The show must go online: YSDN students launch digital grad showcase

For students in the joint York University/Sheridan College Program in Design (YSDN), the annual showcase organized by the graduating class has been a valuable, experiential opportunity for profiling their work and putting the culmination of four years of hard work on display for friends, family, community members and industry professionals.

Traditionally a bricks-and-mortar event supported with an online presence, this year’s showcase had been scheduled to take place in the Burroughes Building in the heart of downtown Toronto’s cultural hub. When the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of University events like the showcase, YSDN students saw a challenge and turned it into an opportunity.

“I had a lot of trust in our team that we could take this further,” explained fourth-year YSDN student Ana Georgiu, one of the showcase’s two executive producers responsible for coordinating their entire graduating class to bring the project together. “We just had to re-think how we could make this something that could create the same feelings and communicate the same information but in a digital medium.”

"Al Dente" - pasta packaging project by Ana Georgiu

"Al Dente" - pasta packaging project by Ana Georgiu

Thus, in less than a month, YSDN 2020 was brought to life, and on April 13 the online showcase – featuring student work from several areas of design including print, web, branding, user experience and motion design – was launched for members of the York community and the world to see.

While reimagining the showcase gave the students an opportunity to draw on familiar skills acquired in the program, it also presented new and unique challenges as they navigated the realities of social distancing and remote work.

“It was definitely a good process for us to use the skills we’ve developed over the past four years,” Georgiu said. “We developed critical thinking skills, looking at the physical things we’re working on, researching and planning and trying to figure out how to bring them to life.”

“It’s like the biggest group project I’ve ever been a part of,” she continued.

“In the foundational years we are required to take interactivity courses where they teach how to code, design websites and media experiences.” said Renee Yeung, a fourth-year student in the YSDN program and co-executive producer for YSDN 2020. “We have a very diverse group of graduates who are very well versed in visual platforms.”

"Fear Follows the First in Fate" book project by Renee Yeung

"Fear Follows the First in Fate" book project by Renee Yeung

While many students had produced projects that fit naturally within a digital medium, others had produced physical work such as books and magazines or product packaging, requiring the organizers to think creatively about how to display the works. Similarly, since every member of the graduating class takes on a role organizing the showcase, many students who signed up for tasks such as facility set up or shipping found themselves unexpectedly putting new and different skills into practice.

The organizers sought to make the digital experience as close to that of a physical showcase as possible by including a live chat function on their website. Two students and one professor will monitor the chat from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until April 17, giving visitors the opportunity to ask questions, connect with designers and congratulate the students. More than 500 people have already chatted with students about the showcase.

According to Yeung, YSDN 2020 may be the only student-run online showcase currently running among design programs in Canada.

“I have been so impressed by the ways in which students, faculty and staff have adapted to the changing and often challenging circumstances caused by COVID-19,” said Sarah Bay-Cheng, dean of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) at York University. “We talk about the importance of creativity, but it is exciting to see it in action as these students demonstrate just what the next generation of designers can do.”

"Skate Like a Girl" rebrand project by Alexandria White

"Skate Like a Girl" rebrand project by Alexandria White

According to Alexandria White, a fourth-year YSDN student and the showcase’s director of experiential marketing before her duties were “dispersed” due to the reorganization, any money intended to be spent on the physical event has been redirected to promoting the online experience on social media and to professionals in the design industry.

The 2020 York University/Sheridan College Program in Design graduate showcase can be viewed at ysdn2020.com.

More information on York University’s design programs can be found on the department’s website.

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