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Q&A with Lara Stevanovich-Thomson

St. Lawrence College, Graphic Design, 2015
Designer at And Also Too Studio, Toronto

Graphic design grad Lara ST

1. Why did you choose SLC Graphic Design?

I have two children and was a stay-at-home mother for ten years. Once my children were attending school full days I began  to think about returning to the workforce and decided to go back to school to study graphic design. Since my family was living in Kingston I was happy to find that SLC offered a Graphic Design Advanced Diploma.

2. Describe your best learning experiences at SLC.

Completing the program with its intense workload felt like a big accomplishment and helped me develop my organizational and time management skills. Here are projects that stood out for me:

Accessibility Project

For this project determined a need at SLC for which we could create design solutions. We worked in groups and were introduced to the principles of design thinking. This project gave us valuable experience team building which included setting team rules, and determining how  to handle conflict, group dynamics, expectations, organization, and decision making.

Branding Project

We were asked to create a new brandmark for a business in this project which was first assigned in second year and continued on in third year. To begin with we learned types of brandmarks, looked at different ways to approach idea generation, and went through an involved brainstorming process. This experience gave us a reliable process to use as designers. From in depth initial sketching and critiques, we went on to create logos at the end of second year. These were taken to another level of refinement in third year, with emphasis given to writing brand identity documents, as well as producing brand style guides, and brand applications.

Capstone Project

The breadth of our final project really set it apart.  We researched and experienced the design thinking process to complete a refined design solution. My project was for the new Tett Centre and cultural tourism in Kingston, so I was able to experience talking to a client and interviewing a number of people connected to cultural tourism in the city.  Getting input and discovering needs and gaps in service helped me think about possibilities for creative responses. I came up with a number of related design components, had an opportunity to present the project process and solutions, and finally we were each able to create a project poster for our graduation exhibition.

Career Planning

I found our Career Planning course to be extremely helpful. We prepared our résumé, a portfolio of professional letters we would need for applying for work, and a digital and printed portfolio.

4. Describe the best things about your faculty.

The SLC Graphic Design faculty is extremely dedicated, hard-working, and committed to the needs and interests of each student to have the best possible experience at SLC. The faculty are encouraging and available to their students creating strong bonds between teachers and students. I felt if I ever needed to, I could turn to them for support or advice. The faculty is very knowledgeable and up-to-date; they understand the importance of teaching best practices and staying knowledgeable with current technology. Their innovation and forward-thinking enriched our learning experiences.

5. If you could give an incoming graphic design student one piece of advice, what would it be?

Be prepared to work hard. It’s worth it!

6. Are you currently working as a Graphic Designer? Tell us about your role.

Yes. I am very happy to working at And Also Too studio with designer Una Lee in Toronto. And Also Too has a focus on social justice design and co-design participation with clients.  Working for a designer running her own studio, I take on a wide range of design  responsibilities.

7. Do you feel SLC adequately trained you for the graphic design field? Why?

Yes. SLC Graphic Design offers a very good generalist training, providing the foundation from which to grow and specialize.


Brad Duffy

St. Lawrence College Graphic Design, 2015 Design Entrepreneur

Graphic Design Alumni Brad DuffySLC Graphic Design graduate Brad Duffy is busy managing a variety of clients from across Canada. His work includes branding, advertising, package design and video production. “Before I even graduated, I threw myself into freelance work. I am currently working with local clients, as well as clients from Alberta and British Columbia and all across Ontario,” he said.

Brad says the program at SLC focuses on the process of design, so that students learn to adapt to a changing industry. “It's an exciting time to be a new designer and the faculty is evolving the program to meet the needs of new designers,” Brad said.

With a young family and a job he didn’t love although it was secure, Brad decided to follow his dream, even though he didn’t have a fine arts background. “I knew that I was meant to do something else, and that was graphic design. I did not have a fine arts background, but after speaking with the program coordinator, I was assured that I would learn the skills I needed to be successful,” he said. “Attending SLC was one of the best experiences of my life. I took advantage of as many opportunities as I could while I was there and that made the difference between an average experience and an epic one.”

Brad says the best learning experiences were the Capstone Project and the practical learning experiences college provides. “For the Capstone Project we went into the community to try and solve a real problem that people face,” he explained. “Often with school projects we generate these great ideas that only exist in the studio. It was an amazing experience to interact with real clients and offer real solutions.”

Brad admits he wasn’t always a great student in school, but loved to learn things outside of school, he says. “I was a mediocre university student who absolutely thrived in the college environment. I didn’t finish university as I was so frustrated with the structure of education and how the content was delivered. I discovered that I learn best by jumping in and just doing the work. I think that the importance of a university degree is overemphasized in our society and that going to college is just a way better experience for some people.”

 


Rebecca Murphy

St. Lawrence College Graphic Design, 2014 Web Designer, 14 Theories, Kingston

Graphic Design Alumni Rebecca MurphyWhen Rebecca Murphy started the Graphic Design program at SLC she wasn’t sure she would thrive in the field. Now, as a web designer for 14 Theories in Kingston, ON, she’s creating web sites, site architecture, responsive design and web development.

“When I started the program I was not very computer literate and was more into using pencils and paint,” Rebecca says. “The Graphic Design program at SLC prepared me for the workplace because of the variety of classes and learning experiences I received. We worked on diverse and challenging projects that taught us to adapt to new techniques and styles. The overall best thing was being able to experience various fields of design. I really enjoyed every single one!” 

Learning how to work effectively in a team as well as independently is essential for success in the program, as well as in the working world; these aspects are stressed through the different types of projects students work on, according to Rebecca. “I really learned how to successfully work independently and in a group. I think both of these things are really important in this line of work,” she said.

Rebecca also benefitted from the expertise of the faculty and the small class sizes at SLC. “The professors were definitely the best thing at St. Lawrence College. They were always there if you needed any help or advice. Classes were always filled with life and humour.”

Rebecca’s advice for Graphic Designers in the making? “Put time and effort into your work. SLC is where you can experiment, learn more about design and the programs you are using. The more time you put in the better your portfolio pieces will be.Become inspired! Go out and experience design and look at things from a different perspective.”


Samuel Campbell

St. Lawrence College Graphic Design, 2015 Junior Designer, Fusion Design Group Inc.

Not just a place to pursue your education, but a place to push yourself beyond what’s expected.

Written by Samuel Campbell

I selected SLC Graphic Design because I felt a sense of warmth, passion and support from the teachers that I had never experienced at any other school I had ever attended. They truly were excited about teaching and wanted to do whatever they could to make sure I was getting the best education possible. Being a mature student, I couldn't have asked for a better place to build a career and future for myself.

I had attended Carleton University for some time for Film Studies/Political Studies, but found the environment wasn't supportive in the ways I needed and didn't allow me to really learn a concept from the ground up like at college.

As part of a group project in first year, we were tasked with exploring and raising awareness about a topic we were passionate about. My group decided on a very complicated subject: "Ethics in Graphic Design". We wanted to investigate our industry and dig deeper than "How do we do what we do," or "Why do we do what we do," but "Should we do what we do?" Our teacher called us into their office one afternoon, and we were concerned that they would think our subject wasn't suitable. Instead they encouraged us to go even further in the subject and met with us weekly to assist us. This demonstrated to me that St. Lawrence College wasn't going to tell me to play it safe, or just do what was done before, but if I was willing to go out on a limb, my faculty would support me.

When I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD) in my second year of study I was initially concerned that I would be stretching myself too thin. I received such encouragement and support from my teachers for my volunteer activities that I would go on to chair a committee of students across Canada, serve on the Board of Directors of the RGD and help lead a protest called #mytimehasvalue, raising awareness of the devaluation of student work by the Canadian Government. SLC staff and the faculty of Graphic Design not only support students in their pursuits of education but encourage them to reach beyond the borders of the college and affect the world they are preparing to enter.

The best thing about the faculty is that not only are they world class educators, they are also amazing human beings. I count them as personal mentors who have guided me not only as a student but as a professional, and most important as a person. I look up to them as paragons of design thinking, ethical practices and living life to its fullest. Any student lucky enough to study from them will find their entire life richer for it.

The best advice I could give any student entering Graphic Design is: Lean into it and be present. Commit 100% of your passion, mind and will, and this program will show you how to take part in some of the amazing, forward thinking ways design is changing the world. Treat every project as a way to push the limits of what is being asked of you, and to always find a way to solve problems for clients.

I am currently in a full-time contract position at Fusion Design Group in Markham, Ontario where I work every day with a team of professionals. I manage my own projects, collaborate with some amazing people in pursuit of designs. Not only did SLC Graphic Design prepare me for my future career, the program gave me an advantage above some of my peers by teaching the fundamentals of design and design thinking instead of just training me to use tools that are almost instantly been outdated.

SLC Graphic Design is something special that I feel will soon be a held in serious regard in the Design community. Anyone looking to become a richer thinker, designer and human will find themselves, welcomed, supported and challenged to become the best version of themselves.


Joe Pelow

St. Lawrence College Graphic Design, 2013 Freelance Designer, Toronto

Joe Pelow knew he wanted to get into graphic design, but when his first attempt at going to college didn’t work out, he took some time to work before trying again. “I worked retail for two years which really built up my motivation to want to go back to college for a second try,” Joe said.

“When I was finally ready to go back to college, I chose SLC for two reasons. The first was that it was local and the second was because I had heard many great things about the program.”  After an engaging presentation by Professor Andrew McLachlan at his high school, Joe knew SLC would be the right choice.  “I think SLC should have been my first choice, but I thankfully made it there eventually.”

According to Joe, the top three things about SLC’s Graphic Design Program are the professors, the evolving program, and the dedicated lab space.

“I felt like my teachers really cared about my success in the program. As well, the program is evolving to meet the needs of industry, which means current students are being taught what they need to be a successful in a very competitive field. The lab space and equipment are current and up-to-date.”

At SLC, Joe learned the important skill to critique his own work. “The biggest thing I learned was  what makes a design work, or not work, and I can assess my projects and make the necessary adjustment to make sure they work for the client.”


Ellen Foster

St. Lawrence College Graphic Design, 2014 Front-End Developer & Designer, JIC Design, Kingston

Developing a close relationship with teachers has always been important for Ellen, so she chose St. Lawrence because of its atmosphere. “It felt a lot more welcoming and supportive than other colleges. The professors wanted to learn about my interests, passions, strengths and weaknesses even before I stepped foot into the classroom. I've always appreciated a strong student-teacher relationship, and I knew I would get that at SLC,” she said.

Now into her career, Ellen feels like her learning experience at SLC really prepared her for her chosen career path by taking fundamental skills learned and applying them directly to her work. “I currently work as a front-end developer and designer here in Kingston. I learned the fundamentals of front-end development, as well as web design, which is a combination most front-end developers don't have.”  
Ellen has a word of advice for incoming students to Graphic Design: “To take chances, don't be afraid to fail, and get in over your head. College is the perfect place to realize you're terrible at something and not get fired for it. We may not all be illustrators or web wizards, but you're not going to find out what you are until you take a chance on everything else.”


Robert Chitty

St. Lawrence College Graphic Design, 1985 Founding Partner, gordongroup+

Creativity cannot be hemmed in or restricted to a single domain. Creative people like Robert Chitty express themselves in many ways. Using dogged determination and his own instincts as much as his talent, he parlayed a diploma in Graphic Design from St. Lawrence College into a successful Ottawa-based marketing and communications company. As the founding partner of gordongroup marketing + communications, he learned how to effectively communicate with clients, showing them he could satisfy their needs through design. And along the way, he became a successful filmmaker, a man whose passions include telling the stories of the Cree Nation of northern Quebec.

Robert successfully met his first serious challenge when the design shop that hired him after graduation folded two years after he joined it. When he couldn’t find a job he found fulfilling, he decided to go off on his own. The Gordon Creative Group was born in 1987 as a one-man shop. His first employer had taught him that clients need to be courted, and that relationships are crucial to success. Using that principle, he built up his own business, and 25 years later he oversees a company of 50 communicators with a diverse client base that includes investment firms, federal departments and agencies, private enterprises of all sizes, the United Nations and the James Bay Cree.

Long before ‘design thinking’ became a catchphrase in business schools, Robert was applying its principles at gordongroup. He saw design as not simply about making things look pretty; it is about communication and problemsolving. Design is also about passion. When passion meets talent and creativity, great things happen.

The Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) had been a long-standing gordongroup client. In 2009, at their request, Robert became executive producer of Eeyou Film Productions. His challenge was to produce a documentary film that captured their history as signatories to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the first modern-day treaty between a Native People and government. With only six of the original 10 signatories still alive, there was urgency to complete the documentary. Together We Stand Firm debuted at Musée des Beaux-Arts in Montreal in February 2011. The film - produced in French, English and Cree - captured the history of Cree opposition to the James Bay hydroelectric project, and how that opposition galvanized a people. The Grand Council was so pleased with the film that they commissioned other films to tell the rest of their story through the following decades, culminating in the 2012 agreement to create the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government.

Working with the Cree had a strong impact on Robert. “I want to embrace design thinking in support of the preservation of indigenous culture,” he says. Robert credits St. Lawrence College with instilling in him an ethos he calls “the serious nature of tending to the craft” of design.

In his second year of the program, as he struggled with one of his courses, he considered dropping out. His professor at the time encouraged him to work through his difficulties and stay in the program, teaching him tenacity, flexibility and adaptability - skills that came in handy when he started his own firm only two years after graduation. “Graphic design is what we learned, but in reality we were taught to successfully use the tools of branding,” he says.

Robert is not only a speaker and proponent of design thinking, he is a practitioner. He has spoken on the subject to the MBA class at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, and the multidisciplinary team he has built at gordongroup embodies its principles. Bringing clarity to the complex is fundamental to his work. The firm covers all the traditional channels of communication and design, including editorial, graphic design, filmmaking, the Web and multimedia, and boasts an in-house call centre. He remains active in his field as a member of the Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario, the International Association of Business Communicators, and the advisory committee for St. Lawrence College’s Graphic Design Program.

Excerpted from Voyageur Magazine