Alumni Spotlight: Brian E. Smith

Apr 05 2018

I liked SVA so much that I decided to stay! I’m senior art director at the Visual Arts Press—the in-house design studio for SVA. I also teach in the BFA Design program. I started working at SVA almost right after I graduated in 2006. At the VA Press, we focus on projects that strengthen the way our prospective new students become introduced to the College, as well as ones that enhance the culture of our existing students. There’s really no limit to the type or projects we initiate at our office. On any given day we’re working on fun tabloid publications that give a sneak-peek into the day-to-day life of an SVA undergrad student, or exploring new possibilities for SVA’s homepage, or working with a super-talented SVA alum to illustrate a art-walk map of Manhattan for our summertime CE students. Its all about collaboration at our studio, and working in teams of people that all graduate from SVA.

For my thesis I experimented with a completely new subject for me: apparel and product design. I aimed to reinvent bicycle safety gear. The current products in the market at the time looked like something your mother made you wear, and I wanted to elevate the aesthetics of this product, but not diminish it’s effectiveness. The department gave me the resources and confidence to attempt something totally new, and also taught me to reach out and collaborate with others. Without the support of MFAD, I would have never known how to attempt something like this!

You can poses all the brilliance and talent in the world, but if you cannot talk about and convey your ideas effectively (and elicit excitement) you will be brilliant and talented sitting at home. Venture Forum gives students a platform to showcase their projects to their peers as well as accomplished professionals. Its a rare and valuable experience of pitching your ideas for real!

My favorite part of SVA MFA Design is the camaraderie. I made the most lasting relationships of my career and life at SVA. Its wonderful that your instructors are some of the most accomplished and respected people in the profession. But the most beneficial and meaningful relationships that you build are with the people going through the program with you. You will grow and support each other beyond graduation, and the connections you make will offer the best opportunities in your career.

While attending the program, I learned to become comfortable being uncomfortable. The program forced me to work outside my comfort zone. Before SVA, I was too timid to try something I didn’t have a firm understanding of. You build the confidence to attempt any challenge and overcome any doubt that its possible.


Today’s designer needs to be versatile and have the ability to wear different hats within a project. It’s no longer enough to have the basic skills required of a designer even just 5 years ago. SVA MFA Design helps you uncover your abilities to tackle any project head-on, and develop a diverse skill-set. You’ll be able to start out strong with your career, and know what it takes to continue to evolve in our rapidly changing industry.

My advice for incoming students? Collaborate often on projects and try things that seem outrageous and inscrutable. This is the place to try lots of ideas without any real repercussion of failure. As is popular to say these days: failure is the best teacher. Don’t worry too much about what your instructors think, listen carefully, take their advice, but aim to please yourself.

See more of Brian’s work on his website.

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