RIT MFA Graduate Wins ‘A Lot With a Little’ Award

Graphic designer Sarah Kirchoff’s ‘trash can’ project to be published in segdDesign

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A passerby inspects a display illustrating the problem of waste generation in America over the past half century.

Penfield designer Sarah Kirchoff received the “Lot with a Little Award” at the Society for Environmental Graphic Design conference called “Designing Change: Changing Design” held early June in Washington, D.C. The award was given to recognize Kirchoff’s thesis-design installations—completed while she was a student in the graphic design MFA program at Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Design in 2008.

Proof of the award existed for a finite time (2008) in three trash receptacles located in RIT’s Student Alumni Union. Kirchoff created the container installations with a series of messages in support of Earth Day 2008 while utilizing statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Society for Environmental Graphic Design jurors stated Kirchoff’s installations “used a high degree of skill and wit to convey the various environmental messages.”

As part of the award, the organization sponsored Kirchoff and her chief thesis advisor, Deborah Beardslee, MFA coordinator and associate professor in RIT’s School of Design, to attend the conference. The awards featured 43 winning projects chosen from a field of 430 entries.

“Sarah and I met weekly and I’m proud and inspired to have been involved in her project—for the depth and quality of the exploration itself, as well as the wonderful recognition it received from SEGD,” Beardslee says.

And as Kirchoff admits, the overall experience was a natural high. Besides delivering a pre-conference workshop to participants on developing a university-led environmental graphic design program, Kirchoff also received extra kudos: Details of her project will be published in an upcoming issue of segdDesign, the International Journal of Environmental Graphic Design.

“The experience of writing my MFA thesis was rewarding throughout,” Kirchoff says. “The written documentation and creation of the trash can applications were both labors of love and I received constant support from Deborah and thesis committee members. But recognition from the SEGD was an added bonus, the perfect way to celebrate my hard work at RIT.”

Note: The following is an excerpt from Sarah Kirchoff’s thesis available at RIT’s Digital Library at https://ritdml.rit.edu/handle/1850/6243.

“Garbage cans are often the center of pollution on an individual level. Three existing garbage cans were treated with a series of related messages and each used three groups of different incongruent format and presentation variables. Each garbage can interacts with the site or environment in a meaningful and incongruent way.

“The locations of the trash cans were deliberately chosen to be visible and public with ample pedestrian foot traffic and consumable items nearby. The three sites also represented a range of indoor and outdoor contexts with various, different features. The sites ultimately chosen all exist in RIT’s Student Alumni Union. This building is one of the busiest and most diverse contexts on campus, attracting visitors from off-campus as well as students and faculty from all departments.”