Boise State's Designing Grads 

Boise State graphic design students polish their portfolios

On the front page of the undergraduate portfolio Web site, 15 Boise State graphic design students strike a pose, covering their faces with unique, vibrant posters. It's part police lineup and part Disney Channel promo--skinny jeans, bell-bottoms, Chucks and high-heeled boots peek out from under their creations, hinting at each student's eccentricity. As you scroll through the student-designed site, just one part of ART 495, a semester-long elective portfolio review course, students list what "mark" they hope to make on the graphic design world.

"I want to leave my mark by creating advertising that is self-aware, design that is intelligent and art that nobody understands," writes Landon Larsen. Or, "I want to leave my mark by creating design that will make people look twice and ask questions," writes Ashley Durand.

This semester marks the end of an era in the Boise State graphic design program, the largest by-far of all programs in the art department. The university recently decided to alter the curriculum and among many new requirements, portfolio classes like the one described above have become mandatory starting in fall 2010.

"What we're trying to do is streamline the program so that students can make it through in a better amount of time than they do now, which sometimes can be five to six years," said graphic design faculty member Jennifer Wood. "We're doing that by creating more of a competitive atmosphere, so ultimately by admitting fewer students."

But for go-getters like Lindsey Ward, president of the student chapter of the AIGA, deciding to take the portfolio class was already a no-brainer.

"Even if you don't take the class, you're going to have to prepare your portfolio, and you're going to have to do all this stuff anyway," said Ward. "So, why not have a big show while you're at it?"

The 2010 biannual senior portfolio show, "Re(Mark)," takes place Wednesday, April 28, from 5-9 p.m. at the Powerhouse Event Center. On this particular night--these students' official introduction to the professional graphic design community--many soon-to-be grads will glow with something Wood has deemed "magic dust."

"I always say you have to use this moment in your life really well because this is when you have a lot of magic dust," said Wood. "What I mean by that is, you're really close to your work ... That connection is a little bit deeper, maybe, than after you get out and start working in the field."

Graphic design has often been cast as the dependable artistic career choice--a way to integrate creative passion with steady cash flow. And while the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in graphic design will grow 13 percent by 2018--which translates to roughly 36,900 more jobs--that growth has been difficult to see in the saturated Boise graphic design market.

"I don't think it's the best time in the world to be feeling enthusiastic about getting out of school and getting a job. However, I think all of them have been encouraged ... to just get themselves out there," said Wood. "Going back to that magic dust concept, I think sometimes when you meet a new graduate who is inspiring and is inspired by the industry, there's chances that positions could get created for you."

Jane Naillon, brand strategist at Brand Smack, a division of design firm Oliver Russell, has seen this inspiration happen firsthand. In addition to helping mentor a few Boise State graphic design students each semester, Oliver Russell also hired one a full-time designer, in part, because of the biannual senior portfolio show.

"You want to have your finger on the pulse of the creative community, and every [portfolio] show puts out at least one really fantastic designer, from what I've seen," said Naillon. "One of the women that works here at Oliver Russell was hired from the portfolio show as an intern, and then she was promoted into a full-time position."

Unfortunately, snagging a full-time graphic design job in Boise isn't quite as easy in the current economy. When Naillon recently put out an ad for an entry-level position, she received 60 resumes, many from out-of-work graphic designers with years of experience. To remain competitive in this relatively small marketplace, Naillon recommends that new grads be as well rounded as they can, especially where technology is concerned. That means knowing print design as well as Web site design and animation.

But nitty gritty aside, after working in the fast-paced New York graphic design world for 20 years, Naillon is happy to be back in a smaller community, one that nurtures up-and-comers.

"What I've noticed in the Boise industry is that people really pay attention to the youth that's coming out because their perspectives are so fresh and they're learning all of the new stuff," said Naillon. "Coming from New York City, I never went to a portfolio show, ever."

While there is an educational support structure in place for new designers in Boise, according to Wood and Naillon, it still might be in a new graduate's best interest to look outside of Idaho.

"I always recommend to my students that they really spread their wings and that they cast their net to think about looking at markets outside of Boise that are bigger--Seattle or Portland [Ore.], San Francisco," said Wood.

But leaving Boise isn't for everyone. While Ward is realistic about her chances of getting a job after graduating, she still has no plans to leave the Treasure Valley. Well, if you don't count backpacking through Europe after graduation.

"I'd like to find a job here in Boise ... It's going to be tough, but I'll find a job eventually, even if I have to work at something else besides graphic design for a while," she said.

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