Assistant Professor Guy Villa Jr. on Design, Teaching, and His Latest Award-Winning Design Projects

Columbia Assistant Professor of Instruction tells us about how he got into Design, his latest projects, and how those projects inform his teaching.

Assistant Professor of Instruction Guy Villa Jr. has been at Columbia College Chicago for 14 years. Currently, he teaches a variety of Graphic Design courses including Publication Design, Typography, Information Design, Book Design, and College Magazine Workshop, a class he co-teaches with Betsy Edgerton that helps students in both Graphic Design and Journalism produce the international award-winning Echo Magazine. Villa has also served as the Coordinator of Graphic Design and as the Internship Coordinator for the School of Fine and Performing Arts. He tells us about the class that made him switch majors leading him to pursue Graphic Design and about some of his recent projects.

When did you first become interested in Design?

I first became interested in design when I was a freshman at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Originally intending to major in Film Making, I took a required Graphic Design course as part of the Foundations Program. I had a great teacher who really inspired me and encouraged me to switch to Graphic Design. In this class, the focus was on collage and composition using found materials. All too familiar with the consumerist and service side of design, I found the approach of this course to be unconventional and exciting.

How do you bring your experiences into the classroom?

My course assignments and accompanying goals are typically based on projects I’ve worked on myself and found rewarding. With each assignment, I understand and guide students through the vital process of discovery as they experience it themselves.

Why did you choose Columbia College Chicago?

Columbia is a well-known school for the creative arts located in the heart of a great city. It has a diverse population, and it’s at the forefront of creative arts learning in the Midwest. 

What is the greatest challenge of working in or teaching Design today? How have you approached overcoming that challenge?

Whether it’s a client or a student, a great challenge is educating them about the expanse of possibilities in acquiring an outcome. It’s important for me to impart how not to depend on automatic or default conventions, because they only reach foregone conclusions.

We hear you’ve won several awards recently. Can you tell us about some of these?

My projects in the realm of exhibition catalogs, packaging, books, and experiential design—created in collaboration with my studio partner and sometimes others—won a number of significant national and international awards in the last three years. In particular, the catalogs were ones I designed for exhibitions organized by Meimei Yu of Alcove Gallery, which is housed in the Efroymson Media Center at Columbia. One was developed in collaboration with Debra Parr called “Dada, Futurism, and Surrealism.” The catalog design won several awards, including a Silver Award from Graphis Design Annual, which showcases international excellence and exceptional talent in design. The other catalog was a collaboration with Niki Nolin, for “I See Pixels.” It also won several awards, including one from Creative Quarterly, an international journal focusing on promoting the best work in graphic design, illustration, photography, and fine art. Both Parr and Nolin are faculty in the Art and Art History Department at Columbia.

What are some of the projects you have worked on that you are most fond of?

"Chicago Design Milestones" is a project that I’m really proud of. It was a collaboration with the Chicago Design Archive and the University of Illinois at Chicago for 150 Media Stream, an international platform showcasing new media with innovative technology. “Milestones” was an animated experiential work that brought to life the evolution of Chicago design over the last century. The project won a half dozen awards, including the Award of Excellence from Communication Arts, a professional journal honoring design excellence. Another honor was winning the Platinum Award from Creativity International, which is one of the longest running, independent advertising, and graphic design competitions. It showcases leading-edge design from across America and the world.

What projects you are currently working on?

The same group of us that created the “Chicago Design Milestones” project are collaborating on new work for Art on the Mart. Also, my studio partner and I recently completed a collaboration with Jay Meyers, an alumnus of Columbia and the Assistant to the Chair of Design. We developed the typography direction and titles for his upcoming film, Three Eras.

What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing Design?

In the process of design, don’t shy away from discomfort and unfamiliarity. Embrace mistakes and take chances! Expanding the way you think and make is essential to your growth.





Daisy Franco
Communications Manager