Graphic Design and Marketing Major Named One of Graphic Design USA’s Students to Watch

By Tom McLaughlin

Growing up, recalls Kelley Brennan, she was “insanely inspired” by her father, John, an illustrator by trade with whom she shared a deep appreciation for the arts.

Meanwhile, says the Rutgers University–Camden senior, her mother, Rosemarie, an accountant, taught her a strong sense of structure, organizational skills, and the business part of things.

Brennan is one of only 73 students to be selected nationally and the only current student from a New Jersey institution to be named one of Graphic Design USA’s Students to Watch for 2018

In time, the Marlton resident developed artistic sensibilities and career pursuits that were, well, a perfect marriage of the two sides.

Fast forward to the present day, as the double major in graphic design and marketing was named one of Graphic Design USA’s Students to Watch in 2018. The honor is given annually to students from America’s leading art and design schools who are tabbed to make a grand entrance on the graphic design scene.

Brennan is one of only 73 students to be selected nationally and the only current student from a New Jersey institution. Ruben Garcia, a graduate of Rutgers–Camden’s graphic design program, was also named.

“I am incredibly honored that people are connecting with my work, which is what I am trying to do,” says Brennan. “Words can’t express what it means to me.”

In many ways, it’s quite fitting that words can’t crystallize Brennan’s thoughts, for it’s the same approach that she takes with her artwork. Utilizing a “minimalistic” style, she explains, she prefers to use structure, shapes, and juxtaposition to convey her messages.

“I don’t use words to communicate my messages,” she says. “I want my work to mean something to you. I want you to feel it.”

Borrowing from her marketing background, Brennan regularly reaches into her toolkit of marketing strategies – not to sell products, but to make viewers aware of how these strategies are influencing and potentially manipulating them.

“I want to deconstruct what is happening and make people realize how they are often being brainwashed,” she says. “People are routinely convinced to buy products, but they don’t know why.”

Brennan says that she prefers to utilize a “minimalistic” style, using structure, shapes, and juxtaposition to convey her messages.

According to Allan Espiritu, an associate professor of art at Rutgers–Camden, it is Brennan’s ability to offer a fresh perspective by combining advanced graphic design skills and exceptional conceptual thinking – one highly critical of the business aspect of graphic design – that is getting her noticed among her peers.

“Her work is very smart,” says Espiritu, head of the graphic design concentration at Rutgers–Camden, who has taught Brennan for the past three years. “She is examining marketing, but she is flipping it on its side. It’s a simple approach, but one that works and is getting her noticed.”

Looking back, says Brennan, she had initially intended to focus solely on marketing, not knowing much about graphic design, let alone realizing that it was a viable career choice. However, that all changed when she took a couple graphic design courses during her first year.

“I said to myself,” she recalls, “‘I need design in my life.’”

Soon ideas of adding a graphic design minor gave way to pursuing it as a major side-by-side with her marketing degree. Admittedly, says Brennan, it was a little unusual at times alternating between her art classes, where her creativity and expression were free to roam, and her marketing courses, where she focused on strategizing and condensing her messaging.

Espiritu soon took note of her artwork and hired her as a freelancer at GDLOFT, an award-winning graphic design studio that he founded and leads in Philadelphia. While there, Brennan did promotional work for the University of the Arts, as well as various nonprofits, including Impact Services, an organization that provides workforce development and veterans services in Philadelphia.

As for her parents? Brennan says that it has taken some time to explain to them exactly what she is doing with her academic pursuits and how one discipline is complementing the other.

“My mother had a hard time understanding the art aspect of it, while my father didn’t quite get the marketing part of my work,” says Brennan with a laugh. “I tried to explain to them that this is how I communicate, by putting these two disciplines together.”

In addition to her artwork, Brennan is currently working on her graphic design thesis, which focuses on consumerism and the roles of various marketing strategies, such as reverse psychology, bombardment – intentionally inundating consumers with product messages – and scarcity – a technique for making products rare and harder to obtain.

Brennan – who works at Tunes, a music store in Marlton – has gained a fascination with music-related art, including vinyl and CD covers, and promotional materials. The graduating Rutgers–Camden senior now has aspirations of creating art in the music industry, perhaps designing album covers.

Whatever she does, Brennan says, she wants her work to speak to you.

And it’s that expressive, yet focused, approach that is making her a “Student to Watch.”

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