When junior Lauren Brennan opened Adobe Illustrator to work on a project designing stamps for the Typographic Design class taught by Claudia Strong, she barely knew the software. Despite that, for the first time since the beginning of the class, she felt she had the creative skills to complete the assignment.
As the only design minor in the class, Brennan experienced “imposter syndrome” at first. She had only taken the Introduction to Graphic Design class, and that was remote. When she started the Typographic Design class, she wasn’t sure how to approach the design process. Midway through the class, however, she was confident enough in her design skills to know that even if she didn’t fully understand the software, she could design something great.
And she did. Her stamp series, “Fashion Forward,” which highlighted the fashion contributions of Lupita Nyongo, Michelle Obama, Naomi Campbell and Diana Ross, won gold in the Graphis New Talent Annual 2022 competition.
“The whole class and especially this project pushed me to do many things that, honestly, I didn’t think I was capable of with the skillset that I was going in with,” she says “But it’s definitely rewarding now to see that the hard work pays off.”
Brennan’s gold was one of 30 awards won by students in Strong’s Typographic Design class, including two golds, 10 silvers and 18 honorable mentions. It’s a particularly impressive achievement because the competition is international and run by one of the world’s most prestigious publishers in design, advertising, photography and annuals. Students won for a variety of class projects, from brochures to typeface design.
Brennan says the class was pivotal in her understanding of design. While the sheer amount of projects seemed daunting at first, she says they each challenged her in a new way and built upon each other to give her a better understanding of what the design process looks like as a whole.
Strong chose to assign each project with specific goals in mind, like challenging students to work on a small scale in the stamp project or understand the intricacies of typefaces after designing their own. She says the class reflects the goals of the visual communications curriculum at the Newhouse School.
“Rather than forcing students into a pre-determined mold, we encourage all of our students to lean into their interests and instincts and strengths while coursing through the curriculum,” Strong says. “Our goal is to develop curious, adaptable thinkers who harness their individual vision to produce unique professional-level work.”
Sophomore Angelo Garufi, the other gold-winning student in the class, says that without these high expectations, he probably would not have been able to produce that quality of work. At the end of the class, when he revisited his first assignment to revise it for the final portfolio, he could see how much he had improved as a designer.
“It was a rigorous class. I learned a lot and I enjoyed it,” Garufi says. “We were held to a high standard, so we made high-quality work.”
Brennan agrees that the pressure to produce professional-caliber work was motivating, particularly because she knew Strong believed she could produce work at that level.
“It’s nice to have someone pushing you because that means they know that you are capable of what they are asking you to do,” Brennan says. “I think just having professors around you that are constantly encouraging you to do things or giving you advice [is] reassuring, that they trust that you have the capability.”
For Strong, submitting students’ work to the Graphis competition is all about showing students how capable they really are.
“I want these young design students to know that good work gets noticed, that hard work pays off, that they are talented, and that their future is at hand,” Strong says. “Placing at any level is a tremendous confidence boost and comes just in time to confirm their decision to become designers and propel them into the rest of their career here at Newhouse and beyond.”
Elizabeth Kauma is a senior in the magazine program at the Newhouse School.