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Student-designed Willamette Week Dessert Issue takes the cake

by Melanie Moyer,

PNCA student designs from the Willamette Week Dessert issue

Portland, Ore., has earned its nickname as the foodie capital of America for a reason. In a city obsessed with good eats, the local food scene is always in the news.

So when Willamette Week, a print and online publication with 2.5 million readers, wanted eye-catching art for its Dessert Issue, they turned to the student design talent at the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

“Our goal was to come up with sugary, bright, and playful designs,” shares Project Manager Nicholas Calhoun, BFA’24. “We went through several different concepts to find one that would most successfully communicate the positive, fun feeling.”

The team of six worked for Willamette Week through PNCA’s Center for Design, which immerses illustration and graphic design students in an in-house, professional studio during a semester-long course. The studio facilitates invaluable experiences for students, allowing them the opportunity of working with high-profile partners with a safety net of the classroom — and, unlike most professional studios with traditional hiring processes, their projects use the strengths of every participant as a starting point.

“You never know what kind of superpowers somebody will have,” says Assistant Professor Kristin Rogers Brown, who directs the Center for Design and serves as Department Chair in Graphic Design. “With the Center for Design, we have a fabulous pool of people to match together so that one person’s skills complement another’s.”

Students work in the Center for Design during their junior or senior years as their first exposure to the studio culture most end up working in. It is just one way that their PNCA education is preparing them for their next steps as working artists after graduation. Rogers Brown, who has an extensive studio background, notes that students learn the essential interpersonal skills that are part of studio culture: “We assign an art director and a project manager from each team and learn about what folks in those roles do,” she shares. “We critique in the studio and get feedback from client partnerships, which is how we would work even if this were not in the context of the school.”

Mixing many talents, the teams are cross-functional and collaborative. “For Willamette Week, we weren’t just providing illustrations, we also designed the layout for them to use,” shares Calhoun. “This project taught me to effectively collaborate on pieces in a cohesive manner,” adds Sami Filosa BFA’23, an illustrator on the team.

Also part of the group were art director and designer Phoebe Moreno BFA’24, who co-led the project with Calhoun; senior designer Katherine Fakashchuk BFA’24, who designed the template for the issue; and illustrator MJ Jacobo BFA’23.

Perhaps most importantly, students get to see their creative work emerge in the professional world. Illustrator Francis Bagby BFA’25 shares, “Working with the newspaper was an incredible opportunity for me, not just to learn first-hand about independent client work, but also to see my own art printed and published in a real newspaper. I really feel like I’ve hit the big time — Willamette Week today, tomorrow the world!”

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