During the last few weeks in Berlin, the street-side cafés and bars usually filled with art student regulars have suddenly, and significantly, emptied. As graduating classes have burrowed into their studios for a final flurry of preparation before their end of year university show, another presence has filled the city streets instead; the faces of 12 mint green, yellow, red, and blue characters with pink tongues have been staring irreverently from posters pinned up by café doors and pasted onto billboards.

These effervescent illustrations form the identity for Berlin’s University of the Arts (UdK) 2016 graduation show. For mainland Europe’s prestigious art universities like UdK, the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, and The Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (KABK), students—not outsourced agencies—are regularly selected to brand end of year shows. UdK, for example, after years spent working with an external company now rotate the branding between different design classes—so far the students of professors Fons Hickmann, Uwe Vock, and David Skopec have been involved, and this year illustration professor Henning Wagenbreth’s class took on the assignment. Every year a panel of judges then select which student’s pitch will come to fruition—this year, the colorful characters drawn and devised by Angelica Lizarazo were chosen.

“The sticking out tongue represents what lives inside of a creative or artist, and is then shown to the exterior world through work,” Lizarazo explains. For the last year, she worked closely with the university, shaping the idea with Wagenbreth and then creating 50 characters for the marketing department, who selected the final 12. The young illustrator then chose Favorit for the identity’s body typeface, providing the system with a sense of the contemporary, exuberance, and ease.

The responsibility of designing an identity that’ll represent the entirety of your year group, coupled with navigating and soothing a university’s PR and marketing team, is surely an intense one. It’s a wholly unique experience that must significantly prepare a student designer for the intricacies inherent in large-scale client relationships and the working world.

“I don’t believe that everyone has to identify with one concept,” says Lizarazo. “In the end I decided that instead I had to visually represent the idea of creative work. What my entire year group and me do have in common is this inner process of creation, which is shown to others.”

For KABK graduates Danicha Leliveld, Nina Couvert, and Sepus Noordmans, the pressure to please their contemporaries was great. “Graduates have been sweating the whole year, the last thing they want is to have a horrible poster represent them,” the three designers say. To address this they decided the concept had to be open and simple in order to appeal to all the different people involved.

The resulting KABK end of year campaign was based on the idea of “expansion,” and the notion that graduating is not just a “big bang” but an endless process of learning that continues well into working life—a process which begins when students first enter the school. Items like a slinky and a stretchy metallic sponge loosely communicate this concept.

This year’s identity for the Gerrit Rietveld Academie graduates, devised by Medeina Musteikyte, Daphne Spelier and Marie Louise, is bright and bold, as is to be expected from the famed art school. The 2016 design’s surreal and twisted trailer evokes hatchlings and their experience of moving limbs coherently for the first time. In a chilling, avant-garde way, the graphic design seems to communicate that a new crop of students are about to take flight.

Yale’s MFA thesis show on the other hand considered how, after two years dedicated to the development of a personal methodology, each designer will have to find their place within the market of design. Entitled More More, the identity and show concept centered around billboards, with each graduate creating a unique design to hang above the I-95 highway in New Haven, later displayed in a gallery. These “quasi-object[s]… exist in both the art and commercial context, from within and outside the institution,” thus reflecting the graduates’ own current state in the middle ground.

More More, MFA Graphic Design show website, Yale, 2016
More More, MFA Graphic Design show website, Yale, 2016