Interview with Supriya Kalidas, 2016 Distinguished Alumni

supriya_coverimageSupriya Kalidas, (School of Graphic Design, MFA 2009), was awarded the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award by Academy President Dr. Elisa Stephens at the recent Spring Commencement. The award recognizes outstanding alumni whose careers exemplify the university’s standards and ideals in creativity, innovation, leadership and contributions to the practices of art and design.

Supriya is passionate about the power of design to inspire, delight, inform or provoke, and she aims to bring a sense of emotional connection to her work. An award-winning designer and art director with over 15 years of experience creating digital and print solutions, she thrives in collaborative environments, and always begins her process by putting pen to paper. These iterative drawings ultimately become a story worth telling.

Born and raised in India, she studied at the National Institute of Design, where gained exposure to varied creative disciplines from industrial design to ceramics and photography. She moved to California in 2005 to pursue an MFA in design at the Academy of Art University, and has called the Golden State home ever since. She has worked at Chronicle Books, Wired and Sunset magazines and also ran her own freelance practice in San Francisco. She is currently Design Director at Tomorrow Partners, and lives in the Oakland hills with her husband and dog. She never says no to a hike or the offer of a home cooked meal.

View the video interview, or read onto discover what she has been up to since graduation.

Produced for Academy of Art University by David & Valentina Pfeil | studioDP2


Supriya’s work for The Bold Italic


The following is excerpted from an interview with David & Valentina Pfeil | studioDP2

What inspired you to pursue an MFA degree in Graphic Design from the Academy of Art University?

After about 5 years of working at design and branding firms in India, I felt a bit stagnant, and I wanted a new experience to lull me from that inertia. Also, none of my work looked anything remotely like the work I saw in graphic design books and journals, so I knew it was time to go back to school. I chose the Academy because it has a good reputation… so I just went for it.

Were there people or faculty who influenced or inspired you during your time in the School of Graphic Design?

Mary Scott… She is such a force to reckon with, I look up to her in so many different ways. Just being in her presence and watching her work is extraordinary. I didn’t have a class with her until my final portfolio class, but the learning from that one class still helps me today.

Phil Hamlett… Even as the Graduate Director, he has an encouraging and approachable presence. He talked me off a ledge many times.

Hunter Wimmer … An amazing teacher with a wealth of knowledge. I loved how his graphic design lessons were often life lessons. He’s a champion of american popular culture which was super helpful to me as an international student working in an american cultural context. I still go to him if I want advice on just about anything, not limited to graphic design.

What advice would you give to current or graduating students who want to pursue a career as a professional designer?

Find a company that does that kind of work and get an internship with them. You learn a lot just being around people who are doing the work that you would someday like to do. Internships often turn into something more lasting, whether thats a job or an important connection. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The assumption is that asking questions makes you seem dumb, but I’ve found that it actually makes you seem like the smartest person in the room. Always be kind and respectful. We live and operate in a very small universe, and word gets around. Never stop honing your craft and learning new things.


Supriya’s work from her fellowship at Chronicle Books


How have you built your career since graduation?

I was very lucky to be awarded the 6-month Chronicle Books Design Fellowship before I graduated. It was a wonderful and creative environment to work in, and provided a soft landing into the professional world. I’ve always loved books and publishing, and it was the perfect spot for me.

Unfortunately, the economy crashed right as I was I finishing my fellowship, so I fell into a freelance practice since there were no jobs to be had. What seemed like a terrible situation at the time, turned out to be a major blessing. I learned so much, both design and non-design related, and met a lot of amazingly talented and interesting people. If you do good work for one person, more often than not, they recommend you to their friends. I got most of my initial projects through Chronicle Books and the contacts I made there, as well as from Phil and Hunter at the Academy, who introduced me to a lot of people.

After about 5 years of freelancing, I was ready for a change. I felt like I was just using skills I already had, and wasn’t learning anything new. I also really longed to be part of a team. I joined Sunset magazine where I stayed for about 3 years. It was a very creative job, and the team there is really fun. I got to work with editors, photographers and illustrators, and it was all around a really exciting time.

After many years in publishing I felt the need to take the plunge and do something completely different. I now work at Tomorrow Partners where I work on predominantly branding and digital projects. Needless to say, every day feels like bootcamp with tremendous amounts of learning and flailing. I even took a basic javascript coding class this morning, and my mind may be permanently bent.

Who or what inspires your work?

Inspiration is everywhere: art shows, talks, engaging with the design (and non-design) community through conferences and events. People are doing some amazing things.


Student branding and packaging projects


Can you describe your process or thoughts on the graphic design process?

Graphic design is a very important profession because everything we create is for the consumption of a larger audience, and lives on outside of us. It has the power to inspire, delight, inform or provoke, and it becomes our responsibility to make the world more beautiful and easier to navigate.

I’ve learned to surrender to the process, and not fear it. It can sometimes take you to surprising places.

Type is a powerful thing. Even if you don’t have a budget for illustration or photography, you can craft an emotional message just using type.

I’m the type of person who colors within the lines, which is basically the opposite of every stereotype that exists about creative people. I embraced this aspect very early on, and so I learned to love the grid.

Every project starts with a pencil and a piece of paper. Always. I have to know what I’m doing before I can get on the computer.

You might remember that Richard S. Stephens, the founder of the Academy of Art, was also a Creative Director at Sunset magazine… tell us about your experience there?

The ability to craft narratives through visuals, be it photography, illustration or type is very empowering. It is so thrilling to hit upon a solution that feels right for the piece.

I hardly had the opportunity to collaborate as a freelancer. You get assigned your role and you perform it to the best of your ability. At Sunset, I get to work across teams of extremely talented editors, photo editors and illustrators. It makes for a such a strong, well defined product to have multiple voices and opinions. I get to sit in on story meetings from the very beginning, and that deepens my understanding of the story or situation. I get to be an editor too, and craft the narrative from a visual point of view, which is a very fun thing to do.

Magazine design keeps me on my toes creatively because you can’t use the same solution twice. Each story is different and demands its own approach and fresh eyes. Also, the typography is so important because there are so many levels of information on one spread.

Working at Sunset has given me the opportunity to work with my hands a lot more. We didn’t have a huge budget for typefaces, so often times when I don’t want to use the typefaces we regularly use for the magazine, I have to create my own. Whether that’s painting my own type, carving letterforms out of a sheet of rubber or creating elaborate vector type illustration, creating type is my happy place.

What’s next for you?

I like to keep learning new things and putting myself in new situations, even if it is super uncomfortable at first. I’m not quite sure where I’m going next, but it’ll definitely be new. The coding class I took may have opened some new doors in my brain.

Supriya’s work for Sunset magazine
Posted: Wednesday, June 1st, 2016
Filed under: Alumni Awards, Alumni News