Since teaching a graduate class on branding called Nature of Identity at the Academy of Art in San Francisco during 2011, I’ve had several students approach me asking for advise on their thesis projects. The first one who did was Whitney Clark, and I mentored her during the fall of 2012. This post showcases the resulting thesis work.

Whitney graduated as an MFA last year, with a thesis focusing on how the understanding of classic literature could be aided by graphic design. She noticed how people in her generation read less than previous ones, and wondered if graphic design could com to the rescue. She called her thesis Re/view and used Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a case study. In her words:

Re/view, an educational company with a focus on alternative approaches to literature, is based on the idea that written works can be made more accessible through visuals. Re/view acts as an umbrella organization for smaller facets of the company that focus on creating materials for specific authors.

Re/view Shakespeare is a collection of visual tools for novice students of the Bard. The tools are intended to provide a highly visual and alternative approach to the written word and focus on breaking down the strangeness of the plays that are created by 400 years of cultural and language differences. The tools act as a way to delve deeper into well studied themes, to prompt nuanced and thoughtful questioning and to demonstrate that there is more than one way to approach and access a text.

By the time we started the mentoring sessions, Whitney had already been working on her thesis for about a year, and had a very strong foundation thanks to the research conducted.

When it came to the developing a compelling design approach, I got a chance to mentor her along that journey over two semesters. With my background in branding, I posed questions that allowed her to understand and define who the “customers” would be (students, educators, and enthusiasts) and how to reach them, mapping out customer journeys and identifying relevant brand touchpoints.

She was then able to develop and expand a look and feel system that required variety to engage those audiences. And we discussed each application’s purpose within her system, establishing strengths and weaknesses in each approach. Below are some examples of the applications she designed.

My belief has always been that the best design solution lies within the problem. Translated to my mentoring approach, that has meant always bringing the student back to their original thesis statement.

Within all the expected and unexpected applications worth designing, could there be one core application that embodies the thesis solution in its entirety? In Whitney’s case, two strong contenders fit the bill of demystifying the language used by Shakespeare for a young generation in a visual way.

One deconstructs famous passages in Hamlet, allowing educators and students re-interpret the words and understand the power of this classic author’s approach. The other pokes fun at the language, by visualizing insults found in Shakespeare’s works. 

As impressive as all this looks, there’s a lot more. Read the thesis book, or visit her portfolio and find out more about other applications she designed for this thesis, including flash cards, posters and other promotional materials, a website, even an app.

Whitney has recently started working as a designer at the Disney Museum, and I can’t wait to see how she will continue exploring the intersection of education and design.