Skip to main content

Students crowdfund Seattle trip to visit design studios

three ASU students
March 07, 2014

It’s officially spring break, and some 50 Arizona State University students are heading, no, not to the beach, but to Seattle to be inspired by the city’s top design professionals.

For ASU’s Graphic Design Student Association (GDSA), the trip is an annual rite of passage that whisks students into professional design studios in a different major city every year. This academic year, the group also undertook an enthusiastic and highly successful effort to crowdfund the trip so that a larger number of students would be able to go.

“The trip opens a lot doors for us,” said GDSA president Joey Raiton, a junior from Ahwatukee, Ariz., who said going on the trip as a freshman changed his life. “These designers step down from their professional level to talk with us, bring us into their studios and show us everything, because as students we are extremely interested in what they do.”

Raiton and his team of GDSA officers, all juniors, spearheaded the fundraising effort called “Send Design Students to Seattle” on behalf of their members – all of them enrolled in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. To raise the money, GDSA partnered with ASU Foundation via its new charitable online PitchFunder program. Watch the GDSA video pitch.

“GDSA’s campaign was our first to surpass their fundraising goal,” said Tiffany Antor, assistant director, Office of Annual Giving, ASU Foundation. “These students are organized, creative and passionate, and I think this was the real key to their success. They were able to coordinate a large group of more than 60 champions, or online advocates, and use their passion to drive outstanding fundraising results.”

Mookesh Patel, associate professor of visual communications design in The Design School at Herberger, has been advising GDSA officers for nearly two decades. He noted that the considerable cost of airfare, hotel, local transportation and other expenses often puts the annual trip out of reach for many students. He credits good planning by this year’s officers for making the Seattle dream trip come true for a record number of future design professionals.

“The trip rewards students in many different ways,” he explained. “It expands their professional horizons, builds their confidence and, on the other side, lets the design world at-large get a glimpse of the high caliber of students from ASU’s Visual Communication Design Program.

“In the past, our students have visited New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago, as well as Seattle. In all of these cities, design professionals have extended the same warmth and education to our students.”

According to Raiton, students organize all aspects of the trip, including researching and contacting local design businesses to request their participation. The goal is to visit a variety of firms recognized for cutting-edge design – ranging from small, boutique shops to larger and more established design studios. Likewise, the students try to line up participants who specialize in different design areas, such as branding and identification, print, digital, packaging, user experience and so on.

In the Seattle area, for example, the students were able to confirm eight design organizations to host GDSA, including such creative leaders as Deloitte Digital, Digital Kitchen and Microsoft Design. Raiton said networking with professionals is especially valuable given that design students today are trained more broadly than in the past, studying a wide spectrum of marketing-related subjects.

“A lot of people don’t realize that today’s graphic designers have a bigger knowledge base,” he explained. “We don’t just know how to design something that looks appealing, but we know how to market, too.”

The expanded role of designers will be evident in those Seattle firms visited by the students, said GDSA treasurer Lizelle Galaz of Nogales, Mexico.

“It’s not just designers making all this cool-looking stuff,” she said. “These design studios also have market researchers, creative managers and web developers – a really broad range of people working on projects together. So design is no longer the cherry on top to make everything look pretty. Now it’s collaboration among many different fields that makes a successful studio.”

ASU’s graphic design program in The Design School is highly competitive, explained GDSA secretary Michelle Hughes of Scottsdale, Ariz. Students pursuing an undergraduate degree are required to pass a portfolio milestone at the end of their freshman year to be eligible to continue.

“On average, of roughly 300 freshmen, only about 40 students make the cut to continue in graphic design,” she said.

As a result, students within each cohort spend a lot of time together, said GDSA vice president Alessandra Sica of Phoenix: “Going on this trip is a good time to be with my friends and learn more about something we all love – which is why we’re all friends and why we’re so close.”

Most of all, the annual design trip offers students an opportunity to network with professionals and open a window to their future careers.

“The trip gives you something to look forward to, in terms of what you can do after you graduate,” Galaz said. “As a student, you can get buried in projects and lose sight of what you’re building toward. Talking to these Seattle designers and seeing their amazing work, you can see yourself in their shoes.”