By Nina Tabios
Like many annual events at the Academy of Art University, the Ideate Conference took on a new digital form this year.
With the help of Zoom, the semesterly portfolio review session hosted by the Schools of Advertising (ADV) and Web Design & New Media (WNM) didn’t just bridge the gap between students and industry—for new graduates, it was a window into how the workforce is evolving in current times.
In the past, Ideate has been a day-long event dedicated to industry-driven feedback. Participating students lined up outside classrooms for round-robin style interviews with a wide range of companies, from large corporations like Kohl’s to big-name startups like Airbnb and creative agencies like AKQA. Students left with insight on jumpstarting a dream career while others were lucky enough to be directly hired. It was also not uncommon for alumni to return as industry guests.
Replicating that experience online would be a challenge but not impossible. The schools hosted over 150 Zoom reviews from May 18 to 22, linking ADV and WNM students with representatives from 20 different companies, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Recruiters, designers, art directors, and more located all across the country, from Los Angeles, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and even as far out as New York City, took part in the event.
“Normally we wouldn’t have anyone other than local companies,” said Andrea Pimentel, ADV co-director. While Zoom closed the distance, it also called for new etiquette. Students were prepped on how to utilize Zoom features for their presentations and they were also taught the nuances of hardware and connection checks, good lighting, and proper attire.
“When you’re presenting work on Zoom there’s a learning curve, even for a lot of professionals,” Pimentel continued. “We made sure our students were ready to go. So much of the advertising and tech industry is going this way anyway, so introducing interviews in that same method just made sense.”
Sessions were broken down by company. On Tuesday, May 19, Amazon Senior UX Designers Jessica West and Julie Tra held 15-minute meetings with eight students. West and Tra encouraged students to talk them through one specific project. Some went over their thesis, like web design student Jessica Lin’s Game Circle app that helps gamers live healthier lifestyles.
Others showed projects they were passionate about, like copywriting student Carly Schmidlin’s quirky Band-Aid campaign. For Schmidlin, Ideate was about getting a fresh set of eyes on her work.
“I got a lot of new ideas from different directions of thought,” she said. “One of the art directors gave me useful feedback about presenting things in a way that drives people’s attention to where I want it to be, and that applied from my campaign presentation to my website.”
Eduardo Marcondes, an M.A. web design student, had a similar refreshing experience with his Ideate meetings. The advice he received focused on effective presentation.
“I started from the beginning: the idea, the first steps, the process of developing, sketches, wireframes, [and] the final product. After that, how I applied the visual identity,” Marcondes said. “I was told to instead to show the work, then go to the process. I was told it’s best to identify the problem, show the solution, and then how I built it.”
On Thursday, May 21, art direction student Diangelo Cuevas shared his Pantone campaign with ROI DNA designers. But it was his photography and videography work that sparked their interest.
“It was a great morale boost. I was expecting them to tear up my portfolio,” he laughed. “But Ideate was a good place to ask questions about the industry and it definitely opened my eyes as to what to expect in the work world. They gave me a glimpse of what to expect moving forward.”
Jenny Creed, a senior designer with ROI DNA, had high praise for the students she and fellow designer Mariah Pringle met with.
“It’s really nice to see cool, creative work coming out of young people who have passion about social justice issues,” Creed said, referencing to a Burt’s Bees project breaking down negative views on natural hair and another campaign aiming to close the orgasm gap. “I think you can get a feel for someone’s skills and thought process and potential from something like this.”
In a way, it was also a refreshing take on their own careers, with Creed adding, “It’s funny to look back on it and realize that we all started there.”
When asked for advice for future students attending Ideate, many of this year’s attendees advised going for it—there’s nothing to lose.
“There’s really no reason to not do it,” Schmidlin said. “You’ll get a fresh pair of eyes, fresh feedback that maybe you haven’t heard and may be different from what you’ve heard in class.”
Take advantage, Marcondes added.
“These people are here to help you,” he said. “This feedback is precious from a professional standpoint. It’s good to hear from people who hire people.”