Capstone 2015: FIT NYC

John Henken | August 4, 2016

One of the many things I enjoy about working here is that MG is a big proponent of “paying it forward”. For the last three years we have awarded the Michael Grivas Memorial Scholarship Award to one deserving Exhibit Design student. It benefits a new breed of designers while acknowledging our founder, Michael Grivas Senior, his life and career.

Our VP of Design, Rob Majerowski, and I also practice this philosophy by mentoring design students at two great schools with degreed programs in Exhibit Design: Bemidji State University (of whom I have written previously); and FIT (The Fashion Institute of Technology) which offers a Master’s degree in Exhibit Design and is located in the exciting neighborhood of Chelsea in New York City.

It was on the 8thfloor of their David Dubinsky building that I joined industry veterans, designers, and leaders, as well as FIT faculty, on May 15thfor a full day of paying it forward. It was the Capstone 2015 Event at FIT that drew us there, which offered us a chance to view the creative exhibit thesis work of over a dozen soon-to-graduate FIT students from nearly as many countries.

Students are held accountable for deeply researching their chosen subject and location. The thesis projects typically run to the “events” and “experience” sides of exhibit design and rarely are a typical trade show booth design. They are not given, nor are they held accountable for a specific budget. However, their solution must be deemed appropriate for the brand, organization, or event they have chosen. Thus the money “spent” on an event for a luxury brand like PRADA, would be assumed to be large, where an event designed to raise awareness of public issue might be expected to be a mere fraction of the former.

The invited industry “judges” are first detailed on their roles. This is not a portfolio revue; rather a deep dive into one singular project that the students have passionately created and designed solutions for. Our role is to absorb the idea behind the thesis and then determine how well the individual student’s solution supports the brand or event they took on. “Visiting Coaches” might be a better description of our role than “judges”. Then in groups of four to six, the students present their work, discussing why they chose the subject, relating what they learned from their research, and defining the audience and locale.

If the work we saw was representative of the new breed of designers coming up behind us old dogs…then the industry is in good hands! Excellent research and good storytelling was in evidence throughout, with subjects as diverse as: 1) a pop-up exhibit for GoPro cameras that used their action cameras to connect athletes and audiences at the Special Olympics; 2) a pop-up experience that educates audiences about the science of distilling during Prohibition that played out in a “Speakeasy” setting; and 3) a pre-flight airport experience that rewards passengers for educating themselves about in-flight safety, to name but a few.

If designers are storytellers, and I believe we are, then we have an enthralling bunch of new narrators about to address industry audiences.

You heard it here first!