Once a year at The University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM), a team of five design students sits down to select those that’ll replace them. They choose carefully from a stack of portfolios filled with sharp graphic works and eager cover letters. Then, they pass down the baton: five new design students begin work on the next annual issue of Pica magazine.
For 10 years now, the entirely student-run Pica has been promoting UQAM’s multidisciplinary art community and encouraging collaboration both locally and internationally. Each issue takes a different theme and then through a call for submissions invites image-makers to respond. While 60% of the final works are by students, the rest of the contributions are by practicing designers and established studios.
“Over the years, we’ve been able to build a certain notoriety because of the quality of the work that we present,” says the current editorial team. “It’s allowed us to become known in the Montreal design scene.” The platform has a solid relationship with A School, A Park for example, the summer school founded by Sean Yendrys, which it attends every year. Its notoriety also traverses the seas: Pica regularly collaborates with Pli Revue, a striking architecture journal based in Paris.
The look of Pica is certainly arresting and impressive, and despite its team’s annual rotation, abstract covers have helped to establish a sense of brand. “There is a certain tradition that every new team tends to want to keep, like the graphic covers and the format. Of course, they could be modified, but the unity of all the issues is probably one of the reasons why Pica continues to seduce its readers,” says the team.
The latest issue is themed “Risk,” which aims to explore what risk-taking might look like for a designer in 2018. Its Risograph cover, a hazy field of red and blue gradient, seems to gesture to the unknown. As well as abstract visual responses, this is the first issue to allow text-based contributions too. Student William Thibault interpreted the theme as “to dare”—which is to risk losing—he dared to use only virtual reality technology when designing his submission. Student illustrator Franco Égalité chose to use the theme to explore contemporary vector imagery.
Unlike a lot of student design—which often exists for and within an academic context—Pica encourages networking beyond the university. Its distribution in design bookstores and magazine shops also helps to circulate student work beyond school walls. We’ve seen this model before: from Germany, we have annual Some Magazine from Halle’s University of Art, Protocol from Berlin’s University of the Arts, as well as THNK TNK by students at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. This year, we also saw students from London College of Communication launch A Line Which Forms a Volume, which seeks to make design research public. For students of visual communication, a magazine is a unique vessel; it encourages collaboration beyond an immediate academic circle, and provides an opportunity to connect with the working world. And what better for students than to practice what they’re preached?