Elon University / Today in Elon / Live Oak’s creative team heads to Seattle for AIGA Design Conference


Accompanied by assistant professor of communication design Shannon Zenner, five students from Elon University attended what is billed as the “first conference for the design community.”

Matt Newberry ’24, one of five Elon University students to attend the AIGA 2022 Design Conference October 20-22 in Seattle, admits it’s hard to pinpoint a single highlight of the experience.

While attending the AIGA Design 2022 conference, held October 20-22 in Seattle, Assistant Professor Shannon Zenner and her students met a familiar face, Rachel Cifarelli ’21. Pictured (left to right) are Zenner, Cifarelli, Olivia Parks ’23, Ayla Brongo ’25, Matt Newberry ’24 and Ashley Stanbro ’23.

There were meetings with legendary graphic designers Paula Scher and April Greiman, as well as a connection with Elon alum Rachel Cifarelli ’21, who was also in attendance. He remembers leaving the presentations hosted by Radek Sidun and Kelli Anderson “absolutely amazed”. Plus, it was his first trip to the West Coast, made even better because he experienced it with other members of the Live Oak Communications creative team. Oh, and he also won the conference-wide coin toss.

When he’s in a hurry, the design and Spanish communication major, has set himself on one lesson he’ll take with him: there’s always something to learn.

“A key thing for me was the realization that learning never really ends,” Newberry said. “Even the top designers I learned about in my classes – whom I also got to meet at the conference – always attended each session to learn more about design issues and strategies. I was very inspired by that, with the idea that my journey at Elon is just the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

Elon’s students had the opportunity to visit a few sites, including the city’s most recognizable landmark, the Space Needle.

Olivia Parks ’23, Ashley Stanbro ’23, Sydni Brown ’24 and Ayla Brongo ’25, as well as Assistant Professor of Communication Design Shannon Zenner. The group’s travel and conference registration was funded by the student-run Strategic Communications Agency.

For Zenner, who is the creative advisor to the faculty at Live Oak, introducing students to the design community, both working professionals and budding graphic designers, has undeniable benefits.

“While we were in Seattle, the students came face-to-face with the world’s most influential designers, design scholars, historians and others, whom we had discussed so much in class and who had directly influenced their work,” said she declared. “In each session, students were exposed to the most important topics in the field, for example, the need for greater inclusion and accessibility in design, the use of design to promote social good and democracy, and how designers can learn to protect themselves financially and legally.”

Like Newberry, Parks was amazed by her experience in Seattle, including her meeting with Scher, the first female director of the famous design firm Pentagram. “She’s a designer I’ve admired for years, and having the opportunity to tell her in person how much her work has inspired me is something I’ll never forget,” the double major said in communication design and strategic communication.

Sydni Brown ’24 (left) was one of Elon’s students who attended the AIGA 2022 conference, and she had the opportunity to meet the authors of “The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression and Reflection “. “I had such a life-changing experience at this conference because I was exposed to more design than ever and for the first time,” she said. “I saw myself in many designers.”

Parks enjoyed hearing the unique perspectives shared by the designers in attendance, and she felt she had gained a better understanding of where a career in design could lead her.

“Seeing first-hand how many different creative career opportunities are available to designers – and how many are yet to be explored – has given me great hope for the future as I enter the professional world after graduation. graduating this spring,” she said.

Among those young designers who are still blazing their own trail is Cifarelli, a former member of Live Oak who is working as a freelance designer after graduating. The 2021 Elon graduate served as a volunteer associate at the conference, facilitating on-site logistics for the event. While Conference Associates work approximately 30 hours during the four-day event, there is a fee to register and they can attend conference sessions for free.

Rachel Cifarelli ’21 (center), a former student of Elon, joins other speakers on stage for the conference’s CRIT: A Live Review of Archival Work.

Cifarelli wasn’t just on the back either. The former student of Elon had the opportunity to speak on the main stage during the conference’s CRIT: a live review of archival work.

Zenner said she relishes the opportunity to share the world of design with her students at Elon, while also having the chance to enjoy the conference through their new perspective. But the professor was not just a chaperone. Zenner also presented his new research, titled “Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign: The Typography and Design of Local Political Yard Signs.” As part of her exploration of political signage, she has collected and analyzed over 400 examples over the past four years.

Elon’s contingent is seated together for a conference at the Washington State Convention Center.

“The interest and questions I have received from my colleagues in design and design education have let me know that others are also interested in the questions I am asking and trying to answer” , she said.

The student experience was not limited to the convention center of the conference. Prior to the conference, Zenner arranged a personal tour of the Seattle Public Library, where one of his former design students, Danny Ramirez, works as a graphic designer.


AIGA, the professional design association, advances design as a professional craft, strategic advantage and vital cultural force. As the largest community of design advocates, AIGA brings together practitioners, enthusiasts and patrons to amplify the voice of design and create the vision for a collective future. AIGA sets global standards and ethical practices, guides design education, inspires designers and the public, enhances professional development, and makes powerful tools and resources available to everyone.


About Author

Comments are closed.