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College of Arts and Sciences

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USC’s student-run design studio nurtures creativity and industry experience

A new student-run design studio is helping undergraduates gain hands-on experience, build connections with real clients and learn how to manage a studio space.  

For students like Semaj Shaul, the School of Visual Art and Design studio experience is more than just a class; it's a way to bridge classroom experiences with the design sector. In his second semester with the studio, the senior graphic design and illustration major has worked with clients including Cola Love, We Believe Women and the Decoda music group.  

Shaul emphasizes the valuable lessons learned through collaboration and adaptability, which he plans to bring into his upcoming career in user experience and interface design work.  

"Having the chance to work with diverse perspectives and expertise has truly refined my skills," Shaul says. "I've learned the importance of patience and flexibility, especially when it comes to meeting the evolving needs of clients." 

SVAD faculty member Stephanie Nace says that learning adaptability is a cornerstone of the studio's ethos and a skill acquired through experiential learning.  

“The students must balance their school life with managing real clients who are depending on us and figure out a work-life balance, all the stuff that’s not so fun but is just as important.” 

The students must balance their school life with managing real clients who are depending on us and figure out a work-life balance, all the stuff that’s not so fun but is just as important.

- Stephanie Nace

The studio's success lies not only in its ability to foster creativity but also in its commitment to real-world problem-solving. From collaborating with renowned musicians to refreshing branding for local businesses and organizations, students engage with meaningful projects.  

As Shaul and his classmates have learned first-hand, not everything goes according to plan when designing for clients, and learning to navigate shifting deadlines and client expectations is a crucial aspect of professional growth. 

Under the expert guidance of faculty mentors like Nace, students navigate the intricacies of project management, setting goals and meeting deadlines. However, the students drive the creative process, showcasing their talent and initiative with every project they undertake. 

Creating the studio space is a goal Nace has thought about for nearly two decades, and looking ahead, she remains committed to nurturing the next generation of creative professionals. Created through support from the McCausland Innovation Fund, she hopes to eventually expand the studio to welcome even more students. 

“A success would be for someone off the streets to assume these are professionals because the work is that good,” she says. “I'm continually impressed by the dedication and professionalism of our students. They not only meet but exceed expectations, demonstrating a level of maturity and skill beyond their years." 

Open to students from any major, the course promotes inclusive learning and collaboration. Whether developing a custom typeface for a website or crafting a social media strategy for a musician, students gain hands-on experience that reaches beyond their majors. 

Sara Otera, a junior design and illustration major who’s in her first semester in the studio, says having different perspectives from students outside of the design field has been helpful. 

“It’s important to have people in the chair who understand how design will play out on the web,” Otera says. “As the new person, you worry that your work isn't good enough. But it's been great to have others to lean on, to bounce ideas off of and to offer encouragement." 

For students accepted into the course, the journey promises to be transformative, offering not only invaluable experience but also a sense of community and camaraderie. 

Junior design and illustration student Kristen Issa plans to go into magazine and print design after graduation. And while professional development is a major plus for her, what she appreciates most about the studio space is the community she’s found in her peers. 

“It’s like having an internship where I get to work with all my friends. I get to be creative and am so excited every day to be in my major.” 

Interested in joining the design studio? Email Stephanie Nace at and checkout @uofsc_thedesignstudio on IG.  


Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.