Graphic design students pivot, take Senior Graphic Design Thesis Night online
The Department of Art & Design assistant teaching professor was emailing members of the UMSL community and prominent design firms in St. Louis reminders about the two-night show – set for March 13-14 at the Summit Ballroom.
A couple days later it became apparent the show would not go on – at least, not in person.
With increasing restrictions on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was little choice but to call off the event. Gericke recalled that no one wanted to say the word “canceled,” though.
He started to explore ways to share the senior graphic design students’ final projects, which had taken most of the school year to complete. Initially, there were talks of a hard-copy book with each of the 15 students’ work, but a website seemed more practical. Five weeks later, it is now a reality: https://designhaspurpose.com/.
“We decided, we’re going to put energy into building this website that’s more relevant and can hit more people,” Gericke said.
“I am so inspired and impressed with the creation of this interactive website to present the graphic design senior thesis projects,” Kersten said. “Moving to remote teaching and learning has gone well but was a heavy lift. Our faculty and our students have risen to the challenge. This website represents not only the achievements of our students but also their creative spirit to extend the classroom into the community. We normally do that in person but this is perfect for our current circumstances.”
Traditionally, seniors use thesis night to exhibit their capstone presentations to alumni, family, friends and industry professionals. The theme this year was “design has a purpose.” During the fall semester, students selected a topic or issue to address through different design mediums. They used the first half of the school year to research, design and test prototypes and focused on polishing their presentations in the spring – though ultimately those took a different form.
“This project defines our program,” Gericke said. “When you’re a freshman and enter the program, you know when you’re senior that it’s the culmination of everything you’ve learned. It’s the pinnacle of our program, and we’ve gotten students placed in really good agencies from this.”
The seniors’ projects covered a wide variety of topics. Andrew Clark’s raised awareness about smartphone addiction through a booklet designed to look like an iPhone on the outside with information mimicking applications on the inside. Danielle Ridolfi created a book club kit that uses pattern illustrations to enhance classic literature and make it more accessible to the average reader.
Clark drew inspiration from traveling abroad this past summer – a trip that left him without a smartphone for about a month. It illustrated how many people fixate on their phones instead of taking in the world around them. Ridolfi was inspired by her longstanding love for intricate surface patterns.
“I am fascinated by how patterns have been used throughout history, not just as decoration, but as functional elements,” she said. “Many spiritual traditions use pattern decoration to inspire practitioners. For instance, intricate patterns included in illuminated manuscripts were meant to help readers contemplate the divine.”
Clark and Ridolfi were pleased with their finished products but also disappointed that they didn’t have the opportunity to give their presentations to an audience.
“This was something we had been working on since August of 2019, and we put in so much time to make this night incredible and it was ripped away from us in just a few days,” Clark said. “However, we are all very thankful to be healthy and safe in these times of hardship.”
In place of public presentations, students recorded themselves speaking over digital slide shows. To showcase their work, they moved quickly to collaborate on uploading their projects and portfolios to the website.
“It was a bit of a challenge creating a website as a group without being able to meet in person to discuss things and exchange files,” Ridolfi said. “But we organized a system for logging into the website separately, with one classmate serving as the main point person for finalizing the site. I was happy with how quickly we were able to get it launched.”
Clark thought the site turned out well and said an online presence will likely help the students reach a broader audience than the in-person event would have.
“I think a lot of people, employers included, who normally would not be able, were given the opportunity to look at the awesome work we are doing here at UMSL Graphic Design,” he said.
Several companies have already approached students, including Clark and Ridolfi, since the website went live.
“We’ve had a good response,” Gericke said. “People are reaching out to certain students to talk or exchange numbers or say, ‘Hey we really love your work.’”
Clark lined up a job before receiving any inquiries, while Ridolfi had expected to continue an internship into the summer. Unfortunately, the program was put on hold due to the pandemic, but she’s not letting the uncertain situation shake her resolve.
“I plan to continue working hard for the remainder of the semester to build my portfolio and make connections in the industry,” she said. “I’m hopeful that the right position will come along soon. I know that finding the right job may take a little longer than usual given the current circumstances, and I am trying to remain patient and hopeful. Thankfully, the creativity that this field requires means I spend my days sketching, taking photographs, illustrating and so much more, and there’s no more relaxing way to spend time than that.”
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