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CotA Graphic Designers Sweep International Competition with Visual Symbolic Languages

Four UH School of Art students crafted award-winning designs for Globalmurmurs.

Graphic design undergraduates at the UH Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts’ (CotA) School of Art recently created dynamic visual languages—each containing forty-five unique symbols—for Globalmurmurs, an international design competition focused on responsible global citizenship. CotA students Raafia Jessa (BFA ’16), Yoko Kristiansen (BFA ’16), Helen Nerio (BFA ’16) and Thi Tran (BFA ’16) swept the competition winning four of the six design awards.  

Each designer crafted a visual language that told a narrative connected to ideas of transforming gender, shifting cities or a changing world. Jessa designed an original “alphabet” that combined elements of Urdu, Persian, Arabic and Latin characters based on their auditory sounds to "convey the idea that all humans are entitled to communication.” Kristiansen, inspired by mass surveillance, created a series of “badges” intended to reveal the wearer’s identity and emotions. She said she hoped to encourage viewers to “imagine a dystopian society where…there is no privacy to begin with.” Nerio was interested in how the global community is connected through physical and digital spaces. “Technology has changed the way we communicate with one another," she said. "It helps us connect with people around the world, but it also disconnects us from our physical environments.” Tran designed forty-five snowflakes that addressed—and rejected—gender binarism, the idea that gender exists only in distinctly “masculine” or “feminine” modes. She said she was inspired by the simple idea that “every human is unique," adding that "we all have the right to be comfortable and respected in our own chosen gender identity.”

Sibylle Hagmann, professor of art at UH, said she assigned this project because she wanted to challenge her students to practice critical thinking and complex problem solving. She was also compelled by the chance to connect her students to an international pool of aspiring designers. 

Globalmurmurs was launched by the design and arts initiative FORTY FIVE SYMBOLS to connect visual communication and design students to a global arts community. As such, the six winning designs were exhibited at the 2016 NY Design Week and the TYPO conference in Berlin, Germany, as well as being published online and in the third issue of FORTY FIVE SYMBOLS Magazine. 

“The opportunity for students to showcase their work to a global audience is unparalleled,” said Hagmann.