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Budding designers chase exhibit careers after FIT

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what 13 graduate exhibit design students from Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) presented at their 2015 Thesis Capstone Event in New York City on May 15 expressed more than a single image could convey.

As budding designers enter the exhibit industry, the FIT Exhibition Design program celebrates 10 years.
As budding designers enter the exhibit industry, the FIT Exhibition Design program celebrates 10 years.

These students have worked their entire FIT career for the moment to present their final thesis argument in the form of an exhibit designed with a client and target audience in mind. To do this, they utilized renderings, 3D models and other design materials and technology.

Whether their overall message came across, these students were constructively critiqued or applauded by the more than 60 professionals who served as judges. Many judges were service providers to the exhibit and event industry like Stacy Barnes, who said it’s their responsibility to mentor and train the next generation of exhibit designers.

Overall, the judges represented various industries, companies and experience levels, which informed the advice they offered students.

Members of the exhibit industry participated in the Capstone as judges.
Members of the exhibit industry participated in the Capstone as judges.

“We try to impart on them our wisdom from our professional experiences. That is why there are CEOs, heads of design, sales, designers, alumni students, curators and vendors [at The Capstone],” stated Stacy Barnes, vice president of sales and distribution, Nomadic Display.

She added, “Each one of us looks at it from a different perspective, and [we] share that with the students. What a designer hears and sees is vastly different than what a sales manager hears, and they can be in the same group hearing the same presentation. That is why [The Capstone] works. We are trying to enlighten the students on what they will face in the real world and how important it is that they tell a story — a storythat will sell their idea, designs and passion to a perspective employer or client.”

Collaborative Contributions

Pictured: Pauline Lu Photo courtesy of Dana Esposito
Pictured: Pauline Lu
Photo courtesy of Dana Esposito

Through its University Affiliations Program, Exhibit Designers + Producers Association (EDPA) has supported FIT students since the creation of the Graduate Exhibition Design program 10 years ago.

“Our University Affiliations Program is truly a collaborative process. It attracts many of our member company representatives to join and contribute and for all the right reasons too!” said Jeff Provost, executive director, EDPA. “I feel that this is one of EDPA’s most effective programs, and much of its success is due to the trust built and the working relationships formed with schools like FIT.”

As a member of the University Affiliations Program Committee, Dana Esposito — who is also creative director at Elevation Exhibits and Events – helps exhibit design students find mentors.

“Pauline Lu from FIT was mentored by one of my colleagues. Pauline presented a great thesis project about how museums will modernize constructive learning techniques for the evolved 21st century, media-driven audiences of the future,” added Esposito Lu was just one of the 13 graduates who made an impact during the day-long Capstone Event, which also included an evening component and awards ceremony.

Star Awards were given to Mark Johnson from StarExhibits & Environments and John Henken on behalf of MG Design and its Vice President of Creative Rob Majerowski.

Thoughtful Theses
The judging process at The Capstone helps the exhibition design graduates refine their final projects, enhance their critical thinking skills upon learning how others view their projects and discover what it’s like to present their creative ideas among members of the industry in which they want to work.

“As a designer, I love it when I get to watch someone present to me. That is the opposite of my daily life. It is always interesting to let someone else’s ideas wash over you, and I always learn something new that I can push myself to improve on as well,” added Dana Esposito.

Pictured: Nastya Lobova Photo courtesy of  Dana Esposito
Pictured: Nastya Lobova
Photo courtesy of Dana Esposito

Esposito added that graduate student Nastya Lobova’s presentation highlighting the 2016 World Expo in Dubai particularly captivated her.

“The [exhibit] fostered collaborative participatory activities engaging the bond between humans and the sun, plus humans and other humans. Her visual renderings were all executed beautifully and composed in a way that immersed the viewer into the specific engagement in each part of the journey throughout the space. She had a simple, yet effective 3D model, and her verbal presentation skills were great. Nastya was passionate about her project, and it came through in her work and storytelling skills; plus she fielded a lot of questions from her judges without batting an eyelash,” explained Esposito.

Many of the judges said they were impressed by the level of the students’ talent. MG Design Creative Director John Henken found he equally liked the work of three graduate students in particular: Eileen J. Kang, Liliya Galyuk and Sergei Vasiley.

“I find The Capstone Event re-energizes my own work and reminds me why I do what I do. It also gives me confidence that there are exciting and well-trained young designers entering the industry,” added Henken.

FIT educator Brenda Cowan presents Star Award to Mark Johnson Photo courtesy of Brenda Cowan
FIT educator Brenda Cowan presents Star Award to Mark Johnson
Photo courtesy of Brenda Cowan

Dave Flory, director of national accounts & exhibit house sales at CORT, also applauded the work of Sergei Vasiley, whose ‘Crew Camp’ exhibit focused on in-flight safety.

“He proved his thesis. He had clean professional presentation materials and modeling. He provided a great solution for his client, JetBlue, and the FAA,” added Flory. Henken further explained why Vasiley’s final project resonated with himself and Flory. “This exhibit rewarded participants for their time and attention and benefits everyone who flies. In the context of the dangerous times we live (and fly) in — this topic is really important. Sergei’s project was well-conceived and presented, and I believe very marketable,” said Henken.

Overall, all of the projects were good, according to Stacy Barnes.

She added, “Some of them needed a little work and tweaking.”

FIT Follow-ups 
Some could argue that few students come out of college with as many opportunities as the ones granted to FIT’s graduates. Students not only get to build connections with industry veterans at The Capstone and other events, but they also have the potential to find jobs soon after graduation.

A 2007 graduate and a Capstone judge for the past few years, Katina Rigall is now a designer with Classic Exhibits. “I’ve been working in the field, specializing in tradeshow exhibition design,” stated Rigall.

“I am proud to be a graduate of the program. The program changed the course of my career exactly as I hoped it would. It was the best investment of time and resources I’ve ever made.”

A judge at The Capstone for the past five years, Debra Roth, creative/principal for The Originators, hired a FIT graduate last year and has brought on several interns.

“I recommend them if I can’t hire them,” she added.

Nancy Drapeau moderated an industry panel Photo courtesy of Brenda Cowan
Nancy Drapeau moderated an industry panel
Photo courtesy of Brenda Cowan

No matter where these students may land after FIT, it seems they chose a great time to work in exhibition design as indicated by CEIR Director of Research Nancy Drapeau.

“Time and again, the industry’s performance consistently parallels performance of the U.S. economy’s Gross Domestic Product. With the U.S. economy continuing its rebound, this is good news for the industry,” Drapeau commented. “In 2015, the overall CEIR Index is forecast to grow at a relatively robust rate of 2.8 percent, a full percentage point higher than the 2014 rate.”

Drapeau moderated a six-person panel discussion during the evening reception for The Capstone. During this networking event, FIT graduates received additional advice to assist them in their career endeavors.

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