kavya Sivaraman won for the M.F.A. class.

Steele’s portfolio project, Manifesto, was a black book of bold colors and design concepts that outline her design philosophy in no ambiguous terms. “I believe design is more than just the aesthetic. It’s about creating relationships between forms, people and ideas,” Manifesto reads. “The Winter Show is such a good opportunity. I tried to bring every aspect of what I think about design into [Manifesto] to share with instructors and professionals,” Steele said. “It was also comforting to be around peers, as they go through the same process.”

Sivaraman earned her scholarship for her thesis project, which tackled the difficult subject of equality for women through the specific issue of the gender wage gap. “The event is sort of like my coming out party to the design world,” said the scholarship recipient. “Women’s issues aren’t just topics that you can escape. People resonated with the fact that I tried to make sense of a difficult issue in an accessible way.”

The talent of the alumni brought over 100 guests during the three hour event, which, at times, crowded the gallery to the point of congestion. “One of the things about our philosophy is that we want to send the students out into the world with the best representation of their capabilities. We’ve given this type of visual storytelling a structure. We push them to their limits,” said Mary Scott, director emeritus of the School of Graphic Design. “As Charles Eames said, ‘The details are not the details; they make the product.’ We teach our students the importance of the details and that’s why their portfolios stand out.”