Diverse design studies in an international environment

Vu Thanh Chu is a 5th semester graphic design and visual communication student at HMKW Berlin. Here he talks about his favorite study projects, his plans for the future, and shares some advice with future design students.

Vu-Thanh Chu, student of B.A. Graphic Design and Visual Communication.

Vu-Thanh Chu, student of B.A. Graphic Design and Visual Communication.

What comes to mind when you think about your studies at HMKW?

When I think of HMKW, several things come to mind: The international students from all corners of the world, the professors and lecturers, a hybrid student life between lockdown and presence, and my personal development in design and mentality.

Then again, I'll also forever associate HMKW with the white space car, a non-official term from Prof. Andine Müller's layout seminar for observing appropriate spacing between elements on a page.

Why did you choose the "B.A. Graphic Design and Visual Communication" study program?

In order to understand my decision well, I need to present my entire background story on this. Because all my life until shortly after I graduated from high school, I believed that I would go into medicine. Unlike most people who are in this field, my incentive was only to appease my parents. Because they always had other plans for me and always indirectly and directly talked me into studying medicine. After I received my high school diploma results, which were good, but not good enough for medical school, I decided to look for a study program myself.

After convincing my parents after a stormy back and forth with a possible life plan with a career in design, I started looking for a university with a suitable course of studies. It was important for me to study in an international environment, because I originally wanted to leave Germany and I always felt more comfortable expressing myself in English than in German, which is why I chose Berlin and then HMKW. Since the study program "Graphic Design and Visual Communication" of HMKW contains many areas of the design field in the curriculum and I had no specialization at that moment.

At the beginning I registered for the English course of studies, which could not start that year because of the pandemic, which is why I then registered for the German course of studies, because I was told that there was also the possibility to write English texts for submissions.

Which seminar/project have you enjoyed the most so far?

My favorite seminars and at the same time favorite projects were Film and Post Production and Motion Design. In Film and Post Production I was able to produce my first own short film called "A Journey Within". "A Journey Within" is a fantasy short film with horror elements, which tells the story of a employee working from home who is trapped in a grey repetitive everyday life. The short film was conceived, shot and edited by myself, and conveys my personal ideals and values through a surreal story without spoken words.



In Motion Design, the final assignment was to create an instructional video. My video, titled "The Tale of Chopsticks", deals with the history of chopsticks as the title suggests, but also their cultural significance. My animation doesn't only linearly explain the content but conveys the information through a story that could be in everyday life, excluding some minor details. My reason for choosing this issue is growing up in Germany. I've been confronted with normalised racism towards Asians many times, especially in my school years.

In addition, I was also able to personally deal with my own cultural background, which, at least based on my experience, does not often happen with children from families with an immigrant background due to assimilation into the dominant culture. Anyway, these are my two works that I am very proud of, because as I said, these were my very first own major projects in this field.



Furthermore, I would like to mention the seminar "Basics of Interface and Interaction Design", which required us to build an online store for an impossible product in Figma. My store "The Alleyway Dream Shop" sells dream tickets, i.e. tickets with which you can choose what you "dream of" the next time you go to bed. I also put a lot of time into this work, accompanied with a lot of stress. It was not a compulsory seminar, but the Chinese elective course also helped me a lot, because I could also deal with culture there.



What has been the biggest challenge during your studies so far?

The biggest challenge for me during my studies was to find a compromise between my personal style and what is professionally desired. Because as you can see from the previous lines of text, I am a person who hates to be restricted. This was the core problem for me especially during the layout seminar. You could say that this has been the foretaste of the working world, where you have to stick to a given pattern or to special wishes of the customers.

Now your bachelor's thesis is coming up soon - do you already have an idea what you want to work on?

Until now, nothing is definite. All I have are thoughts that I've bookmarked for when the time comes around. But as you probably noticed, I'm very enthusiastic about the cultures of the world, so I probably want to go in that direction.

As a practical idea, I've been thinking about redesigning various passports. Creative designs like the northern lights in the Norwegian or the Finnish one becoming a flip book containing a walking moose are the stars in the world of passport designs. However, I'm also very keen on video production and animation, so I don't want to make a final decision yet.


How is life in Berlin? Was it easy for you to settle in? Would you like to stay here?

For me, at least from the environment, life is completely different from what I was originally used to, because I was born and raised on the island of Rügen. In Berlin, you can quickly find most of what you need at the moment nearby, while on the island you have to order rarer or more precious things or buy them on your next big city visit. Therefore, living in Berlin is more comfortable when it comes to such materialistic matters. I also like the international and diverse population in Berlin. Therefore, you can always discover and try something new, which is one of the advantages of living here. On the other hand, because there are so many people here, I always have in mind how I appear to the outside world.

However, I would not want to consider Berlin as a new home, rather as a stopover in my life. Because one of my life goals is to emigrate to Japan and spend the rest of my life there. I like the culinary situation, the art, aesthetics, philosophies and landscapes much more than anywhere else. No other country has given me such a yearning to travel or even live there. This sounds very glorifying, but I am also aware of the more real and negative sides such as the natural disasters or the overworking of employees and the mental and physical health damage that comes with it, to name two examples. I also realize the need to learn the language and the three writing systems. But if you want to emigrate, you have to accept the hurdles. No matter where you live, the coin always has two sides.

What advice do you have for students who are thinking about studying Graphic Design and Visual Communication at HMKW?

They should keep in mind where they stand. It's important to define ideals and goals that you can hold on to, in times of uncertainty. Even if they then change during the course of your studies, those ambitions are what define you in the end. Because in our design field, we are constantly bombarded by opinions and rules for a certain corporate, and on top of that, trends are constantly changing. That's why it's easy to get lost in the crowd and eagerly chase after what's popular. This is not to say that it is wrong to have role models, because they are always a good source of inspiration.



My intention is to make clear that only if you constantly stick to your personal style, develop it further until it can even contribute to the professional field, you will find success in this way. This is something that no one tells you before you start studying design. It is therefore also something I am currently working on during my studies and can therefore well understand the frustration on the way to becoming a professional designer. But if you constantly change for others and sell yourself, then at the latest when the whole world conspires against you, you don't even have yourself anymore.

What are your plans for the future?

I am a person with too many goals and too little time, so in the future I want to put my free time into completing my own personal goals and projects. These include improving my skills in graphic design, motion design and video editing. In fact, I'd rather go into video production in the future.

Further as I see Berlin as a stopover in my life, in an ideal world the next stop would be in South Korea to improve my skills in video production further and possibly work for a few years. I really like the quality of videos there, especially music video production, which is why I'm drawn there. From there to Japan or Vietnam to visit the rest of my family is not far away. Furthermore, I also plan to expand and improve my language skills with regard to my goals. In any case, the next step for me in the near future is to complete my mandatory internship.

Thank you very much for the detailed insights into your studies. We wish you all the best for your graduation and career start!