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Student Spotlight: Oliver Smith (MASD ’23)

Oliver Smith, a Furman University M.A. in Strategic Design student from Seattle, Washington discusses their introduction into the field of design and the support, mentorship and cooperation he has experienced while studying in the program.

Tell us about your undergraduate degree, and how you came to Furman.

My undergraduate degree is basically like world religions or comparative religions. How I came to Furman was I came to Greenville with my friend Noah who’s also in the program. We didn’t know about Furman or the program, but we ended up kind of finding our way to campus and into the art building, looking at the gallery, and thinking, “that’s really cool.” A couple days later, Noah sent me a link to this program and he’s like, “Hey, I think you need to do this. I think I need to do this.” I was like, “Alright, why not?” So that’s how I ended up here. 


What have you learned about strategic design through your first semester?

Ah, that’s a great question. I’ve learned that like, everything is design. I think what I’ve learned through all of these different courses is how to develop the lens through which I’m viewing the world. Through the things that I’m learning inside class, I’m paying attention outside of class, and now I’m seeing things that I just wasn’t paying attention to before. Seeing things in the real world and seeing how it matters and why it matters. Using strategic design as a means to understand what is going on in the world around us, why some things are working or why some things are not working and how we can use principles of design to eliminate some of that friction and solve problems in the real world.


How would you describe your learning experience so far?

They pretty much throw you in the deep end and just go for it. For me, that definitely felt like a lot of drowning at the beginning. It’s really hard, but honestly, I think that’s the best way to learn. 

I’m someone who has a lot of self-limiting language, like “oh, I can’t do that yet” or “I don’t know how to do that.” By the instructors just being like, “nope, you’re gonna go and do this and if you have questions you can ask us” and that sort of thing, it’s pushing me a lot further than I would normally go. I would reach a comfortable stopping point because of self preservation and whatnot, but I think that this program is helping me push through that. Then, because I’m in this really fertile area now, working on all this stuff, I can see that I can do these things. It’s building a lot of confidence and a feeling of competency with doing things.


How would you describe your relationships with the instructors?

Super good. Everyone is very down to earth and very warm and wanting to meet you where you are. There’s no sense of any sort of patronizing. A lot of people are coming in with not a lot of design skills, so there’s no sense of people being pretentious or anything like that about what you do or don’t know. I would say it’s kind of a chummy environment. Everyone’s approachable. They also go out of their way to make themselves accessible. So yeah, they’re here to help, and they really know what they’re doing and are really good at the areas that they’re teaching. 


What has been your favorite project you’ve worked on so far?

I think the most recent project that we did was for Argument and Visual Narrative. The class is all about discovering yourself and your identity, so we’re kind of  using ourselves as the subject matter. In that project, we wrote five pieces of copy. Some of them were poetry, some of them were prose or narratives. That was basically like therapy for me. Then, we created a visual element and that was also very therapeutic. I made a collage on a skateboard. I hyper focus on things when I get into something and I just like fell down this rabbit hole. That was all I thought about or did for many, many, many hours. I really liked that. It was really fun and rewarding.

I was not expecting to, like, have a therapy class. I think if I didn’t have that, if there were three classes and one of them was not a therapy class like Emily’s, I would be in trouble. You know what I mean? It’s nice to have that as an outlet between the other two classes. Because you’re still creating things and learning things, but it gives you space to process and work on things that you need to work on.


What is something you did not expect about the program?

There’s so many things. I talked to Bethany (’22) and Abby (’22) both before the program and asked “what should I know?” They told me, it’s a lot of work, and I was like, “okay, yeah.” Then I  got here. Grad school is intense, but it is also a lot of fun. I don’t think I fully realized that. 


How would you say having a diverse group of perspectives and backgrounds and your cohort has benefited you in your class?

So much. I think of it as kind of like a garden. You need to mix things up. Keeping the soil healthy keeps all the plants healthy. I feel like that’s what’s happening with our program. Everyone brings a lot of different skills and assets, and so it’s really helpful that everyone’s got their thing. Through our projects, we see where people really shine. We can all reach out and lean on each other with that. It’s also a lot more interesting, because everyone’s bringing their backgrounds with them and that is obviously really influential for the projects they do, how they do them, the approaches, the viewpoints and all of that. Classes can be stressful, and there’s a lot going on, but we can laugh a lot and have a lot of fun and get the support that we need to get stuff done.



Furman University’s Master of Arts in Strategic Design is a resourceful program that provides students with the necessary skills to have a successful career in branding and design. For more information about Furman University’s Master of Arts in Strategic Design program, click HERE.