Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna, a fall 2019 graduate of the MFA in Graphic Design program, sat down with a VCFA staff member last year to discuss her VCFA experience. Excerpts of the conversation are below.
ON THE PATH TO AN MFA
I have a background in strategy in advertising. I loved it, but I wanted to get to the other side, the creative side. So I got my bachelor’s in graphic design and continued to work as a designer in an agency. It was very brief-oriented, and somehow I think I missed the design thinking part of it: the reading and research. I was also thinking about teaching, and wanting to hone my design-thinking skills. I was in a place in my life that I wanted more than just clients and a regular paycheck.
ON FINDING VCFA
I was looking at graphic design programs, and one thing that was stressing me out was that I would have to take a break from my career. I’d spent years working in an agency and wasn’t sure how to take a break – what would happen to happen to the financial responsibility I had to my family? Then I came across the low-residency program, which was amazing, and when I realized Matt Monk and Ian Lynam were faculty members here that was it. VCFA was the only school I applied to.
ON CONNECTING WITH VCFA FACULTY
I constantly have had to remind myself that they are faculty members and not friends, or therapists, or design partners — that they are actually our mentors. To establish those multiple hats in one relationship, and to feel so safe with the kind of work you do, it’s phenomenal. And it’s amazing how much that has applied to my teaching, as well.
ON LIFE AFTER VCFA
I recently changed jobs and joined an architecture and design firm called Perkins+Will. They are a global firm, but I work in the Austin office, and I am the regional lead for branded environments. We brand environments that the architects and interior designers design and build. It’s very exciting and the projects are fantastic. It’s a different kind of design that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. But I think to blend in with what they’ve built and design experiences within the built environment is super, super fascinating.
ON THE UNEXPECTED
I started the MFA program to hone my design skills, but in retrospect I feel like I have grown more as a human being than as a graphic designer — which is not a bad thing at all. I think everybody takes away the same amount of design education, but what comes with it is that you grow as a person. You grow as a thinker, which I was not expecting and which has been life altering.
THANK YOU, SHRUTHI!
Above: Shruthi’s thesis exhibition “Under the Influence — Enter the Void,” Fall 2019