A few weeks ago my friend Greg, who has been working with Workhorse as a freelancer since we started the company, told me that he was applying to MFA design programs. I was excited for him, but also surprised. Never thought he would be looking to pay several thousands of dollars to do what he’s already getting paid several thousands of dollars to do! But, I’m also proud of him—going back to school will definitely improve his practice and change the trajectory of his already-promising career.
When Greg asked me for some advice on his statement, I decided to take a trip back in time to see what ‘past Abe’ thought about himself and his design practice. I probably worked through at least 45 iterations of my portfolio, and at least 25 drafts + 5 different versions of my statement before I settled on a final. Surely something I worked so hard on would stand the test of time, and not be at all embarrassing. Wrong! After the cringing subsided, reading this truly mediocre piece of writing actually humbled me quite a bit, and got me thinking about all of the young designers out there, applying to programs and feeling a bit daunted by the process.
So, I asked a few of my colleagues, old classmates, and other MICA GDMFA alumni to share their graduate school application statements with me so we could all see how we’ve presented ourselves, and reflect a bit on how we’ve grown. Hopefully, some shared reflection (and some embarrassment) over old statements will reassure designers thinking about graduate school, and encourage them to not be too intimidated by the process. Now that we’re all ‘Master Designers,’ it’s easier for us to hide some of those rougher edges—but this was a humbling reminder that we are all a work in progress, and sharing our growth is a good thing for everyone.
With that in mind, please enjoy these collective adventures (and misadventures) in stating your purpose in this world! And also, if Greg applies to your program, you should accept him and give him a lot of scholarship money.
MICA, Class of 2016
When I was around fifteen years old, my mom took my brother and me to deliver Thanksgiving meals to needy families in Detroit. I had not thought much of the gesture beforehand, but upon seeing the families’ expressions of gratitude in spite of their hardship, a wave of humility washed over me. With those images frozen into my memory, I looked for more ways to pitch in, and eventually carried that sentiment into my design interests. More recently, I have made it a priority to recognize my social responsibility as a designer and utilize my visual storytelling skills to help improve my community. Along the way, I have been fortunate enough to learn from an invaluable mix of people and experiences.
Former Newsweek graphics director Karl Gude was the first to convince me that I should pursue information design. As I improved upon this skillset, I sought help from Professor Dan Marsh (MFA Digital+Media, RISD ‘05). Dan challenged me to be more than just “good enough,” which galvanized the work ethic imparted to me by my father. From there, I started to experiment with a variety of media, and discovered that familiarizing myself with an assortment of visual storytelling techniques helped me figure out the best way to reach my audience. My enthusiasm for the craft flourished, and my proficiency landed me opportunities with CERN, The Seattle Times and Bryan Christie Design. Traveling for work enabled me to explore big cities, sparking an interest in urbanism and furthering my zeal for do-it-yourself culture, which was initiated through my participation in punk rock.
Shortly before I graduated, Rebecca Tegtmeyer (MGD, NC State ‘09) introduced me to “design thinking” and “social design,” and my sense of benevolence took over my creative psyche. While at Michigan State University, I reached out to students to design a resource for bicycle safety on campus, and was pleased to observe that it facilitated constructive discussion. Most of all, I enjoyed connecting with real people to help solve their problems.
For the past two years, I have been working with top journalists at Canada’s national newspaper to translate complex, abstract information into concrete, experiential forms. The most fun part of data visualization has been the left-brain/right-brain pursuit of critically analyzing and simplifying difficult material through experimenting with design. I intend to explore this practice even further through studying user behavior and utilizing visual programming languages (such as Processing and D3) to create compelling ways for viewers to interact with a message.
Life in Canada has been different but enjoyable, as the local culture, unfamiliar places, and new friends have given me a more worldly perspective. In turn, I have immersed myself in the local arts community through organizing events, playing in touring bands, and volunteering my design skills. These experiences, in tandem with my previous interests, have encouraged me to someday establish an interdisciplinary design agency that allows me to use visual storytelling to empower my audience and teach digital media literacy to at-risk youths.
mica would be an exceptional place for me to pursue beautiful, meaningful, and smart experiments with intelligent and talented peers. My recent visit and continued conversations with students and faculty have given me the sense that mica has a remarkably friendly, supportive, and cross-disciplinary community that is well-integrated into the vibrant city of Baltimore. I am especially eager to pursue graduate teaching internships, as well as opportunities for social engagement through the Center for Design Practice and local youth outreach organizations including Wide Angle Youth Media and the Digital Harbor Foundation.
In short, I have an innate ability to get at the core of a design challenge and sift through to a simple, beautiful solution, and my personal work has edge, while being informative. Combining these two ways of thinking is what will be unique about my studies at MICA. Most of all, I am excited to be part of a thriving community that lives to take risks and further the craft of visual storytelling. My hope is that personal exploration, combined with the talent, ideas, and expertise at MICA, will extend my own understanding and also generate cutting-edge design solutions that will help improve the welfare of those around me.
MICA, Class of 2013
Young Sun lives in Brooklyn, New york where he works as an interaction designer at a museum. At the time of applying to school, he was living in Jersey City, NJ working as a junior designer “doing mostly web stuff”.
I was born in the middle of the summer in the middle of New York City. The middle child of a lower middle-class family whose earliest memories are of dog days spent outdoors—exploring and wondering. At a young age I became enamored by the natural world and would collect field guides on plants, animals and geology. In school I would read what I had to while copying the illustrations and diagrams that accompanied those texts. I learned early on how text and image in tandem helped me better understand the world around me. My parents labeled me a curious child and now grown I find myself interested in many things, of which design sits comfortably at the peak. I try to link my interests by design. Literature and philosophy. Science and art. Reason and myth. All aspects of humanity and thought shadowed by design as means for their translation and dissemination.
What influences me the most within and outside of design are writings, works and artifacts that deal with interdisciplinary at their core. I am drawn to the work and sensibilities of the Winterhouse Studio and Institute; Kenya Hara and his philosophy of emptiness; the texts of poet-typographer Robert Bringhurst; Ellen Lupton and Abbot Miller and Design Writing Research and its concern with theory, media and history of Graphic Design; Stuart Bailey and his self reflexive publication Dot Dot Dot; the literary, critical and academic works of Italo Calvino; those grand ideas and integrities of R. Buckminster Fuller; and the lively story telling and films of Wes Anderson. It is through their works of that I find the greatest potential and promise in design. I find that design is not typically seen as a practice with focus on reflection. Instead methods of thinking-by-doing dominate the field, resulting in a struggle to meet the current/future needs of graphic design.
Like in my youth, the time I spent earning my undergraduate degree was one of research and exploration. I made sure my chosen projects would require more than an eye for design but also compelled research and understanding of a new topic. I used elective credits to take courses in geology and earth science to pursue my childhood interests and natural curiosities. I have taken this time following my graduation to gauge the field in a more real way. Real in the sense of how to do business and how to deal with clients; how to not merely abide by a clients rationale but to engage and partake in the process of creating a brand, website or promotional piece by design thinking instead.
My reasons for applying to the Maryland Institute College of Art are selfish ones I must admit mainly because of what I know about the school and its educators as purveyors of extraordinary competence and quality. My aim is to take what I have learned, as a child, young adult, undergraduate student and professional and work to focus my intentions and methodology. I am not through exploring, examining and questioning the field of design and its greater implications; economically, politically, socially and environmentally.
MICA, Class of 2013
Julie lives in Baltimore, MD where she works as a lecturer in graphic design. At the time of applying to school, she was an undergraduate student at Loyola College of Maryland.
My interest in design emerged after a friend introduced me to design software during my sophomore year of college. I was a Political Science major at the time with a minor in Asian Studies and I was fairly certain that I would attend law school to pursue a career as an immigration lawyer. But after my first use of design programs, I wanted to learn everything about the design process. I quickly learned my way to through Photoshop and Illustrator and my skills and interest in design led to a job as a creative assistant at my university’s Center for Community Service and Justice. In this position I was able to explore my voice as an artist and the role of a designer in the nonprofit world. I was responsible for designing promotional material for the Center that reflected the mission and spirit of the office. Initially I thought that designing for an office that promoted social justice and community service would be a daunting task, but I discovered that meaningful design is not just about outcomes but about the process.
As an artist, my goal is to use design as a tool that sheds light on issues often ignored by mainstream media. My work invites the viewers to embrace new experiences and to learn about themselves and their community. I hope to empower groups that have been marginalized within society by bringing awareness to the issues that affect them.
I contrast organic colors with rough and gritty textures symbolic of a union between urban life and the comfort of nature. I am also inspired by the works of Salvadoran artist Fernando Llort who focuses on community life as his subject, as well as Russian constructivist propaganda that urges the viewer to act for the betterment of those around them. By incorporating these different elements, I hope to reach a broad audience and invite them into an awareness that leads to action.
My work has been shaped by my experiences in my own community. As a student in an underperforming public high school in Baltimore County, I witnessed firsthand how systemic oppression affected the quality of my education and how it fueled negative stereotypes of my neighborhood. Being at a private Catholic university, I continue to experience prejudice based on my gender, race and socioeconomic background. Despite these experiences, my understanding of privilege motivates me to utilize design as my voice in challenging misconceptions and perceptions about the reality of social injustices.
Although I have limited formal training in design, I am working very hard to learn more about the design process. I hope that my portfolio reflects the progress that I have made in the past two years. Given my background in political science and my advocacy work, I believe that the program will help me integrate my interest in design and social justice so that I can find meaningful work in the nonprofit sector.
MICA, Class of 2012
Skye lives in Portland, OR where she runs her own surface design and illustration studio. At the time of applying to school, she was living in Seattle working as an artist/boat deckhand.
Making art has always been the biggest part of my life. I have a vast interest in the world beyond that of art and have often wondered ‘how do they relate?’ I started to evaluate my creative desires and identify the issues and passions that were really important to me. My daily life was saturated with self-education on global food politics and environmentalism, local agriculture, and community subcultures. It quickly became apparent to me how important design elements are in communicating ideas and facilitating understanding at a pre-logical level, and the tremendous societal and environmental impacts of design through consumer choice. I came to realize that with a better understanding of design I could move my personal interests and beliefs from separate compartments of my life into a more integrated and inclusive expression of my ideas. Design became more than a clever way of presenting information; it had the potential to be a framework joining everything in my life.
My paintings and drawings have always been very personal, addressing relationships and emotional experiences through portraits and character-driven narratives. My photography has become a medium for daily art practice and conversation; documenting my day-to-day life makes it easier to identify problems and demonstrate how much beauty there is in the world. A more thorough understanding of design will allow me to more effectively engage viewers. For example, a photograph that may not stand alone as an image has the potential for greater visual impact as a poster or book cover, becoming a representation an idea.
I have organized my views on design into three domains: lifestyle/ contemporary culture, conscious compassion/sustainability, and visual effect/aesthetic pleasure. My goal is to find the balance between these elements in a way that is accessible to my audience while maintaining my distinct style. Graduate study will provide the skills and understanding to turn ideas and passions into actual works. I want to learn greater technical skills, but do so in an academic environment where I will be challenged with high expectations and expert critiques. I welcome the opportunity for collaborations and discourse that will push me creatively, but I also believe it will be important for me to acquire a practical understanding of responsible materials and techniques, as well as business practices. My intent is to begin with graphic design, as it is most representative of my current art practices, but eventually I hope to expand to design of three dimensional objects, lifestyle, and community. While I may not become an architect or engineer, I hope that through consideration of how we view dwellings, landscapes, clothing, communications, and the material stuff of our lives, I can help others have a more positive impact on our culture—in design I see the opportunity for challenges, solutions, responsibility, and hope.
I have a strong visual acuity but at this time my technical skills need further development. I need more training in design theory, fundamental concepts, and in the software necessary to be a working graphic designer. My desire to find an educational experience balancing art, design, environmental compassion, and social responsibility has led me to MICA. I am particularly impressed by the emphasis placed on hands-on work methods in learning new skills, as well as the blending of practical approaches futurist ambitions. I believe MICA would significantly aid my goal of developing a creative and engaged life and in turn I greatly look forward to contributing to a company of artists and educators constructing a sustainable future.
Thank you for your consideration in the opportunity to grow with your community!
MICA, Class of 2012
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a medical doctor. My mom, one of seven doctors in the family, was a med-school professor, radiologist at the family clinic, and full-time single mom. She came home every day with a smile on her face to take care of my sister and I while she continued her work from home. She was overworked and underpaid, but loved every minute of it. “It” being her passion of helping people – a passion which soon became mine as well.
Neither art school nor graphic design ever crossed my mind as I focused on graduating from high school and applying to medical schools around the country. I aced my admission tests, and although I was accepted to some of the most prestigious schools in Mexico, where I was born and raised, my family and I opted for an American university due to Financial necessity and broader opportunity.
Not until my sophomore year at Abilene Christian University did I doubt my calling to the medical Field. One night, after hours of studying for my biology midterm, I stumbled upon a chapter that changed my life forever; it was about aesthetics in the natural world, the Fibonacci Sequence and Golden Mean present in human anatomy. I was enthralled – devoured the chapter and continued with research online, making up my mind to change my major and pursue a degree in the realm of arts.
During this time, I fell in love with print media, typography, digital graphics, printmaking, sculpture, illustration, animation, art history, and everything the art department had to offer. Art and design became my passion, my life. Art History classes were my new biology, design classes my new physics labs, and gestalt achievement my new chemistry for problem solving. I had a very short time to get my feet wet in the department, so I dove right in. I audited as many classes as I could, got a job in the department as a graphic designer, participated in as many artistic productions and shows as possible, and freelanced my abilities for free just to have extra projects to add to my graduating portfolio.
My interests in the realm of design are many, but I would like to focus particularly in the psychologybehind aesthetics – primarily how our sensibilities to good composition in any art form could arguably be traced back to the evolutionary mystery of our appreciation for aesthetics in the natural world. I would also like to deepen my understanding in how written messages are directly and distinctly affected by the visual cues around them – something I like to call “Visual Semantics.” Ultimately, I would like to research and work these subjects up to a graduating thesis; however, I believe that the contextual research and study of these are in equal importance to design work and active experimentation during the program.
As to my passion and dream of helping others, this is quickly Finding its foundation in the realm of artistic expression in marvelous ways – from designing for world missions organizations, to freelancing for local non-proFits. However, I wish to build a stronger appreciation for design and develop my artistic skills to, ultimately, follow in my mother’s footsteps as a college-level professor.
Few schools call out to me as “dream schools” in which I can foresee my passions and interests in research and active projects correlating with the MFA program’s direction. However, MICA is the reality in which this dream can be accomplished. I’ve heard and read much about MICA, every design magazine and publication that strives to be at the vanguard of artistic expression knows the name very well. It was almost muscle memory thinking about MICA’s MFA program in graphic design when I decided continuing education, not only because I admire the designers that have graduated from the program, but the writings and publications of such experienced and notorious designers as Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips have helped mold my career and identity as a designer since day one. I would be greatly excited to have the opportunity to be a part of the new MICA graduate family, and not only study design alongside them, but shape it as well
MICA, Class of 2012
Abe lives in Charleston, SC and is the co-founder of Workhorse in Washington, DC. At the time of applying to school, he was living in Washington, DC working as a communications associate at a nonprofit clinic and freelancing as a designer.
The computer I worked on was old, virus infected and the software was ancient. The programs kept shutting down on me, I had to recreate the file about five times over and it didn’t help that I had no idea what print resolution was. Despite the ragged edges, somebody saw my posters and people came to my event - I figured I was not a total failure as a graphic designer. Everything I know about design I’ve taught myself or have learned by working with other designers, art directors and creative directors. I first spent my time mastering software, later I began teaching myself about advertising, public relations, graphic design, photography, and some simple web programming in order to improve on my ideas. I’ve been working for a few years now as a designer, but I feel like it’s time to learn more than I can teach myself in order to continue improving and growing.
Around the same time I started designing, I was finishing up my Bachelor of Science in Biology, so when I wasn’t writing research papers I was creating posters and album artwork for independent musicians in Austin. Working directly with independent artists taught me a lot about their process, inspiration, what to listen for, what works and what doesn’t. Taking a drum break from one record, re-interpolating a melody, writing, recording and execution. Taking influences from different sources, processing it and creating something new is very often my process as a designer as it is for some of the musicians I’ve worked with. I was influenced by the culture that surrounded me at the time graffiti, street culture and hip hop music, but also from what I learned in class. I try to not only make things that reflect culture but also create culture, so my exposure to anthropology, psychology, human behavior and evolution is still part of the framework for my design process.
It was in one of my upper level Human Biology courses at the University of Texas that I learned about social marketing. Social marketing is the public health practice of applying traditional marketing techniques to social and behavioral change, and I felt that with my science background and skills in advertising and design I could research, conceptualize and execute any number of campaigns, programs and curricula. I found a public health program in Austin through the University of Texas Health Science Center and enrolled in graduate level courses. After my first semester I worked as a graduate assistant for Dr. Alfred McAlister, a researcher who’s research interests include health promotion through mass media and grassroots organization.
I still wanted to learn more about design, so outside of class I prepared my portfolio, built a website and started sending emails to all the advertising and design firms in Austin that I felt I could learn from. I found a summer internship at a small design studio in Austin and later worked part time at an advertising agency. I learned a lot by working with great people and when I was not working directly on a project, I explored and researched their collection of books, annuals and collections to continue improving. In class learned about epidemiology, social marketing and public policy and It helped me build a framework of how social marketing is practiced. However, one of most important things I learned as a student and as a graduate assistant was that public health was not what I wanted to do at a graduate level.
I moved to DC in 2007 and for most of a year and a half I worked about sixty-plus hours a week, forty or more as a graphic designer in social marketing and after hours helping out a non-profit community clinic as a communications associate and graphic designer. I have continued my work with independent artists as well, and some of my other projects also involve consulting for online strategy, social media marketing and creative direction. I have been able to apply many of the principles of behavioral change to many of the projects I’ve been a part of and also apply my knowledge of design, advertising, marketing and branding. My background has helped me contribute to many projects and I have formed a unique combination of talent, skills and ideas that have made my work stand out.
I try to carry a camera wherever I go, mostly for the purposes of collecting textures - a dilapidated wall, a cloudy sky, a wooden entryway, anything that I can later look to give my designs an organic texture. For inspiration I like visiting thrift stores and thumbing through old books, vinyl records, clothes and housewares. Vinyl record sleeves have always been a source of inspiration and I looked to that every early when I began designing, even if I was designing for a much smaller format in compact discs. Music related projects are always fun for me and music also serves as an influence. I played the trumpet for a while while growing up and my dad introduced me to jazz and when I began working with musicians, a lot of original sampled work like soul, funk and R&B also influenced me.
I’m a quick learner, I’m self motivated and I am constantly trying to make my work and myself better. As a designer people have taken a chance on me based on my portfolio and despite having what turns out to be a general undergrad degree, I have made the most of my talents and interests and I have done good work. If I were to continue on my own I know my work will continue to improve but I also know there is more to learn, not just from books but from more experienced people, mentors and teachers. I am seeking a program that will challenge me and allow me to grow and become a better designer. MICA is on the very top of the list of graduate programs I am applying to and I hope that my ambitions and plans are in accordance with MICA’s standards and philosophy. I know that a large part the program’s focus is on writing and I would like to be able to use the research skills I learned from science and public health to further explore and explain graphic design. I hope to continue to apply public health and social marketing to my work and improve the practice of social marketing through design and I think that the graduate graphic design program at MICA can be the place where I can explore, learn, grow and improve my body of work.
MICA, Class of 2011
Ann lives in Kansas City where she works as Senior Art Director. At the time of applying to school, she was living in San Francisco working as designer for a design strategy firm.
My ambition to be a professor of graphic design has been reinforced by my education in design and my experiences as a graphic designer at Jump Associates. Armed with a BFA in Visual Communication, I entered Jump’s medium sized strategy company to lead their graphic design initiatives. I have now spent the past two years as the sole graphic designer, creating, teaching, and nurturing a passion to build a career in design education.
My interest in graphic design education was fostered when I developed a special topics class focusing on re-branding the Kansas Art and Education Association. Interviewing the board and talking with teachers revealed inspirational teachers bringing art and design to student’s lives.
Now, at Jump Associates I have been able to fully participate in business strategy grounded in empathy, culture and most importantly, in design. HereI am tasked with designing information graphics, product labels, and large format posters for project with subjects ranging from cars to candy. I continue to develop brand identity systems for Jump and the special events we host. Last year, when I saw an opportunity to develop and expand Jump’s design capacities, I created in house workshops and critique sessions. My greatest satisfaction has been observing the ripple effect of education my peers in the principles behind great design and enabling them to apply these ideas to their own projects Teaching small hands-on “Intro to Design” working sessions in Illustrator and InDesign creating and co-teaching a series of internal learning classes around basic design skills such as layout, type and hierarchy has given my students/tutees more ownership over their own ideas. These opportunities have ignited my passion for teaching and it is a path I hope to continue on.
Working as a design professional has taught me that the resonant, meaningful design that people seek is not created in an isolated vacuum of the design world. In fact, great design is strengthened and informed by an understanding of applied business strategy and relevant cultural research. Last year, when tasked to create the packaging design for a company branding healthy snacks for teens I immersed myself in the research and contributing beyond my expected role. Reading teen magazines, and listening to the tunes of lil’ Mama and SoulJa helped me better understand the audience for my designs. This understanding empowered me to contribute to the design of snacks that came out of beta testing with the highest approval rating our client had ever seen. Now, I want to apply my experience and learn to create a new and fresh interpretation of design education in MICA program. I believe that in order for the education of graphic designers to remain relevant and valuable, graphic designers will have to interpret and communicate the visual, critical and perceptual analysis of their designs. I aspire to learn the design skills the MICA faculty are impassioned to teach, while observing and applying their teaching methods to my future career. I believe gaining this knowledge from the hands-on collaboration of the Design Studio classes with Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips will equip me to have a future impact as an instructor. I am an avid follower of their inspirational Graphic Design MFA Blogs. Seeing the transparent design process of the research, work and writing that went into the creation of “Graphic Design: The New Basics” is a testament to MICA’s dedication to continue to help students originate and apply new perspectives into the contemporary culture and education of graphic designers. The entire MICA faculty displays thought leadership in theory and practice as evident by the continued pursuit of their passions outside of school, speaking at conferences, curating shows, authoring books and designing in their studios. The faculty’s active professions in education and design practices are invaluable to a program that dedicates itself to the evolving and changing complex demands of a graphic designer’s education. This program influences design education in the classroom, online and in the professional world and it emboldens me to embark on the pursuit of a future in design education.
I hope to be given the opportunity to contribute to a vibrant discourse on graphic design in the MICA program