Quick Tips: Graphic design thesis and/or final project advice

Thesis/final project questions come up rather frequently. What should I make for my thesis or how do I apply my topic to design artifacts? How can I connect this to graphic design? The following tips don’t really address those specific questions. This list is concerned with the beginning. Even before you even start. Some of them sound harsh, and you will end up ignoring most of them, but they come from experience and there is some wisdom here.

Two big questions you should keep in mind:

1.What is worth doing?
2.How do I do it differently?


Stay small/not too big
Big in the sense of how much stuff. If you are going to redesign the wayfinding for the US National Park Service, choose one monument, not the entire country. You will be better served with a small refined project than an overly ambitious unfinished one.

Do something you like
It needs to be something you like, but not necessarily personal. You will be involved with this topic for a long time. Even after you are done you will need to discuss it. Burning out will be easy. Pick a topic you have affection for. Heavy, emotional, or depressing topics should be avoided if you think there is any chance you might not be up for it.

Be modest
Be careful about trying to change the world or reinventing the wheel. Innovation is rare. Focus on iteration. Noman Peale does not apply in this context, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” This is not a time for aspiration. It is a time to work.

Ideas that are current
Your topic should relate to contemporary design practice, and/or current events or trends. This is not equivalent “trendy.” Even if your topic is historical ensure it is transferable and relates to what is happening in the profession or the world now. A thesis on World War II propaganda posters is not useful unless you can connect it to today.

Things that designers do
In the same way, this is not the time to change who you are, it is also not the time to attempt to redefine the profession. Keep your focus on the things graphic designers do.

Frame and Context
Don’t leave your work to float around in some theoretical space. Ground it in reality. How does it interact with what exists? Provide context.

Super specific is better than general
This is your opportunity to show you can drill deep on one topic. Focus. Be specific. It is much easier to expand if need be than try and truncate once you are in too deep. It may seem counterintuitive, but it is very difficult to be too specific.

Words matter
When you think you have a reasonable statement and direction, iterate it. Rewrite it. Over and over. With synonyms, from Different in what way?different perspectives. Besides refining, rephrasing your statement can get to other ideas and perspectives

The literature
You need something to research. Ideally, you want to carve out your own space in something that already exists not open brand new ground. Is there literature that covers your topic: are you going to be able to do research?

Can you access the thing?
This is self-explanatory. “How can moondust be used in sustainable design practices” is probably a bad idea, not because moondust isn’t useful, but because you don’t have access to moondust.

Have a critical position
This is important. What is your take? What do have you have to say? This is part of what a graphic designer does. Effectively communicating a specific point of view. Say something.

You are not the first
Research and read what others have done. Ask your advisor/professor to suggest theses/projects they consider successful. Use them for cues on scope, structure and the statement.


Not the time to remake yourself
It might feel like a good time to reinvent yourself. With a big project, you can make some changes, fix things, be a better you. This is not the time for that. Make do with the “you” you have now. Change things later.

Structure the project to your working style
Build your project around how you work. If research has never been your strong suit, do not select a research heavy topic, make lots of things instead. If you are a procrastinator or a workaholic, plan accordingly. Work to your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.

No new learning
It is the not the time to learn new complex skills or tools. If you have never used 3D modeling software before, now is not a good time to learn. If all the literature is in German, now is not the time to learn German. Unless your project is specifically about skill acquisition, stick to what you know.

What do you want to do after graduation?
Taylor the work for where you want to go. This is where the danger of making it too personal can reveal itself. For example, you have ADHD and structure a project that explores how graphic design might aid those afflicted. The best intervention you find is an app. This is a bad path to start down if you have no interest in being an app developer. If you want to work at Google focus on something Google cares about.

Evidence to show potential employers
While your work may have some academic value it also needs to have vocational value. Your thesis should be a reason to hire you. This work should display your skills, work ethic, and critical thinking. It is not successful unless it helps get you a job.

A schedule is your friend
A good schedule is as important as a good topic. Make a schedule and stick to it. Include time for a final presentation, printing, making artifacts; whatever the deliverables are. There are three major reasons your project might fail, bad topic, bad schedule and bad execution. A good schedule can help smooth bumps from the other two.


Good luck.