Com Arts Student Work

Graphic design, advertising, and illustration the three majors that form the Communication Arts Department are exciting but also demanding. The department strives on a strong visual language that each student must master to be successful in their future career. This is the goal of the Comm Arts department and an idea Kali Nikitas, the communication arts department chair, reiterated in our interview.

Kali Nikitas
Kali Nikitas is one of the most noted graphic designers in the country. Her clients have included; The School of Architecture at Northeastern, The Walker Art Center, Southern California Institute of Architecture, The Weisman Museum, and SOO Visual Art Center. She has also received awards from the ACD, AIGA and the Type Directors Club. 
Q: What does the Communication Arts department do for their students

A: We are committed to have our students get in touch with the skills they have and will learn to use them in their future professions. We stress the method of showing your process and how you ending up to that final result.

Kali's AIGA poster

Q: What are you trying to accomplish in each major (Advertising, Graphic Design, Illustration)? 

A: It’s important for the students to be their self, working in their field and in the community to become part of a greater whole. 

Q: What makes this department different from others?

A: This department is unique in the sense that we push minimum requirement for maximum electives. We want you to gather as many skills as you can during your time here. 

Q: Are there any events, activities, or classes no Comm Arts students can partake in?

A: Every year there is an Opportunity Fair that all students are welcome to attend for internships. There are also numerous workshops such as the Printmaking workshop, Silkscreen workshop, and Graphic Design workshop on Thursdays. We provide an Entrepreneur course that I highly recommend everyone to take; the class takes you through the steps of creating your own business and the ways to make it successful. 

Q: What made you want to become a graphic designer?

A: I love the arts and when I set out to study it was fine art that interested me. Then I took a typography class in college and I have not looked back since. I love collaboration and I love problem solving.

Q: Is it hard being a graphic designer?

A: No. It is hard when you strive for perfection and constantly aspire to do better and better with each project. It is hard to believe in yourself. There are so many levels within this amazing profession that many people find success. The question is "what does success mean to you?" That is the hard part. And...I do not think specific to graphic design but rather specific to seeking purpose and meaning in the workplace.
Advertising Student Work
Q: Over the years as a professional has the industry evolved in any way?

A: Many many many many ways. For one, when I was in undergrad, there were no computers! Can you imagine? In graduate school, the Mac was introduced which made a difference. More importantly, the field has changed not just in the tools we use but in the opportunities to work within the world as a graphic designer. For my earlier years, the venues were limited (in general): graphic designer within the field of printed matter. Now, graphic designers are writers, curators, self-publishers, entrepreneurs. They work in digital technologies, environmental design, they collaborate with sciences, etc. Designers are recognized as important players in the world of problem solving as well as the building of visual culture.

Q: How is the graphic design market today in your opinion?

A: The opportunities to be hired into the positions that already exist are great if you have: the skills to collaborate; a teachable attitude; kindness and respect towards others; dedication to projects; the attention to craft and detail; and willingness to take risks (to name a few). In addition, the world is open to any single person or group of people interested in taking their talents and applying them in ways that we have not yet seen. This to me is the most exciting. When I became an Academic Administrator, I had no idea just how important my training as a graphic designer would be to the new job. A problem that needs to be solved is a problem that needs to be solved. Research, critical thinking, risk taking, people management, translates into so many venues that it turns out that if you are trained as a graphic designer, you can do so many things. Amazing!

Q: Where does a typical Otis comm arts student end up after they graduate?

A: Some students work for advertising agencies or movie studios, or magazine companies and post production houses. Some work for small design studios or cultural institutions. Some go to graduate school (hopefully ours), and some alumni open up their own studios. All in all, I think Otis Alumni are taking over the world!

Q: What is the process and steps you personally take to reach your final piece of work? For example the book design for ‘Letter Perfect’.
Kali's book design

A: Each project is different. In general, I work both on and off the computer. The “Letter Perfect” book featured incredible work done in the last century. There was a lot of pressure that I placed on myself to design that book. My contribution could 
never rival the books and posters featured in the publication but it was important to create a template that did not conflict with the content. The cover was letter pressed and that was super fun to do. A little note: my Assistant at the time was Adam Michaels who is now partners at ProjectProjects in NYC. I actually have a letterpress poster I am working on now and I believe that some of my favorite work has been produced that way.

Q: How does working on a book cover design, poster design, or a web design differ from each other? Are there different main ideas and emotions a viewer should get from each?

A: I have designed few websites yet I am confident that I can shape and storyboard a project as it relates to content, user experience/navigation, and ensuring that a client is getting the most from the media. I have actually designed more posters than anything else in my career, which I absolutely love because I set a limit to design in one day. Production may take longer but the design is quick and I have more freedom of expression in posters than in longer running projects like book design. There are a number of faculty at OTIS whose practice includes web design, publication and environmental graphics. I prefer to step aside and give them a chance to work their magic.

My design practice is not so traditional anymore. Each year, I make a couple things that would be described as graphic design. The way I work these days is to apply my design skills and people skills to projects: building academic programs, curating events with designers/for designers; curating and hosting symposium; brokering talent with individuals or companies looking to hire designers.

Illustration Student Work
Q: What are certain things you listen for when a client comes to you for a project?

A: Who are they as in: what is their history, what is their mission, what is their dream? After a conversation, I then think about what I can do to help. If I cannot help, I direct them as best I can to people they might like to meet. I do more of that these days. I am starting to feel like an agent and I like it!

Q: What helps you decide to take a certain job from a client or not? Why?

A: If I can make a difference I will take a job. If I am not the studio for that client or project, I will be the first to admit it.

Advertising Student Work
Q: What is your ideal client and working conditions?

A: A risk taker, a collaborator, a bill payer.

Q: Who are your heroes and mentors that you believe have impacted your work?

A: This should be a question I love but it is not because my definition of mentor and hero has changed. Basically, I learn so much from a great number of people. I look more to the qualities that a person possesses rather than the full package. Some people show me how important it is to be generous. Some teach me about patience. Others lead by example when it comes to: talent, leadership, skills in collaboration, civic mindedness, humor, etc. The goal for me is to be open enough to meet as many people as possible and learn as much as I can. So actually I am constantly being mentored not just in regards to my work but in daily living.

Q: Would you consider yourself more of a teacher or mentor to the students at Otis? Or both?

A: A mentor. I use to teach more and I loved it. I do occasionally at the MFA level. One of the great rewards of teaching is watching your former students prosper. Fortunately, I have taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and Otis so there are a fair number of alumni reminding me weekly, that I have the best job in all the world.

Wall of Com Arts Student's Work


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