About VA301 Project Studio


VA 301 is the first part of a 2 semester long project studio course given at the Visual Art and Visual Communication program at Sabancı University in Istanbul, Turkey. This website is a collector of the learning material of the project that forms the main content of VA 301 which involves the progressive building of a big visual identity system comprised of many interrelated parts.This identity system is designed for one of 3 imaginary companies (or institutions) that students decide upon during the first week of classes.

The project starts with the design of a logotype, around which a branding identity consisting of visual elements such as typefaces, colors, shapes and icons is developed. This identity is then implemented into a range of items, starting with a classic stationery package, and continuing with a three dimensional project involving the design of a New Year’s gift. The students then progress to identity applications onto a range of other three dimensional promotional material, such as t-shirts, mugs, shopping bags, company vehicles and a range of other products that are related to the specific area of activity of the imaginary company. The range of items is then completed with the design of a website and a smart app interface.

Sabancı University is an interdisciplinary institution where entrants take classes from all disciplines during their first year; after which they are allowed only a limited amount of focus toward a future profession choice in their second year. The aim is to alleviate some of the shortcomings of the “multiple choice test” based educational strategies of the Turkish secondary educational system – and I will be the first to acknowledge that it is an approach that works.

The drawback in terms of a field such as art and design however is that under these conditions professional training, in the proper sense of the word, only commences in the third year of studies – which is the year in which VA301 (and its sequel VA302) are taken as required courses that are part of a sequentially taken series of classes which constitute the backbone of the VACD program.

At this point the students have only a limited amount of prior art / design studio education since they will only have taken 2 courses of Basic Design, and 2 courses of Drawing in the 2nd year, to which is added one Introduction to Typography class in the second semester of that year.

It is obvious that such a limited amount of introductory studio art / design education stands in stark opposition to a traditional art and design program where the first 2 years will cover a range of studio courses that gradually take students from the introductory levels to an interim state – after which in the final 2 years advanced material can be tackled with ease.

The outcome of this is that the structure of the university presents the instructors of the VACD program with a big challenge: We only have 2 and a half years to accomplish what others do in 4 years.

VA301 and VA 302 are classes that are structured with this challenge in mind: Being a part of the sequel of required backbone courses they make it their primary task to deliver crucial information by functioning as “fast speed” project classes that focus on what is considered to be the essential mission of design – creating cohesive visual systems rather than beautiful single objects.


Visual identity for an imaginary printing house called TakaTuka. Deniz Uncular. 2015/2016. 

While the VACD program offers elective courses where students can devote time to work in specific areas such as font design, illustration, photography, video, 3D modeling and animation and the like; the purpose of VA301, as the backbone course of the program, is not to delve into detailed, fine work that also involves the learning and perfecting of specialized skills. Instead, I try to show students how all of these separate elements such as typography, images, colors, shapes, etc can be brought together to work as components of one united system.

And since time is of the essence, since a big project has to be completed within the space of just a few months, the focus is not on creating all of these components by hand but rather to use online, creative commons resources which are brought together and manipulated in order to create original work. Thus, the font for a logotype is not designed by hand, but is found on google fonts instead. (Students who have an interest in developing such a skill can take a special advanced typography class for this, the VA 301 visual identity design project simply does not have the time to allow for such detailed work.) Similarly, if an icon or symbol is to be used for the logo, I do not encourage students to spend inordinate amounts of time designing it – I head them over to free online vector portals instead.

A second thing which I emphasize throughout the time that I spend with the students is the importance of research: Every professional conducts research in their field. And for graphic design this research is visual, it involves not only looking at but analyzing the graphic design output of well known designers. Therefore, an important part of the homework of the class is conducting a weekly written analysis of a graphic design work that relates to the phase of the project that they are at. When they work on their logotypes they are asked to analyze logotypes, when they reach designing the branding manual stage they are asked analyze brochures and manuals, and the like.

As the project progresses all sorts of other creative commons resources are also made use of: Mock-ups, templates, vector drawings, clip art sites, and free high resolution photography and video websites – find what you need there, among the literally hundreds of thousands of things that are floating around online it is unfathomable that you would not be able to find at least an approximation of it – but then bring it back and change it. Manipulate it. Combine it with other things. Make it your own. Spend your time not on painstakingly working out details, spend your time bringing together a system that hangs together as a whole, across a whole range of items.

Which is actually a very hard thing to do – especially for a novice designer. So, that is the very ambitious aim of this course. And the following posts will give you both tutorials as well as tips and inspirational examples – starting from the creation of a logotype and taking it all the way to designing a fully functioning website over the course of 1 and a half semesters. The tutorials will be completed with a special post on how to best display a big visual identity system online.

You can view the output of the past several years here: