Visual Presentation Lab Rises to Pandemic Challenges

Here’s what happens to a well-equipped workshop that not all students can’t get to during a pandemic: New instructional videos to aid students confined to home; new ways of creating those videos; extra attention for the students who need to be there.

Workshops and labs across the FIT campus have faced challenges with different approaches. And yes, some have closed during the COVID lockdown.

The Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design (VPED) Lab in ACO8, is one that has stayed open and expanded its instructional materials to include more than 40 staff videos now on the shop’s website.

VPED Lab (pre-COVID)

“This Lab is the program’s greatest resource,” says VPED Professor Anne Kong. “It enables students to realize their designs in the studio courses that teach hands-on techniques. Students see their designs go from sketches and renderings to a dimensional piece; this provides a greater understanding of production and installation, which is a critical skill for our majors.”

VPED lab (pre-COVID)

Steven Ceraso VPED/CDP Technologist has worked on-site throughout the fall semester. “We learned that the lecture part of classes can be taught remotely. This allows the lab to be more accessible when students need access to tools, machinery, and work space,” he says.

“For students who didn’t have campus access we supported them by producing their work and mailing it to them. This allowed them to work with deliverables at home,” says Prof. Kong.

“They watched some of their projects produced virtually,” she said. “In the spring we plan to continue this process for our majors.”

VPED Lab (pre-COVID)

Says Ceraso, “We made adjustments like wearing masks, social distancing, and curbside pickup for some projects.  We make it a point to be professional and accomplish goals efficiently. Communication with students actually improved.”

The students often emailed ahead about their ideas before meeting in the shop. That wasn’t always the practice previously.

The start of Himeka Murai’s design process

“I was able to work more cohesively with individual students, and that trust and understanding was apparent on all sides,” says Ceraso who is also a Continuing and Professional Studies instructor and creator of a course in furnituremaking.

Working with smaller, more focused groups was a “great experience,” he says. “Witj classes scheduled remotely, we expanded our hours. Students that had to be there and could manage the logistics often accomplished things with fewer restrictions and less waiting time.

VPED student Diana Rico, ’22, was an RA for the only dorm open during the fall semester, so she was able to spend time in the studio. For an assignment for Professor Glenn Sokoli’s Three Dimensional Construction, students had to recreate a company logo made only of wood.

Diana Rico’s in-store sign in progress

“I chose Savage X Fenty, a female-empowering brand,” says Rico. “Their logo is just an “X” but I wanted to celebrate the items they sell, so I made the overall logo in the shape of a woman and used the original “X” shape to look like a lace-up corset,” says Rico.

Diana Rico’s in-store sign in progress

“I started with the Illustrator file, then moved to the foam model, then cut the pieces out with the help of Steve and the CNC machine, then painted and put it all together.”

Rico’s project “involved complex cut parts,” Ceraso said. “I helped her redesign the original artwork because it didn’t match up with the limitations of our CNC [computer numerical control] machine tools. We both learned a lot!”

Says Rico, “I loved working on this project and can’t wait to do more 3D stuff next semester.”

Diana Rico’s in-store sign for Savage X Fenty

For an assignment for her Foundation in VPED class with Professor Samiel Laury, Jasmine McCulloch built an octagonal, 15” tall model for an outdoor dining space.

McCulloch mastered the mitered spline joints and calculated all the dimensions and angles. The materials are plywood and solid wood, all from scraps of leftover wood already in the shop.

Jasmine McCulloch outdoor structure

Communication Design student Himeka Murai, ’22, worked on a project for Prof. Kong’s Foundation in Visual Presentation class. It is for an in-store display, constructed from discarded pallet wood.

Himeka Mura’s indoor display in progress

The design is based on traditional architecture, but also uses complex angles and wood joints.

“It’s great to have a dedicated student want to build something this complicated and spend so much time working on it,” said Ceraso. “She was learning the craft of joinery while she was working on her project.”

Himeka Mura’s Muji lantern for indoor display

Murai said “it was a long journey, but I really enjoyed the ride. I am glad that I decided to push forward with what I had planned, even though it looked impossible at the beginning.”

Suki Wong ’22, worked on a sign project for VPED professor Glenn Sokoli’s 3D Dimensional Construction class. Nearly two feet wide and made of wood fiberboard, it was done by programming the shapes on the CNC.  “There was also much staining and finishing involved. We used leftover stains and Suki did several tests on different pieces first,” Ceraso said.

Suki Wong’s Chuya Chups product sign in progress

“Using the machines on campus helped with the majority of this project, as well getting guidance in problem solving,” says Wong. “It is a different experience than I could have imagined, between attending remote classes and getting on campus to work on big projects,” says Wong.

Detail from Suki Wong’s product sign in progress

With the help of Ceraso and her professor, Wong was able to source materials on campus. “Professor Sokoli and I were able to cleverly figure out how to use less material to create this sign,” she says.

Suki Wong’s final sign project

Like many technologists working at FIT, Ceraso is a designer himself. A sculptor with graphic design expertise, he works with fellow technologists N’Ketiah Brakohiapa and David Halbout on developing instructional materials. They built a video dolly for live-streaming shop demos with an old MacBook and other equipment in the studio.

“It has worked out fine for the time being. This impromptu assemblage made me think about how to make this device more capable,” Ceraso said.

Video photo dolly

They are creating content about working safely and effectively in the Design Lab and D425 Print Lab.

“The current situation makes us consider new methods of working. Providing detailed interactive materials and how-to videos will benefit our students in the future,” says Ceraso.

Steven Ceraso in front of computer-controlled shop equipment.

To learn more about the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design (now called Spacial Experience Design) major go to VPED at FIT.

To follow Himeka Murai on Instagram go to: @Himeka_Murai; Diana Rico: @Diana_Rico; Suki Wong: @s_wong94; Prof. Anne Kong: @Anne_Kong; and Steven Ceraso at:

All images used with permission.

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