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FIT Alumni in the Field

When the student becomes the master (of arts)

Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Graduate Exhibition Design alumni accomplish much before they graduate – an intensive three semesters of lectures, class presentations and studio projects that draw on their prior experience in interior design, graphic design, industrial design, exhibit production, architecture and lighting; and a final capstone project to demonstrate their readiness to enter the professional world to tradeshow industry leaders and organizations. Once they’ve received their Master of Arts, FIT graduates get to work in museums, tradeshows and public spaces.

Exhibit City News followed up with several alums who’ve applied their studies to the exhibition industry.

Katina Rigall

Katina Rigall

Katina Rigall, designer extraordinaire, Classic Exhibits
Class of 2007

Q: How did you first learn about the exhibition industry before attending FIT?

I have a bachelor’s degree in Interior Design and was working as a professional kitchen designer when I began to re-evaluate my career path. I knew that Design was my calling — but what I was designing needed to match what I was passionate about. A graduate degree seemed like the next step because I always enjoyed school. Plus I loved the way I could tailor my education to the knowledge and connections required for a new industry. I ordered catalogues from the top design universities and narrowed down the choices by reading the descriptions of the required classes. When I read the description for Exhibition Design from FIT, a light bulb went on! So, I turned my research to the exhibition industry. I knew I had found a career that would be more than just a job.

Q: What was your first experience with the exhibition industry?

After I graduated from FIT and finished my internship, I was anxious to find a full-time job as an Exhibit Designer, specifically in the tradeshow industry. I shared this desire with Brenda Cowan, the director of the program at FIT, and she started sending me job opportunities. It wasn’t long before I had three interviews and was able to make a decision. The job I accepted was challenging. I was the sole Exhibit Designer at a small custom exhibit house. The learning curve was steep, and I worked long hours to get up to speed and meet deadlines. But it was exactly what I wanted and I loved every second of it. Having so much responsibility meant that my skills accelerated in a short amount of time.

Q: What motivated you to study exhibition design? Why did you choose FIT?

I love art and its ability to impact the viewer. With exhibit design, I can be the artist and orchestrate the experience of that art. My medium is large three-dimensional experiences that use colors, shapes, lighting and graphics. At their very best, tradeshow exhibits are large scale sculptures and functional branded experiences that inform and captivate people in a memorable way.

When I chose to study exhibition design at FIT, I knew I wasn’t limiting my career to a small niche, but I was expanding my future opportunities. The program is incredibly multi-disciplinary with classes on lighting design, graphic design, three-dimensional design and more. Another benefit of the FIT program is that it’s ideal for people who already have a background in design. Most other master’s programs in design are built for people who studied a completely different subject for their bachelor’s degree, and those programs are much longer and start at a more elementary level. FIT enabled me to build upon the knowledge and experience I already had, so I was also able to reenter the workforce quickly and seamlessly.

Q: How has the program helped prepare you for your career?

The program gave me exactly the skills I needed, including three-dimensional drawing, knowledge of graphic design, lighting design, designing within branding guidelines. I could go on and on. But what has been the most valuable are the connections I made through the FIT community, both with my fellow students and with the faculty. Brenda in particular has been instrumental with connections that resulted in great employment opportunities.

Q: What is your current position, how is it related to the exhibition industry and how have you applied your studies?

I am currently a Senior Designer at Classic Exhibits Inc., a terrific exhibit manufacturer with a company culture to die for. My main task is taking care of the design requests from our over 180 distributors. I’ve had the pleasure of introducing new designs to our ever-expanding online portfolio, which won the EDPA Eddie Award in 2015 for marketing excellence, and interacting with clients on custom solutions that fit their specific needs. Every day I get a little rush of excitement knowing that I am paid to create things that are beautiful and also useful.

Q: Who are your mentors from within the industry and why?

Many people have been generous with their time along my career path, but three in particular deserve a lot of credit. First and foremost, Brenda Cowan – my life is definitely on the track it is thanks to her. My first design mentor, Matt Hylkema, who spent a lot of time encouraging me, showing me the ropes, and telling me to go for it and just make really cool designs. My current colleague and friend Mike Swartout at Classic Exhibits who has given me tons of technical design lessons, insider industry info, and has been a great friend and support to me through a lot of twists and turns in life.

Jyun-Jie "Jay" Ciou

Jyun-Jie “Jay” Ciou

Jyun-Jie Ciou, environmental designer, Group Delphi
Class of 2008

Q: How did you first learn about the exhibition industry before attending FIT?

My background was architecture and interior design before attending FIT. I didn’t have much experience about the exhibition industry except visiting tradeshows or museums.

Q: What was your first experience with the exhibition industry?

My first experience with the exhibition industry was about museum visiting. It was environmental experiences full of content that inform, entertain and inspire.

Q: What motivated you to study exhibition design? Why did you choose FIT?

I was amazed by a variety of graphic and lighting design projects. They can easily change the atmosphere of environments and spaces. I always wondered if we can apply those fascinating ideas to architecture or interior spaces to evoke conversations between spaces and humans.

Q: How has the program helped prepare you for your career?

At FIT, we learned both practical experiences and theories from professionals in the exhibition industry. We had chances to plan, design and execute real projects for clients. At the end of the program, all students participate in internships and work in design firms, museums, retail environments or event companies. These are all truly valuable experiences for us to prepare for the future.

Q: What is your current position, how is it related to the exhibition industry and how have you applied your studies?

My current position is an environmental designer at Group Delphi. I am responsible for the concept generation, design development and execution of interior architecture, tradeshow, event, museum and permanent installation projects. From the experience at FIT, I applied my studies to evaluate and develop design concepts based on factors such as appealing appearance, design function relationships, interior design principles, materials and construction feasibility for different kinds of projects.

Q: Who are your mentors from within the industry and why?

Professor Brenda Cowan was always my mentor in the school and within the industry. She is not just teaching design, but also inspiring and guiding us with passion and wisdom that help us through the journey.

Posted in Features, News
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