Featured Alumni Featured Students Success Stories

Graphic Design Student a YETI Featured Artist

Zaine Vaun is a recent graduate from the Graphic Design program at ACC. This past semester she was selected by YETI to be a featured artist for their “Artist Series”of customizable drinkware. YETI customers can choose from five of Zaine’s unique nature-inspired designs to customize mugs, tumblers, and water bottles. I met with Zaine over g-chat to discuss her design process and what it was like working for such a huge brand.

Zaine’s nature-inspired style makes her a perfect fit for outdoor brand YETI’s Artist Series.

Zoe: First of all, congrats on being a featured artist for YETI!

Zaine: Thanks, it was a really fun project and I felt honored to contribute to their Artist Series.

Zoe: How did you get connected with this opportunity?

Zaine: Well, the Associate Credit Director reached out to me and asked if I wanted to participate. And of course, I said yes. I think I came on their radar via Instagram, but over time I became friends with them. I don’t think that is the only reason I got hired, but I’m sure it helped!

Zoe: That’s amazing! What do you think caught their attention?

Zaine: I think I’ve done a good job of creating a niche for myself. I focus a lot on creating work that uses animals and nature as a main subject, which works well with outdoor companies like YETI.

I also have a pretty unique style, that is illustrative yet graphic. So I think they saw potential in how it could be applied. When an image is etched on a product it has to be pretty bold and simple, and work in just one color. I guess they saw that my style would work for that.

Zoe: I do see how your brand/niche and YETI’s brand seems like a natural fit! Were these designs that you already had on hand, or did you create them specifically for YETI?

Zaine: I created them specifically for YETI.

Zoe: What was the prompt that you were given, and what was your inspiration for these designs?

Zaine: The prompt was “High Desert”. When we met for the first time, they showed me a few different pieces of mine they liked and kinda just let me run with it.

Since this was an “artist series,” they had chosen that prompt for me specifically because it jived with my other work and common subject matter.

I drew inspiration from my time in the Southwest… Colorado, Arizona, Texas. I have spent most of my life in the more arid desert regions.

There were five designs commissioned, and so I had to be choosy about which animals I displayed. We played around with a lot… coyotes, hares, snakes… it was hard to decide!

The five we settled on were: bighorn sheep, mountain lion, collared lizard, gambel’s quail, and roadrunner.

The initial sketch phase of the project helped to narrow down the unique style for the designs.

Zoe: I think my favorite design is the Roadrunner! How did you narrow it down to those five animals?

Zaine: It was a combination of trying to find a balance of representing the animal kingdom and attempting to choose the designs that felt the most unique. I really loved the coyote, but it’s a little overused to represent the region.

Reptile versus bird. Predator versus prey… that kind of thinking. Comparing the demographic that may choose one over another. Lots of thoughts on that sort of thing.

Zaine drafted designs for many different desert animals before narrowing it down to the five animals featured.

Also, just which ones we thought looked the best played a role as well!

One that didn’t work very well and didn’t make the cut was a peccary. It’s a type of wild pig; they are cute in real life, but it was hard to make it look cute.

We did three rounds of designs, the first being a variety of sketches that approached the project in different ways. From there we homed in on the approach we wanted to take and which animals to highlight. The last round was just a few small tweaks to make them compatible with the etching machinery.

Zoe: Have you ever designed anything for etching onto a rounded surface before? If not, what did you learn from the process?

Zaine: Nope, this was my first time. It was pretty easy since YETI already knew all the specs. The big thing was just making sure the line width and spacing were to spec.

Otherwise, it is as simple as making a vector graphic. The cool thing is that YETI actually has a place on their website where anyone can upload anything they want (to spec) and make a custom mug or whatever. Mine are also available of course, but anybody can do it!

Zaine had to ensure that her designs met specifications for etching onto metal.

Zoe: Wow! I didn’t know that; that’s pretty cool! Other than making sure your designs were to spec, how did you approach the designs for this project? Did you have to take into account the way that the etching appears on the various colorways of the products? 

Zaine: Yes, I definitely had to take into account how it would look etched. My designs use quite a bit of texture, lines, dots, etc. Since there was only one color I wanted to make sure they still felt dynamic. When I was deciding on the patterns to use I had to play around with whether they would be inverted or not, and how that would work with the etching.

Doing mock-ups was a helpful tool for checking my work along the way and for showing the client what to expect.

Zoe: Was it a challenge to be so limited with how you could approach the design? Or did you enjoy having those limitations?

Zaine: I enjoyed the limitations. Boundaries create opportunities to explore new ways to approach my style. It kind of puts it to the test in a way.

Also, I knew what they were expecting, which is helpful. But they gave me complete artist’s freedom within the boundaries as well.

Zaine’s designs are often characterized by texture and pattern, which helped make the single color designs more dynamic.

Zoe: It sounds like YETI was pretty good at collaborating on this project. Was it intimidating at all to work for such a big company?

Zaine: They were very good at collaborating and made me feel welcomed and appreciated. It was a little nerve-wracking getting on our first call with everyone in a conference room… but I was put at ease pretty quickly.

Zoe: That does sound like it could be nerve wracking at first. Do you have any advice for other students heading into their first client meeting like that?

Zaine: My best advice is to take ten minutes or so before the meeting and just refresh yourself on who you will be meeting, their names, positions, et cetera. Maybe refresh over the emails or whatever you have already talked about so that it is fresh in your mind. That always makes me feel more prepared.

Additionally, remember that whoever you are meeting with are just people too, and there’s a reason they want to work with you, so act with confidence!

Zoe: Good advice for any situation! Especially job interviews!

Last question: Do you have any advice for students looking for opportunities like this or just looking to get their work out there in general?

Zaine: Yeah! It’s all about the time you put in. You have to make a lot of stuff to get good, and you have to share a lot of work to be seen. Showing consistency in your work allows potential clients to feel like they can know what to expect from you, which they like. So, making a body of work is good for that. Even just a series of ten things can help.

Also, there’s so much out there to learn and absorb in the design world. You have to be proactive in educating yourself with what is important historically or on trend currently.

Lastly, make friends and be friendly! There is no substitute for real-life friends and mentors.

Zoe: I love that. It’s the connections that make all the difference, in your career, and in your life.

Find Zaine on Instagram: @zaine.vaun

Visit Zaine’s Website:

Featured Students Success Stories

Viscom Student a Finalist in CA Typography Competition

Sophia Chow is a graphic design student graduating this semester from ACC. Her Kana Whiskey Packaging project was recently shortlisted for the Communication Arts Typography Competition. I met with Sophia over g-chat to discuss her design process and her experience with getting her work out in front of an audience.

Zoe: First of all, congrats on being a finalist in this prestigious competition! How did the Kana Whiskey Packaging project come about?

Sophia: Oh, thank you! I’m flattered. The Kana Whiskey packaging initially started off as a class project in my Design Studio I class. The concept was to create a high-end liquid bottle, and what’s more high end than fancy alcohol? 

I knew I wanted to do whiskey because I myself am a whiskey drinker, but I also wanted to create something that was different from what was already out there. My initial research confirmed that whiskey has a history of being a man’s drink, so I wanted to flip the switch. I know a lot of badass boss ladies who love to drink whiskey as well and that’s how the concept came about.

Three Kana Whiskey bottles.
Sophia wanted to create a whiskey bottle that evoked feminine beauty and power.

Zoe: I love that! I don’t drink much, but when I do, it’s whiskey. When I saw your design I immediately thought that this is the bottle I would reach for first.

Sophia: Oh awesome! See, many awesome women drink whiskey. It also doesn’t have to be a male versus female thing since gender is fluid, but I wanted to honor those women and honor just… feminine beauty and power. 

Zoe: Is that how the idea for the tiger came about?

Sophia: Well, yes. The tiger actually has several meanings. I was searching for a symbol that stood for fierceness and power, and badass. I also thought it paired really well with whiskey, which can be warm, yet fiery, yet soft at times. The tiger fit that perfectly. 

They are tempestuous yet calm, warm-hearted yet fearsome, courageous in the face of danger yet yielding and soft in mysterious, unexpected places. Tigers are very confident, perhaps too confident sometimes.

Also, in the Chinese zodiac I am a Tiger. It stands for power and respect in Chinese/Cantonese culture.

Zoe: That’s something that makes this design so unique. I feel like whiskey bottles are always reflecting back on Scottish or European influences, so this design really jumps out because it has different influences. How did you approach the idea of pulling inspiration from something so opposite of what we normally think of for whiskey?

Sophia: Well I actually had a lot of inspiration from the Japanese whiskies out there, but, especially since this is a school project, I wanted to create something that reflected my culture and background, which is Cantonese. I drew inspiration from the Tiger Balm ointment I used often as a child but wanted to elevate it to become more high-end. 

The name Kana is actually a Japanese name. It’s a gender neutral name meaning powerful. So I wanted to follow the Asian inspiration throughout but make it Cantonese instead.

I also love meshing seemingly opposite styles together like vintage and modern to create something new and fresh.

Zoe: Now I need to google Japanese whiskey!

Sophia: You need to try Japanese whiskey if you like whiskey. They’re all so good and subtle. I recommend Suntory whiskey to start haha.

Zoe: Awesome! So this design was shortlisted for the Communication Arts Typography competition. How did you approach choosing the typeface?

Sophia: Choosing the typeface was a long journey actually. I went through several iterations where I tried out different typefaces. Most of the high end whiskey bottles out there are using a fancy serif typeface because I guess that screams “high end.”

I tried the fancy serif, I tried the modern sans serif look, and I even tried a psychedelic typeface at one point. I was initially also looking for a vintage looking typeface.

All in all, I ended up choosing a thin sans serif typeface called Tropican. It had a lot of cool ligatures and looked clean yet fancy in a subtle way. Also the ascenders and descenders looked really nice.

Zoe: Yes, I noticed that, especially on the “Citrus Rye” label around the ‘u’ in citrus.

Close up of the typeface on the green Citrus Rye label.
The sans serif typeface, Tropican, is both clean and ornamental.

Sophia: Yess. I think that’s what made me fall in love with this typeface

Zoe: So would you say that that’s your typical design process? To try lots of different iterations until you land on one that you like?

Sophia: Yes, my way of designing is that I literally spit out a bunch of terrible designs until nice ones start coming out, haha. I feel like I always have so many ideas that are completely different from one another. I just have to create them to see how they’d look outside my own head. Then I can examine and think about what’s working and what’s not and narrow my decisions down slowly. It’s a long process but it works for me.

Zoe: I relate to that! Sort of like you have so many different possibilities, and you need to explore each one to see what works best.

Sophia: Yes

Zoe: So once you were happy with the design, what motivated you to submit it to the CA Typography Competition?

Sophia: Actually, my teacher at the time, Lisa Haynes, suggested it to me. I didn’t even know about these competitions, but she saw the potential in me and my design and encouraged me to submit it. I’m forever grateful to teachers like her.

It encourages me to put myself out there to show others (and my inner child) that someone who looks like me can also be celebrated.

Zoe: That’s awesome that Lisa encouraged you to submit! What was the submission process like?

Sophia: I had to put my whiskey bottles in a nice mockup, all flavors in one photo and then write a short blurb about it.

Zoe: Were you nervous to send it out to be judged?

Sophia:  Hmm… nervous? Not really… Is that bad? 

Zoe: Not at all!

Sophia: I was more excited than I was nervous. I feel we need more teachers out there who encourage students to share their work and be proud. I’m also in Portfolio class right now, and we are learning about how as a graphic designer or artist in general, it’s really important to share your process more than your final product. You never know who might learn from your struggles, or learn from the lessons you’re currently learning, or learn how everyone has a different process. 

I’m an introvert at heart so I know what you mean about being nervous to put yourself out there. But the more you do it, the more you’re like… “oh, this isn’t so bad”. I try to think of it in terms of anyone can learn from where you are right now. Also, I find it encouraging when people who look like me are celebrated, so it encourages me to put myself out there to show others (and my inner child) that someone who looks like me can also be celebrated.

I’m honestly super honored and flattered to even have someone suggest I put my project in a competition. For someone to notice my talents felt great no matter the outcome.

It’s really important to share your process more than your final product.

Zoe: That’s awesome! What advice do you have for other students who want to get their work out into the world?

Sophia: My advice for other students who want to get their work out there in the world is just to get their work out there in the world! We’ve got so many platforms to share your work. 

Post your process, not just the final outcome. Write about what you’re learning about. Write about what you’re struggling with. Offer advice to help others. Share resources. Just put yourself out there and be generous with your knowledge.

Zoe: I love putting it in terms of being generous. It kind of takes the focus off yourself, which helps, I think!

Sophia: Yes! And also have fun 🙂 haha.

Zoe: Sophia, this has been a delight. Thanks for making the time to chat with me! Where can folks find you?

Sophia: Yes, thank you for chatting with me. It has been a pleasure. 


Instagram: @sophiachow_designs


Featured Students Success Stories

How one UX Student Landed Her Dream Job

Angela Cerrillo is currently in the second semester of pursuing her degree in User Experience Design and she just landed an exciting new job with Zello, a push-to-talk communication app for frontline workers. I met Angela over g-chat to discuss her career goals, and any advice she may have for other students looking to start job hunting while they’re still finishing up their degrees.

Zoe: Tell me about your new role at Zello.

Angela: I’ll be starting as a “Bilingual Product Advocate”… In this role I’ll be providing technical support for users as well as gathering/synthesizing vital user feedback in English and Spanish to share with the team in order to promote continual improvement and innovation of the product and company. 

Upon interviewing, the company was excited to learn about my academic progress in UX Design through ACC and in particular about skills I’ve already acquired through the program (in Professor Bahrani’s excellent Responsive Design course) such as HTML, CSS, accessible design and a comprehensive understanding of WCAG 2.1 standards. Furthermore, as I continue my education at ACC, the company will allow me to shadow and collaborate with the Design team until I’m ready to transition into that department.

Angela on the job
Angela in her new workplace.

I’m so grateful to ACC and their wonderful professors and faculty for helping me get a job with possibility for career growth in a field I’m passionate about–for the first time in my life. I really didn’t think I could land a product design entry level position until the end of this program. But, the program has given me valuable marketable skills from the get-go and I’m only delighted to continue growing my skill set and network through ACC’s UX Design program.

Zoe:  That’s amazing! What made you interested in pursuing UX as a career?

Angela: Well, I got a biology degree and after graduating quickly realized that it’s difficult to get a job that will pay you a livable wage with that. So after years of grinding in startups and healthcare to get by, I took a step back to really look at my interests, strengths, weaknesses, and to make a new game plan. I’m a visual artist and creative person so I was initially interested in UX/UI due to the visual design qualities of the career. Then, I got even more interested when I saw the full scope of the field and possibilities to work in many different industries. It’s a growing field, well paid, and creatively stimulating. That’s everything I’ve realized I need from a career at this point in my life.

pastel self portrait of Angela
A self-portrait of Angela.

Zoe: UX is so interesting in that it attracts so many different types of people with different backgrounds. We have students who are entering the program straight out of high school, but so many others who are like you coming into the field after a career pivot. Is that something you’re finding at Zello? What are the backgrounds of some of the people you’re working with?

Angela: Yes, that’s so true! UX design is so interdisciplinary. You have everything from user research to business communications to visual design. So it does attract all sorts of people. Today was my 5th day at Zello, so I’m still meeting people on the team. The only UX Designer I’ve spoken to at length was actually in the UX Design program at ACC and has a graphic design background. So that was a great connection to make!

Zoe:  Amazing! Our students are everywhere! You’re right that UX has so many facets to it. Which is why it’s difficult to boil it down at times. In your own words, how would you describe UX? (Tough question, I know).

Angela: vision of UX is constantly evolving as I go through ACC’s program. To me, UX is about understanding human struggles and needs and then coming up with solutions. Everything around us is designed by humans except for nature. So, UX is all about making our human-designed world better for humans. Otherwise—what’s the point?

Zoe:  I love that! So you just started at Zello, which is so exciting! How did you get connected with this opportunity?

Angela: Yes, I’m stoked to be there! 

I had been searching for a job for three months and got to a point where I began applying to anything and everything. That included jobs that I felt I was underqualified for but that featured a Product Design or technology aspect to them. I must’ve applied to over 200 jobs. So, I applied to Zello after seeing the job post on LinkedIn which emphasized their need for a Spanish speaker that could work at their HQ in Austin among other things. I got an interview by (in my perspective) a stroke of timing-related luck and was able to tell them that I was studying UX Design at ACC and about my career aspirations. They loved that and right away told me they were willing to support my education and training in UX. It wasn’t networking. It was just applying to hundreds of jobs and being at the right place and right time for them to see my application. Applying for jobs can be a brutal numbers game at entry-level. I feel so lucky!

But it just occurred to me that having “currently studying UX Design at ACC” on my resume and LinkedIn profile probably helped pique their interest.

Zoe:  I understand that struggle of applying to lots of jobs! It can be brutal, but also amazing when you find the right fit! I’m sure Zello is thrilled to have you.

On that note, what advice do you have for other students who may be looking for work in their chosen field while they’re still in school?

Angela: My advice is to really play up what you already know in job interviews and on your LinkedIn profile and resume. If you’re already taking courses that are field specific, then you have an advantage! Also, job searching is crazy and some days it feels hopeless. BUT remember that all you need is one “Yes”. I got rejected about 15 times (after the interview stage!!!) before I got an offer. It hurts to be rejected but you have to keep trying.

Zoe:  That’s so true! And to echo what you said, the fact that you’re taking classes is an advantage! So many students view that as a negative. But being in school, and showing that you’re growing your skill set sends all the right signals to an employer. Play it up as an asset! 

Angela: Truly! I interviewed at companies that rejected me because they thought I’d leave once I finished school or that I wouldn’t be dedicated to them or their schedule. However, I was probably dodging a bullet by not working at those places. I think that any company worth your time will see your education as an asset!

Zoe:  That is a good point. A big part of any job search is finding the right fit, and making sure the company also aligns with your personal values, which can take some time.

Last question, where do you see yourself in the near future, career wise? More broadly, what are your hopes for the future of UX Design? (Another tough one).

Angela: I see myself as a UX apprentice for a while, getting real-work experience while I study in the evenings. Over time, I’d love to work in the music industry as a UX designer.

As far as the future of UX…

My hope is that the industry attunes its aspirations to designing for a cleaner, healthier planet for the sake of the future generations of all beings. Already, this needs to be a key pillar of good design for any UX Designer.

Zoe:  I think it will be your generation of designers who will foster that change.

Angela: Well, I hope I can live up to my own expectation!

Zoe Anything else you want to share?

Angela: One last thing, I’m just a big ol’ goof so if I can do this–you can too! Please reach out to me if you want to talk UX, art, life or anything else!

ZoeThat’s awesome! Where can people reach you?

Angela: @ghoul.friendd on instagram! I post art on there from time to time too.

ZoeI’ll be the first to give you a follow!