Class of 2017

Words by Ellen King

We hit up this year’s grad shows around the country to find out more about what’s making graphic design’s rising stars tick. We whittled the hundreds of exhibitors down to seven that got us excited and cornered them for a chat about what informs their process and where they’re going next…

Conor Foran – NCAD

Conor’s graduate show was inspired by his experience of having a stammer. One of the pieces in the show was a publication entitled ‘the curious paradox’ a piece which ‘aims to shed light upon the shy presence of stammering in our society’. There’s a section in the publication that has words spelt out in such a way that it forces the reader to speak with a stammer, bringing them into the mindset of someone who has a speech impediment.

 Conor doesn’t see himself as having a style ‘in the conventional sense that a painter has a distinguishable aesthetic’ but explains that ‘being a designer means you have to be a chameleon as you need to adapt to whatever is thrown your way – you let the content of the work guide its eventual style’. His experience at NCAD seems to have been a wholly positive one as he was creatively stimulated and inspired by his peers who he cites as his biggest influences ‘spending so many hours together absolutely garners a certain respect and appreciation for each other’s work and ambitions’.

 As a young designer in this country Conor believes it’s imperative to create your own support network: ‘The best support you can have as a young designer in Ireland is the one you build yourself: friends, tutors, employers and other designers – networking is so important but I’ve never really liked the word. To me it suggests holding a conversation or giving that person a follow on Instagram for the sake of employment when it’s really about meeting people and having a chat.’

Stina Sandstrom – IADT

Unique facets of Irish culture influence a large portion of Swedish native Stina Sandstrom’s work. Her graduate project – which she is currently ‘realising’ – focuses on the ‘Irish medieval vagina flashing sculptures Sheela-na-Gigs’. Her aim with the project is to ‘show how these ancient figures can be a positive symbol for women in Ireland today’. The tongue and cheek images display female sexuality in a lighthearted way.

Originally planning to undertake IADT’s Visual Communications course as a ‘part-time endeavour’ Stina soon found that maintaining a job and playing in a band whilst also studying was unrealistic. However, she found the course so stimulating that making sacrifices to focus on her college work was a no brainer.

Stina’s work also draws inspiration from her home country and during her final year she researched a popular Swedish design methodology called ‘norm-critical design’. An approach that challenges what is considered to be ‘correct’ or ‘normal’ in the design world, ‘norm-critical design’ ties in with Stina’s love of ‘tacky design’ that’s ‘on the verge of being ugly and tasteless’.

Though she has considered returning to the country where most of the designers who inspire her work are based, Stina ultimately feels that she couldn’t completely part with her adopted home city and that she ‘probably wouldn’t last very long away from it’.

Harry Smyth – IADT

Harry Smyth’s life plan changed when he went to an IADT grad show the year before his Leaving Cert. When he saw the exhibition he abandoned his previous plans to study architecture and began immediately focusing on studying Visual Communications: ‘I didn’t really have a clue what it was all about, but I knew I wanted to do it. I started a portfolio that summer, and worked on it throughout sixth year.’

Despite choosing not to pursue architecture as a profession he feels that style wise there are certain elements from architecture that are inherent in his work – ‘a lot of my projects are quite geometric and based off a grid.’ However ‘each project demands a different approach’. He would never go into a project with a particular aesthetic in mind because ‘otherwise you find yourself down a road where everything looks the same’.

Although his influences are varied and ever-changing Harry says that he finds himself constantly revisiting the work of Swiss poster designer Ralph Schraivogel. ‘He mixes type, image, texture and sometimes optical illusions into his designs and they’re all mind-blowing… the way he evokes emotion from pretty abstract posters changed the way I thought about design.’

He also likes to approach projects that revolve around social issues and reframe them. This is a concept he explored with his grad project on the controversial topic of nuclear fusion: ‘I felt there was loads of stigma surrounding the word nuclear and so few people know the benefits of fusion. I wanted to change people’s perception about the topic because I feel that it is so important for the future of energy.’


Johnny Brennan – IADT

It’s little surprise to learn that Johnny Brennan’s bold, playful work draws heavily from graffiti. Another IADT alumni, Johnny’s use of cartoonish, colourful fonts stem from his teenage obsession with graffiti and natural gravitation towards colour and letterforms.

As well as graphic designers Kate Moross and So Me, Jonny also cites his older sister (who did the Visual Communications course prior to him) as someone who shaped his tastes as a designer: ‘she’s given me some of the best advice and guidance throughout my life as a designer so far – she’ll hate me for this by the way, scarlet!.’

Though he doesn’t have a long term career plan, Johnny has been selected for the Threex3 programme this year: ‘I’ll be working with three amazing design studios over the next year – Atelier, Detail & Zero-G – and I’m really excited about it.’


Isabelle McCarthy – LIT

Isabelle McCarthy was originally drawn to ‘design-psychology and how a design has to aesthetically look a certain way to appeal to a targeted audience and capture the minds of potential customers’. This is something Isabelle keeps in mind when she is creating her work.

‘I believe in the simplicity of design and aim to subsidise any unnecessary visual information in order to create melodious and aesthetically pleasing visuals to the eye. I value visual space, utilise detailed typographic elements and subtle colors as a means of triggering different emotions to the audience throughout my designs,’ she says.

She is also heavily influenced by environmental factors, taking cues for her creative output from the world around her: ‘I am deeply inspired by the smallest details of nature and my surroundings, enriching my creativity and conceptual design. If I’m walking outside and see a combination of shapes/colours that I think look interesting together I take a picture and possibly draw my inspiration from that. Everything I perceive influences me in one way or another.’

Like Johnny Brennan, Isabelle has won an internship with three established studios as part of the Threex3 program. Her internship runs from October-June and once she has completed it she will ‘see what the future holds.’

Laura Kelly – LIT

Laura Kelly’s work is varied and eye-catching, with colour palettes and texts that complement without being dull. She adapts her style slightly depending on the project.

‘I enjoy experimenting in each project, creating something innovative and that challenges me as a designer,’ she says. ‘I love the initial concept stage and trying to find the solution to each brief. I always look at a brief as a fresh start to try something new stylistic wise. I think if you can keep the work interesting for yourself it will translate in your work too.’

She finds the connectivity we have as a modern society creatively stimulating saying ‘I find the Internet as a great source of inspiration. With the world being so connected, it’s so easy to see what other designers and artists are doing through Instagram and other social media.’

Laura moved to Dublin and began working in a design agency as soon as she finished her degree and has her career mapped out. ‘I plan to gain some experience in the industry and in a couple of years I hope I’ll be in the position to start up my own design agency.’

Finn Mullan – NCAD

Finn Mullan’s work is striking. It plays with the conventions of text and how it is ordinarily viewed. Often he will have something obscuring the text or the text presented in such a way that it is not totally legible.

’I would definitely say that I enjoy playing with distorted visuals within my work. I get a kick out of bringing in hand made elements, whether it’s drawing, scribbling or using a scanner to warp type and images. These processes push the legibility of the work and it makes me try what might be normally outside of my comfort zone. I want to make work that might be a bit less conventional but I just try to have fun with whatever project I’m working on. I find that when I’m playing with new ideas and trying new things out I produce the work that I’m most proud of.’

A major reference point for Finn is music. ‘It has definitely influenced my work, I love looking at album artwork, Parquet Courts definitely have some of my favourite album covers. That’s the sort of stuff that really made me want to study design and it is something I would love to work with more in the future.’

For Finn the act of creating something is invigorating and he gets enjoyment from starting afresh. ‘I love the process of making, experimentation and research. I always enjoy the feeling of starting a new project and trying to discover all the possibilities in making the work. As long as I am making and trying something new that’s when I’m having the most fun.’



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