Graphic designer Tessa Baum finds creativity through professional experience in quarantine


Photo courtesy of Tessa Baum

Annetta Stogniew, news correspondent

Engaging in professional work opportunities amid the pandemic was a daunting task for most first-year students. But graphic designer Tessa Baum rose to the challenge. 

Baum, a second-year communication studies and information and graphic design combined major, was introduced to graphic design in high school. She first experimented with design in a summer course at the Fashion Institute of Technology, or FIT. The day-to-day creativity of the class was refreshing for Baum, she said.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to do some type of art. I got into a design class and everything felt new and it felt exciting. I just really liked the flow of that better [than fine art],” Baum said.

After exploring graphic design at FIT, Baum sought opportunities to practice design for friends, acquaintances or simply herself. Northeastern provided a great opportunity for her to develop her design skills with its emphasis on hands-on experience and niche combined majors.

“Just as in the past [when] I learned by doing, I saw when applying to Northeastern that [the co-op program] would give me that chance to test the waters in a professional setting,” Baum said. 

Baum dove into the professional world by volunteering to design T-shirts for the Boston Student Film Festival, or BSFF.

Baum designed four T-shirts for BSFF, one for each key member of the filmmaking process: the actor, the director, the cinematographer and the editor. Each tarot-card-inspired design features a detail pertinent to the contributor’s role. On the T-shirts, the cinematographer holds a near replica of a Super 8 film camera to their eye, and the editor design is interwoven with relevant file types and editor lingo. 

To ease communication in the online setting at BSFF, Baum developed a design process modeled off the Double Diamond Design Process. This process entails exploring the task at hand to clearly define the problem, then finding and testing various solutions to settle on a final design. Together, Baum and the BSFF staff refined various ideas using Baum’s method.

“I have this little design process motto where it’s like, ‘Don’t leave white on the page,’” Baum said, emphasizing the importance of considering all big ideas before honing in on minute details.

Baum’s diligence impressed the BSFF staff. Hannah Wong, a fourth-year communications and business administration combined major and a producer at BSFF, especially admired Baum’s professionalism.

“Even after one meeting with Tessa, it was so obvious that she was not just an artist, but also a young professional who really knew her craft,” Wong said. “I’m a student filmmaker, and Tessa’s a student artist. … She was a great example of the way that I want to be perceived as a student creator.”

Working with the creative minds on the BSFF team was exciting for Baum, she said. The professional dynamic reintroduced her to aspects of design that she said she’d lost touch with during the pandemic.

“It was really collaborative; it was really nice to talk to other creatives. It was like we almost spoke the same language,” Baum said. “Especially after quarantine and not being able to fully go into school, it was nice to work with a team. … I forgot what it was like to socialize with other artists.”

The project was imbued with a sense of amicable collaboration. Wong explained that online creative communication can be difficult, but with Baum, this was not the case.

“For BSFF, we had to talk about the [film] scores together as a staff and justify our scores for each film. … It definitely feels a little more awkward through Zoom,” Wong said. “Luckily with Tessa, she’s extremely professional.”

Despite her formative experience with BSFF, Baum remains unsure where her design career will ultimately lead. For now, Baum has been appointed as a design strategist at Scout Labs, where she will aid in ideation, research and prototyping designs.

“[My career] might look like becoming an art director,” she said. “But I’m finding that I want to expand upon my process of design and how or who I work with before I zero in on an industry or job title.”

However, Baum credits the BSFF T-shirts as the project she’s most proud of to date. Looking back, Baum said that the experience allowed her to grow into herself as a designer, while still maintaining elements of her personal style.

“This was really validating for me because now I feel just so much more confident with my work. This isn’t as scary as it felt a year ago,” Baum said.

The BSFF T-shirt project served as an introduction to the Boston art community for Baum. As the academic and professional worlds begin to reopen, Baum intends to further explore the enhanced creativity of interpersonal artistic interactions.

“The physical and visual components of art classes were what I missed most in freshman year. Now, I am ready to jump back into in-person classes,” Baum said. “This year is about connecting to Boston and the community.”