Design students win big in national competition

Nathan Sullivan and Michael Barger, two Portland State University graphic design students, were recently chosen as finalists in a national kite design competition sponsored by SMART Papers.

A specialty paper company, SMART Papers held the competition in conjunction with the Smithsonian Kite Festival, advertising in various design magazines and requesting original designs from students and professional designers from across the nation.

Themed “100 years of flight,” contest entry designs ranged from a simple picture of a new moon to a giant, green, tree-shaped air-freshener.

Entries totaled between 500 and 600, and out of those, 30 finalists were chosen, Barger said. He and Sullivan were two of seven student winners, most of the entries having been designed by professionals.

Barger described his kite design as a simple, flat picture measuring approximately 4 feet by 5 feet.

“It’s a guy from the past, probably the last century,” he said. “He’s in a suit and pretty old, but he’s wearing a pair of wings that he made and is trying to fly. He’s just jumped into the air and realized that his wings aren’t going to work.”

Describing his model, a box kite design, Sullivan said it was “an eye opening, starting with a closed eye and ending with a scared eye,” meant to chronicle the “eye-opening” experiences associated with the history of flight.

When professor Elisabeth Charman first asked her sophomore-level Graphic Design 1 students to design their own entries for the competition, she had no reason to anticipate any of her students winning.

“I heard about the contest, and it sounded fun,” she said. “It was a quick project, three weeks, which is pretty amazing.”

“At first it seemed like a joke,” Sullivan said. “But then two of us were notified. I was surprised since it was a national competition.”

Barger explained that he was surprised as well, but for different reasons.

“I was surprised because I didn’t put a lot of effort into it,” he said. “And my teacher gave me B-minus.”

Sullivan explained that the most trying part of his experience was the three-day process of re-creating his 8-pound, 4-foot-wide kite to send to Washington, D.C. in re-constructible condition.

“It took me about 40 to 50 hours to put it together,” he said. “I almost didn’t even finish because it was so exhausting.”

Sullivan was eventually chosen as one of the 10 grand-prize winners, receiving a four-day, all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., where he attended a recognition ceremony in the Arts and Industries Building of the Smithsonian.

He described the experience as “definitely exciting,” especially with protests being staged in the capital across the street from his hotel, causing him to arrive two hours late to the event.

All 30 finalist designs were on display at the Smithsonian Institution through March 31.