Designing the future

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Bachelor of Fine Arts students shine in portfolio show
text: Jamie Ramirez / image: Yvonne Ko

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Long Cheng, Yvonne Ko and Kelvin Tow anxiously anticipate the looming date of Dec. 6, when their collective work from the duration of the graphic design fine arts program is displayed in front of their peers.

But it wasn’t an easy task for them. The Bachelor of Fine Arts program for graphic design students is a competitive two-and-a-half-year intensive learning program that chooses up to 25 students for each class.

This semester’s graduating senior class has 18 members remaining and plenty of work left to do before their portfolio show from December 6-8.

Long Cheng, BFA graphic design senior class president, said he has high hopes for the upcoming senior portfolio show.

“My biggest hope and expectation is for our class to tell our narrative of who we are, what we’ve achieved and why we did it,” Cheng said. “We’ve worked incredibly hard for the past few years and we’re ready to share that story of our journey. I hope that this portfolio show will be an inspiration to everyone who is going to join us.”

The exhibit lasts for three days and the first day is committed to defending a thesis that each student developed in the program before a panel of three people, said Kelvin Tow, BFA graphic design senior vice president .

This is the first semester that the program’s coordinators decided to include a thesis as part of the senior portfolio show, Tow said.

“We guide where our thesis goes,” Tow said. “It helps seniors understand the entire scope of a project including the research, proposal and exploration stages.”

The remaining two days are for friends and family to enjoy exhibitions of the graduating students, whose classmates have been the same for the entire duration of the program.

In previous years, the exhibition showed students’ work as a collective body, but this semester they chose to give each person a booth to exhibit their work, Tow said.

“We all learn from each other,” Tow said. “All graphic design students can produce, but the BFA allows us to think on a higher level.”

Yvonne Ko, who won a scholarship from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, is graduating from the program with Cheng and Tow.

Like Cheng, Ko said she and all her classmates have worked hard to reach this point in the semester where the group is preparing for the final exhibition.

“There’s a lot of pressure in this program because you get reviewed at the end of every semester just to stay,” Ko said. “Student work is reviewed twice for the application process and then at the end of every semester during the program.”

It has been a challenging program, but Ko said she wouldn’t change her experience.

“If I had graduated before I decided to join the BFA program, I wouldn’t be even 1 percent of the designer I am today,” Ko said.

Ko received a scholarship award valued at $4,000 from AIGA, including a paid trip to the Howe Design conference, she said. Other than being awarded the scholarship, Ko said there are benefits to being in the program, such as being able to design everything including packaging labels and mobile phone applications.

“We have complete creative freedom of our work,” Ko said. “The professors are always pushing us to do more, to be better. I’m going to miss that relationship.”

Cheng said he has benefitted from this intensive program as well.

“This program developed my eyes for what good design is,” Cheng said. “It helped me develop the thought process as a designer because at the end of the day, we are problem solvers.”

However, Cheng said the program is not without its challenges.

“The greatest challenge of being in the program is being in the program,” Cheng said. “This program is not easy. We have the best professors from the industry and they challenge us to be the best of ourselves, the class and the program.”

One project that Cheng said was difficult required the students to design a food truck brand.

“At the height of the food truck hype, it was no easy task without many examples out there,” Cheng said. “There weren’t any previous classes that have done this before, but after all the many triple shot caramel lattes, everyone’s project turned out amazing.”

With the show looming and graduation commencing shortly after, Tow said he is ready for the real world.

“I just hope I can be at a place that pushes me to be better at something that really interests me,” Tow said.

Tow hopes to work with interaction design, such as designing mobile phone apps and interactive web pages, he said.

Cheng said he is excited for what professional jobs will have to offer.

“After graduation, I’m just so excited to see how all of us utilize every design skill that we’ve learned at school for the real world,” Cheng said. “Some say that we’re not ready, but I truly believe that we will never be ready.”

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