yale thesis exhibit

: : on sunday i visited the yale thesis exhibit. here's my report : :

overall i'd say the work was commensurate with what we're doing, with some different emphases, different strengths, different weaknesses. as to whether the website was "all" they had to offer, the answer is no.

a (sizable) budget and ample space had been allocated to showcase the work of the GD grads. the show took up two floors (and two stairways). the upstairs gallery was the part that the website is lacking: a large table covered in thesis materials and supporting work [more on this later]. the stairwells contained a few computers in which you could type a message to the grad class in one of 18 typefaces; each one designed by a grad. the second stairwell landing had a few machines with interactive work [more on this later]. the first downstairs gallery featured a wall-sized projection of a reel of motion work [more on this later], and what appeared to be custom-made plywood for the exhibit (everything in white walls, finished but unstained premium plywood, and spray-stencilled type [cf. the website]).

the second downstairs gallery was a huge floor of wood palettes, on which were laid maybe 50 36x24 posters, each printed in color on the same glossy stock. many of these posters are online; they were obviously nicer to see in person as a group. it's clear this is the strength and emphasis of the program, however, most tied only thematically into the actual thesis work upstairs. many had the feeling of "studies" towards a general theme. there were also 18 b/w posters (one from each grad) that you could take with you. i collected three which i'll bring back--they seemed to represent a range of the more interesting work presented.

it is worth noting that there were--in the posters, and overall--striking similarities to some of our own work. there were also big differences, of course. in terms of subject matter, it was very much in our general veins. there was a series of posters featuring washed-out photos of hunters holding up their kill, which is an uncanny coincidence. there were also lots of posters using digital-random elements, artifacts of software, some hybridity, some print/narrative/simultaneity, some self-body-freakishness, some 9/11, etc.

formally, i'd say they have an edge on our work--not a huge one, but at their best, a definite one. there was a lot of saturated color, as well as lots of germanic and modular typeface design. they weren't so into the script faces as we are, and they were way into sans serif faces with rounded caps. several people were a bit stuck on the shape-silhouetting trick which you see in a lot of our ugrads' work.

there were also some similarities in the motion work, much of which was in the fashion of short film or typographic study. one piece in particular echoed the last type iv assignment--type projected across corners and the like in conjunction with more "normal" type to great effect. another piece of interest re-choreographed busby berkeley dance numbers to indian ragas (via jump edits), and then tracked the movement of chorus dancers with type, creating lovely patterns.

the interactive work didn't seem to be an emphasis of the exhibit, and was limited to a very few examples. most of these were a single gesture based on single interactions, all experiments with user-entered type which don't provide a whole lot in the way of user experience. they were more like studies again, not anything like what we have been doing; narrative was clearly not the focus.

now, the thesis work upstairs. overall, it was very smart, very thoughtful. one thing i noticed immediately on looking at a few of these books--the craft was not much of an emphasis. though there were a few (very notable) exceptions, many of the books were of interesting construction, but they were falling apart, not well bound or made. reading some of the text, i found that the ideas were solid behind much of the more interesting work. a few specific notes:

> many of the students incorporated a record of the development of their ideas. many with actual correspondence with faculty. i noted that much of this correspondence was more open encouragement (oh, that's nice! you could also try x, but i like what you've done fine) than the sort of hard questioning and challenging that our faculty give to us. note that this could be selection bias on their part (not putting critical comments in their thesis), but it was presented as documentary, so i will assume not.

> as a result, i'd say that many of the ideas just didn't go as far as they could have. this is NOT to say that the ideas weren't solid. they were, and the artifacts bore this up. but they could have gone farther, i think, almost across the board.

> there was one student who seemed hell-bent on dated, "radical" feminist shock-and-awe tactics. that work was actually more palatable online, where it was, less graphic and less (literally, i'm afraid) masturbatory. it did not represent the rest of the work however, nor overshadow it.

> overall, there was a "pieces-parts" feeling, a summation and a running of a thread through the work as it evolved. less of a problem-statement-solution. one notable exception is emily lessard's mutter museum work.

lastly, i did take the opportunity to leave the grads a note from "us." it is pictured below. i'll show you the posters i took when i return. in the meantime, you might want to revisit the web exhibit and try browsing from the student profiles, not the main interface. i think that gives a (slightly) more accurate impression. overall, i came away saying, "good work, some good ideas."

    typeface designed by elisabeth prescott 

: : as i went from room to room, here are some grads whose work i found i especially liked : :emily lessard : danielle aubert : elisabeth prescott : manuel miranda : michael jakab

posted by Jay Harlow on May 18, 2005 | comments: 12 | post a comment

I really appreciated reading about the exhibit, especially since I probably won't have a chance to get out there. From looking at the students' work online I generally had the same sentiments as Jay.

But I have to say I don't see the purpose of comparing our work to theirs in the ways Jay has: in terms of form, craft, and faculty correspondence. But other comparisons that Jay touched upon are more interesting to me, such as the way their work hasn't gone far enough, especially considering that students at Yale begin their thesis work the day they enter the program. Also that topic parallel is just weird! Who knew hunters, freaks and digital randomness was trendy? Not me.

One question that is constantly asked here, that I think a lot of this work fails to answer however, is "To what end?" and borders on the self-indulgent as M would say. As much as I love the subject matter of Emily Lessard's work (yes yes everyone knows by now that I love freaks, deformities, and plastic surgery) I don't really see the point of making a typeface that does what her plastic surgery one does. It seems to me like a designer's inside joke, a sort of "look how clever I am" and "you'd never understand this until I explained it to you" approach, that doesn't get you farther than that.

Danielle Aubert's stoop sale project seems to me like a sociological/economic experiment and I'm waiting for the design to come out of it. The book documenting the whole thing is creeping towards something but I think that this must be one of the projects that Jay was talking about when he said some didn't go far enough.

My favorite work on the web site is Syau-Jyun Liang's work that presents a place as another place. http://www.yalegraphicdesign.com/pu_pro_sl_niuhafen_fr.html

I'd like to hear what other people found compelling or not so.

One last comment: hearing about the exhibit made me interested in putting up a show of our own, as some people had talked about earlier. I don't think we need the big budget that Yale had or the big whoo-ha surrounding it, but if we keep in mind that what we're making will one day be shown to people (undergrads, others outside of our circle), it might guide us to be more productive, more interesting, more thoughtful of an engager's experience, etc. The latter is something that always seems to come back to haunt us: in final reviews, in getting feedback, when trying to explain our projects to others, and it probably wouldn't hurt to consider that more, which I think would happen naturally if we had this final "show" looming in the distance.


Posted by berkoWho? on May 19, 2005 12:24 PM

Thanks Jay for the report! A couple of thoughts.

One of the biggest differences I see is in the thesis work, which you have noted. You each observe parallels in your "topics." As you know those topics became the content for your fanzine/research sites. But these same topics, at least in their current state of investigation and open ended development, would not likely survive our "thesis process." Much winnowing and discarding and rethinking would be involved; much indeed. One of the expectations of a final project is that it make such interests relevant, first, to the progress of design, whether it serves research or practice or style or usability or whatever.

As to the final show, or some such, I'm more inclined to invest energies into the generative potential of, say, our bi-annual symposium (which this year promises to expand). When the work is made for a show, it makes some sense to show it. When it's not, being proud and so putting it on display is sound enough, I suppose. Not to put to fine a point on comparison, but in addition to its student show, Calarts now hosts an end of year, thematic exhibition curated by grads. This sort of event, like our symposium, is more discursive.

Now, don't get me wrong—I in no way intend to discourage dissemination of any and all kinds. I just think there are a number of ways to think about how that's done. Some offer a more satisfying answer to the question "to what end?" than do others.

Posted by denise on May 19, 2005 05:59 PM

A symposium show would, too, relieve us of pressure to curate and organize when we're trying to put the final touches on our projects and presentations.

Posted by berkoWho? on May 19, 2005 08:38 PM

cheryl, i think you and i are right on the same page. i wanted to do a full review which would address much of the initial wolfware discussion of the website. much of my “report” is based on thoughts i had as i took in the exhibit. since we've done a fair amount of wondering whether/how our class' work rates with other programs, i left much of that in there, to give you my full take. but i agree that the biggest and most interesting differences are in the approach to the thesis.

also, thanks for pointing out that piece by Syau-Jyun Liang. i didn’t come across that one (i couldn’t see everything on the table since a. it was HUGE and b. there were lots of people milling around). i remember itching to see that memorial book (the real thing is quite dramatic as a hefty physical artifact, cut in half), but i never made it back to that side of the table.

i’m all for exhibits anyhow we wanna do them—i generally agree with denise’s reference to a more discursive thing. for pride’s sake, i am enamoured of the “gallery space,” tho i think we might want to consider an online exhibit (of a more comprehensive sort than yale’s). frees us from the limits of location and budget.

Posted by jay on May 20, 2005 02:53 PM

re jay's comment: I totally agree with the online thing. A show has no legs unless it is disseminated somehow. You can do so much, contacting people through that kind of presence.

hope you are all well and recuping at e.o.semester.


Posted by scott on May 23, 2005 02:08 PM


i am a student in the graduating class of yale 2005, and i came across this site by looking up the status reports for our site. its very intersting to hear all of your perspectives.

one thing i would like to address is the 'budget' of our show. though yale is a very expensive and rich school, the art school is pretty much funded by the students who attend it (ie, 80% of the school's budget comes from the high tuition students pay, not from some magical grants from the yale corporation). our own thesis show was funded by contributions our class made (and it wasnt too much money), and our class designed and built every aspect of the show. im curious to hear what the 'hoopla' was surrounding our show, as all we did was make the website and send out an invite. i suspect that some of the hype may have come from the website, but our class was lucky enough to get our site posted on some major design portals. but we really didnt market ourselves that much.

one thing i think that helped us get together to make the show happen was that we have a credit-bearing semester-long course called 'exhibition', which is run by our department head. we met every week, and the sole focus of the class was putting the show together. this official sanctioning of making an exhibition was im sure what makes each year at yale have a fairly cohesive exhibition.

anyways, thanks again for the discussion and letting me participate. ill poke around the site as i too am curious about what work goes on at other programs.


manuel miranda

Posted by manuel on May 31, 2005 12:14 PM

hey manuel, thanks for posting!

i guess this is the plus/minus of the internet, you can talk about somebody and they'll end up reading it. i hope you can take our more critical comments in stride -- someone in our studio came upon your exhibit site right as we were discussing thesis preparation for next year ("we" being the class of 2006). i think any 'hoopla' was just internal with us, knowing that yale is a great program and sort of naturally wondering what was going on there, relative to our own work.

unfortunately what you're missing here is that there was another discussion thread on our intranet board, which got wiped at the end of the semester. i imagine some of these comments (mine in particular) seem pretty strange or obnoxious without context and when it's your work! there had been some discussion in that thread about how accurate the website was in representing the thesis work. basically we were all pretty curious about the show after seeing the site, and the main thing i wanted to get across in my 'report' was that there was a lot more to the work than what could be ascertained from the website.

that said, it's still my personal, visceral impressions wandering through the exhibit so i can't speak for everyone here at state in those impressions. i'd love to hear more of your take on whether those are right or wrong, or whathaveyou, so please feel free to post, correct, defend as you like.

Posted by jay on May 31, 2005 04:46 PM

A compelling discussion relative to the topic of graduate education has been building on Design Observer: Method Designing: The Paradox of Modern Design Education. I can't currently take the time to respond but may still even as it cools down. For now I post the link here as good reference material for the discussion.

Posted by denise on May 31, 2005 08:32 PM

Denise: Thanks for the link to Method Designing.

I left this on the thread:


Glad to see this has not devolved into a form/content loop.

I’ve heard my fill about the self-absorbed student. It is not the teaching faculty’s charge to ‘out’ a narcissistic pixel masseur. It is their responsibility to preempt such nonsense by:

- introducing a healthy content and purpose gradient (humanities, sciences, etc.—educational, entertaining, persuasive, etc.)

- supporting the use and exploration of a healthy formal and structural gradient (treatment, devices, voice, etc.—narrative, database, temporal, spatial, hybrids, ...)

- engaging their refined communication skills to teach, encourage, and excite

- getting over it being about the students wayward insolence (in any flavor)

It is an asset and a pleasure to teach in a university setting—even on a campus with a science focus. All the better by me. Where better to employ seductive, tear-jerking visualization and explore new applications for the language?/.

Share Anamorphosis by the Brothers Quay with your students and talk about the intersection of obsession, craft, and appropriate meaning-making.

[ok, i fixed a few typos]

I think the Design Observer thread is lacking greater detail in what can be designed, what has been designed, and how we can exploit agendas supported by all involved—those needing to engage in things obsessive/introspective/personal/cathartic and those who must identify a fairly recognizable purpose to validate and designate a thing as graphic design.

I offered Anamorphosis because it is an example of art fusing with an educational purpose—it is wildly expressive exploration harnessed for pin-point accuracy. It may be classified as information design but I don’t think this aptly describes the hybrid experience that it creates.

Hmmm, well, fact is that I really don’t find the Design Observer discussion very useful without talking specifics and making point through example. By solidifying the argument through a common focal point we can move beyond another game of Pong. Of course we will have some slushy interpretations but it is far better to explore the universality [however finite] that we claim exists—that universality/nationality/locality we base our efforts.

There really is no need to hash-out this simple argument of seeming polarities any further. We operate in a time of simultaneity that spawns the hybrid. Andrew Blauvelt [Emigre 40/Infoperplex] and others in the mid + late 90s were putting it rightly—it is not ‘either/or’ but ‘both.’ I put in my grad final project that it is not ‘to be or not to be’. It is ‘to or’. Accepting this and exploring the synthesis that is already being absorbed is the proper lens to further healthy discussion.

Unfortunately blogs that try to go deep are diluted and disbanded by those who want to beat stuff to death that should have been decided a while back.

+ + +

Back to what this particular page/thread is about—

Aside from it being more of an internal conversation posted on a backwater board, it leaves a bit of a bad taste for me when it SOUNDS a LITTLE like we are talking brands when we should be talking ideas—talking in a way that SOUNDS a LITTLE too much like a SORT of jockeying to validate one’s place at the table and not an open collaboration that takes us to better places.

What is tasty is the fairly intimate oddity that has occurred. A part of a personal conversation is overheard and a story fills in. That sort of drama and awkwardness does far more for getting me to think than another argument that was/should have been cleaned from the table a long dern time ago.

Manuel, meet Jay. Let’s break bread together and get down to business.

I hope all the caps are sufficient to tap the difference between intent and perception.

Posted by tony on June 4, 2005 10:50 AM

i think your comment about jockeying is partially correct -- part of the yale curiousity for me is rooted in wanting to validate my presence in this program as opposed to other ones, and needing to reassure myself i've made a good decision. the other part, however, is a genuine interest in how other theses are approached in different institutions. i know we are developing a reputation at ncsu for producing quite a rigorous thesis process and product, and i'm curious what tack other programs are taking, which rounds out a contemporary picture of graduate study in g.d. i'm sure the faculty already have a handle on that, meredith especially, but i do think it's helpful for us to begin to see that picture too, even as we are forming a part of it.

i think we all realize the futility of comparison, wether amongst ourselves or with other programs, and on the point of forging ahead and getting something done, i totally agree. being at the aiga education conference last weekend definitely reassured me of the program's status, at least in design education circles, and inspired me to play my small part in furthering the field as a whole -- not just for personal, or even departmental, noteriety.

i think we all have a lot to gain from good old discourse amongst ourselves, and with other departments whenever possible. i still have a desire for inter-departmental exchange of some sort. something similar to what one is able to experience at a national conference. maybe a national grad site is in order to facilitate high level discussion on various topics.

b.t.w. thanks, jay, for beginning this thread and taking the time to make the report. much appreciated. sorry for the tardiness in joining the fray.

Posted by tyler on June 6, 2005 08:23 PM

yes indeed. many thanks jay et. al.

Posted by tony on June 7, 2005 01:43 PM

hello again, and thanks again for letting me participate in the discussion.

i was always interested in what happens at NCSU. for me, the primary source of information on your school was from an interview with andrew blauvelt in an issue of emigre from the 90s dedicated to discussion about graduate graphic design programs (which im sure you are all familiar with and which im sure is also completely outdated by now). what attracted me to NCSU (as well as IIT) when i was considering graduate school was the fact that it was situated in a design school, rather than an art school. regarding yale, i was excited to do a graduate program in a department situated in a great university, but i was also wary that it was in an art school (i did my undergrad at a small, state funded liberal arts college in washington state). i think being in a design setting, rather than an art setting (and vice versa), affects greatly how graphic design departments are run, as graphic design departments are usually not the most influential bodies in design school / art school settings. also, that fact that NCSU is state funded sat well with me in both ideological and financial terms.

in the end im personally happy that i ended up in an art school as the issue of pragmatism can only go so far in that setting. design is normally assumed to be all about function, whereas art is always anti-function. its interesting to attend design school in that kind of setting. regarding having attended a private, expensive ivy league, im still unsure about having made that decision, as now im saddled with an incredible amount of debt. ive accepted this as a reality that i brought upon myself, though i still see that its symptomatic of the general state of education in the United States. but when you have this amount of debt to pay off, it really affects how you think about the kind of work youll be doing after school. perhaps idealistically, i think a good publicly-funded program would allow you to consider future prospects without weighing financial aspects too much.

i speak for myself and not for my other classmates, but again im very happy to have read everyone's comments. "What is a thesis in graphic design?" was a big discussion while i was at yale, and its interesting and enlightening to see how other schools approach it, and how others react to yale's approach. i think graduate graphic design programs are still seeking validation not only within its own industry, but amongst all art/design disciplines as well (not to mention the greater public). yale's thesis approach, like many other GD graduate programs, is definitely still a work in progress (and thus thesis books end up becoming expressions of a body of work in progress), and i think that is an exciting place to be in. i made the site for our class, and part of my personal agenda in making it was to open up to everyone what happens at Yale through a particular year of students' work and to perhaps foster discussion about what goes on in graduate programs. its very hard to see what goes on within graduate graphic design programs, and i think cranbrook (cranbrookdesign.com) and Aesthetics and Computation group at MIT Media Lab are the only schools that have really made available their student work in any significant way. i think this "open source" approach will do well to instigating more discussion as more resources are available to comment on.

anyway, my comments have been very general and airy, and not specifically about the work. but i hope it contributes something to the overall discussion. take care!

manuel miranda

Posted by manuel on June 7, 2005 04:26 PM