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Meet the Valedictorian: Q&A with Jamie Vander Werf

Posted April 30, 2015 in Award Winners

2015 Valedictorian Jamie Vander Werf (Graphic Design) dishes on her creative  destiny, the importance of an open mind, and how she got the most out of her time at KCAD.

Jamie Vander WerfJamie Vander Werf

How did you come to KCAD?

Choosing Kendall was a pretty easy decision for me. I’ve loved art ever since I could hold a pencil, and I’ve always known that I wanted to go into a creative field. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. Before I came here, people had been telling me that I needed to go into art for a long time.

I started out in school doing sketches, and they were always well received, but then in my senor year of high school I actually started working with some of the Adobe programs and I was hooked. I knew then that I wanted to go into graphic design.

What were your first impressions of KCAD?

I liked that the campus was a little bit smaller and had more of an intimate atmosphere than larger universities. When I got into my classes and there were only 15-30 students, that allowed me to get more of a one-on-one experience with my teachers and ultimately I think, a better education.

student work by Jamie Vander WerfPart of a brand redesign for Blend magazine that Vander Werf completed in class (click to enlarge)

How did your perception of graphic design as a discipline change once you started taking classes?

My Graphic Design professors have worked in the field already, so they really know what they’re talking about. In high school, I really only scratched the surface of what graphic design could be. My first year here was a lot of basic training with Adobe Creative Suite, and once I had that foundation I was able to start getting into conceptualization and begin developing my own process and my own style. I started doing a lot of pre-design research and looking in interesting places for ideas and inspiration.

Out of all of the professional interactions that you experienced here, which had the biggest impact on you?

When Craig Walsh came to campus for the Career Symposium this year, he had some very eye-opening things to say about pushing yourself, but also enjoying what you do, to just have fun with your work. That’s stuck with me ever since.

What have you accomplished here at KCAD that you’re most proud of?

Developing my own style and process. I think my Concept Development class really helped me out a lot in doing that – we were required to produce 100 thumbnails for every campaign that we did, and that really pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me think deeply about the message I wanted to send with my final designs.

student work by Jamie Vander WerfRendering of a public ad campign for Amazon that Vander Werf devleoped in class (click to enlarge)

How would you describe your style?

Really clean - I like to keep things simple and leave a lot of white space in my work.
I also like working with photographs, whether it’s found imagery or taking my own photographs, which I love doing.

Specifically, I like working with branding and advertising the most. I enjoy writing, so it’s rewarding to create a voice for a brand as well as the imagery that goes along with it. It gives you the chance to work with all kinds of different media too, whether it’s logos, or ad copy, or digital media like websites and apps.

How do you find that voice?

It all comes down to research. You have to look into where the brand currently is and why it may not be working as well as it could. I always picture an audience first, and then learn as much as I can about that audience and what they might like. That drives everything about the messaging and style of your branding.

student work by Jamie Vander WerfRenderings of Quote Find, a mobile app that Vander Werf designed in her app design class (click to enlarge)

What kinds of experiences have you had outside of the classroom that have shaped you?

I’m someone who really likes to focus on my coursework, but outside of the classroom, the most valuable thing for me has been getting feedback from other people, whether it’s family, friends, or other creative professionals. I’m a shy person, so that’s not always the easiest thing for me to do, but I’ve learned the value of getting out of my shell and putting my work out there. Asking for help is the best way to push your work to the next level. I also like to do design work for family and friends on the side.

What’s the toughest criticism you’ve had to hear?

The toughest thing is hearing someone else tell you that a concept you think is working wonderfully isn’t working for them at all. When you spend so much time on a project, you get very attached to the concept you’ve created, and that can blind you a bit. That’s why it’s so important to get other people’s perspectives, because you don’t want to get stuck inside your own.

What’s your favorite memory from your time at KCAD?

Last fall, I took a Collaborative Design class called Dialogue in Personality, and I just love the memories we created as a class. We heard so many new ideas from the guest speakers that came in, and there was a very free atmosphere to the class. We would meet anywhere we wanted – inside or outside – to collaborate and move the project forward.

I remember one session at Ah-Nab-Awen Park where it was so beautiful outside and the ideas were really flying around. It was a really cool experience. I also got a lot out of working with students from other disciplines, because I know that’s the way it’s going to be in the workforce.

student work by Jamie Vander WerfMore from Vander Werf's Amazon rebrand class project (click to enlarge)

What does it mean to you to be named Valedictorian?

I’m still in shock from getting the letter. It’s definitely an amazing honor. I’m really humbled and blessed. I didn’t expect it at all, but it really gives me a confidence boost to know that all my hard work has paid off.

What advice do you have for students who are just entering the KACD community?

Put in the hard work and time. It’s important to make new friends and enjoy the whole college experience, but you’ll never regret putting in as much hard work and time into your studies as you can, because it will all pay off in the end. Balancing school, work, and a social life is a challenge, but it’s something you get better at as you go along, so long as you’re committed to your own development.

Also, go to as many events as you can. Every time I go to an event I leave with a ton of new things to think about. I enjoy hearing about what inspires other people in this creative field. Viewing amazing work from professionals pushes me to become better in my process and craft, because it’s critical that we all push ourselves out of our comfort zones to become better.


What are your plans after graduation?

I know I’d like to work in branding and advertising, and I’m pretty much open to anything. For now, I think I’d like to stay in Grand Rapids, but if something else comes along I’m open to that as well. I love to travel.

I think it’s really important to never stop learning. A lot of my teachers have been working in the field for a long time, and they tell us all about how much it’s changed. You have to be ready to change with the times. You have to be ready for anything.


Want to see more of Jamie Vander Werf's work? Visit behance.net/jamievanderwerf.

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