21.svg : The Origin Story

The genesis of the unprecedented design MFA thesis show

Marisa Watanabe
Published in
11 min readMay 3, 2021


*record scratch*

You’re probably wondering how we ended up here. If you must know, 21.svg was conceived in the spring of 2019 (before the four of us knew each other existed) when we were accepted into the Tyler Graphic and Interactive Design MFA program for the following fall. All we knew was that we were stuck with each other for four straight semesters, for better or for worse, whether we liked it or not. Luckily, it turned out that it was for the better and we liked it.

Every year, Tyler GAID MFA graduates put up a show as a culmination of their two-year practice at the program. And so in the spring of 2020 (a year ahead of our show), we began to joke about what our show could be about. We threw some ideas around (notably: 3D printed heads [we just think they’re neat]; 21 Savage [in reference to our graduation year ‘21]); Earth Wind and Fire’s “September” [🎶 do you remembah 🎶 the 21st night of Septembah 🎶]). At the time we were half-joking, but in the end, 21 Savage was the idea that stuck (our slack channel is even called #21savage). Though these unprecedented times held a lot of disadvantages towards our graduate experience, it inevitably forced each of us to seek comfort from one another by spending probably way too long gossiping and joking and critiquing on Zoom.

The 21.svg Manifesto

21.svg is more than just a thesis show. It’s a state of mind. It’s the concept that represents the 4 of us as a group, each of us as individuals, and demonstrates how we collaborate. It highlights the uniqueness in our individual interests and skillsets.

21.svg is Kat Brissette, Justine Kelley, Wenqing Liu, and Marisa Watanabe (we hope you take note of the order since we worked pretty hard to keep it consistently in alphabetical order by last name), Tyler School of Art + Architecture’s Graphic and Interactive Design’s MFA graduates, Class of 2021.


If we had the time and energy, we’d dig up and show you all the Slack messages we sent each other with random ideas for what to do with our show. But, take our word for it, we had many, many ideas (as a compromise, a screenshot of our ridiculous, chaotic, enormous Miro board is below). In the end, we decided on three main factors:

  • Process ⇒ Each of us always enjoys looking at and unfolding the process of design; we’ve spent hours talking about it with one another and sharing our sketches, iterations, and techniques with one another.
  • Variety Show ⇒ Because these times and grad school were so stressful, we wanted to keep the mood light while highlighting each of our personalities, interests, and designs.
  • Website + Social Media ⇒ For ease of access during the pandemic, we just decided it was best to forgo an in-person thesis exhibition and have our work showcased on tylerdesignmfa.com/2021 and @tylerdesignmfa Instagram.
The Chaotic Miro Board


When we say that we are interested in design process, we really mean it. We even begged one of our professors (Paul Kepple) to talk to us about his design process for over an hour because we were so interested in learning more about how he approached his practice.

So, how would we bring this theme into our show, you ask? The idea was to take our time showing off how we developed our show and brand. We had grand ideas like having weekly updates to showcase our brand and website progress. Note: this didn’t happen because the pandemic and graduation stress were too real. But, even though we couldn’t make that happen, we still wanted to give a sneak peek of our process and how we built 21.svg. We utilized Instagram stories and posts to create video reels of our brand development and showed a dissected look into the brand on the STELLA online gallery.

Variety Show

The term “variety show” was still just a twinkle in our eyes (we credit Paul Kepple for bringing up the term “reality show,” which then evolved into “variety show”) when we decided that we wanted the brand to underline each of our differences, unique interests, and unprecedented approaches to our design practice. This was important to us because, despite our differences, our strengths individually and collectively shine when we combine our forces (kind of like Power Rangers). It really came together when we thought about taking Buzzfeed quizzes, doing mad libs together, having title cards, and other silly things. These silly activities worked as a way to bond, relieve stress, and also show off our personalities in our show.

Deliverables (Website, Social Media, STELLA, and Medium)

Now, you’re probably wondering: What actually is 21.svg? It’s pretty simple: a website and a social media campaign. The website showcases our individual and group graduate projects while the social media would showcase us (individually and collectively) and our design process.

However, as time passed, we really wanted to take advantage of all the online resources that were available to us. We worked with Kati Gegenheimer and Tyler’s web team to set up a mini online exhibition on the STELLA Online website. This was a way to promote our show along with having an online archive at the Tyler School of Art + Architecture to make sure we left our mark and our legacy. Plus, we developed this lovely Medium article that you’re reading right now further showcases the process of how we developed 21.svg.


The Original Name Ideas


After lightly considering some other names for our show, we decided to jump in full force into the silliness that was our original idea: 21 Savage. (Not to mention that “Savage” seemed to be the word of the year in mainstream media — from Megan the Stallion to Jason Derulo.) But, to make sure we differentiated ourselves from the rapper and other mainstream media properties, we threw a bunch more ideas into the wind to see what stuck. In the end, Marisa’s spouse half-jokingly suggested, “What if you just took the vowels out of ‘savage?’” And so 21.svg was born.

It was fitting. “.svg” was both an homage to the original inspiration of the name (21 Savage) and also a reference to the file type specifically built for web vector graphics (AKA, Scalable Vector Graphics). Considering we were doing an online-only show, using a file extension as a part of our show name was so obvious that we only wished we had thought of it sooner.

And, duh, 21 stands for ’21, as in the Class of 2021.

Tagline + Verbiage

Everyone’s calling these times of the pandemic “unprecedented.” According to Merriam Webster, unprecedented means “having no precedent,” which is probably the most frustrating type of definition (using a variation of the word in the definition that in no way informs what the word means). Anyway, if you look up Merriam Webster’s definition of precedent you can infer that their definition of unprecedented is “of having no earlier occurrence of something similar.” Considering that there had never been a Tyler GAID MFA show solely online (much less during a global pandemic), it was entirely too fitting to include the overused word in our brand. So of course we had to use it.

The lexicon and the wording of “unprecedented” led to us thinking of more (what we’ve been calling) “ultra-supreme” words to include in our branding. Words that people generally understand the meaning of, but don’t really use unless they want to be dramatic. And we wanted to be dramatic.


We wanted to make a statement with our show and also needed to make a statement about our show. What better way to accomplish both goals than by making a manifesto?

The Main Logo


We went through weeks of logo sketches trying to think of a logo that would get the “ultra-supreme” energy across. How much did we want to lean into the file extension gimmick? How much did we want to emphasize “unprecedented”? What sort of graphic elements to include? Should it be “unprecedented,” “an unprecedented thesis show,” or “the unprecedented thesis show?” On the spectrum between calm and funky, how funky should we get? So many questions to ask, so little time.

The final logo we settled on is simple but packs a punch. The orange burst has 21 points, Ribes (“21.svg” typeface) has just the right amount of funk for a reverse contrast typeface, and the arched “unprecedented” (set in Space Grotesk) encircles the negative space to highlight the form of the 21.svg logo.

✨ Sparkle ✨
Emojis are pretty trendy, right? So which emoji was the best to represent the brand? According to The Ultimate Guide to TikTok Slang 2021, putting a word between two sparkles emojis is a way of adding emphasis. Thus, we unanimously agreed on the ✨ and decided to create a secondary main logo utilizing the sparkle. In the end, it became an important graphic element that we brought into the Instagram captions.

The Variable Logos for the Squad

Individual Variable Logos
What better way to harken to our individualities by giving each of us our own set of logos. We all had different favorite shapes, colors, symbols, and emojis, so why not use them? We also had the set of “ultra-supreme” words that we came up with before. Why not use those too? Plus, it turned out our favorite colors and graphics really represented us well. We even quizzed a few people who knew us to see if they could guess who was who and they were right!

And so, kb.svg, jk.svg, wl.svg, and mw.svg emerged. Each of our logo sets features our initials, .svg (file extensions, remember?), our tagline, our favorite color, and whatever favorite graphic.

The Colors


We painstakingly worked to create a system that had the right “level of funk” to match the vibes we were aiming for. We needed the brand to be unique, flexible, yet cohesive.

The Typography

We settled on the base colors that met the overarching 21.svg brand’s needs and our individual secondary colors for each of us (please note the “ultra-supreme” names of the colors). The neon, highlighter individual colors would be used in tandem with the base brand to break up the otherwise “pumpkin-spice-latte” vibe that was beginning to form without them.

The typefaces we hunted/gathered (yes, straight-up hunter-gatherer style) are all open-source. We wanted to make sure that no one could sue us and thanks to the world of the internet, we came across Ribes, Syne-ExtraBold, and Space Grotesk.

The Social Media Campaign

Social Media

Social media campaigns, by definition, run over multiple days. We decided to hold a 7-week campaign (starting on 3/21/21) as a lead-up to our website going live and to the end of the semester (AKA graduation!) with a total of 21 posts. The campaign consisted of a series of announcement posts, process posts, and silly posts. Making use of Instagram Reels, Stories, and posts. You can check it out at the @tylerdesignmfa Instagram.


We utilized the ideas of teasers and trailers to hint at what was to come. Phrases like “something unprecedented this way comes’’ and “loading…” came through and helped to garner attention towards our show.


To return back to the “process” theme, we wanted to provide sneak peeks of how we developed the brand, website, and Instagram posts themselves.

The Silliness
The Best Around


We wanted to have our bright and shining personalities come through with our campaign. This involved silly posts from iconic quotes, to highlight-reels of playing mad libs, to memes.


Something that we decided on a whim was to see how much we could grow the @tylerdesignmfa following. In February 2021, we had 552 followers. At the time of writing this article (May 2021), it grew to 616. 64 new followers over 7 weeks. Not bad, right?


Just in case there weren’t enough “21”s in this brand (and the bonus “4” for the 4 of us), we launched the 21.svg website on 4/21/21.

The Gallery

Gallery + Projects

Our primary goal for the website was to showcase our projects. Since it was meant to be a stand-in for an in-person gallery show, we wanted to have our designs come first. This resulted in the home page being the gallery space where visitors can learn more about the project.

The Profiles for Kat, Justine, Wen, and Marisa (feat. Spotify Playlists!)


Though we wanted to have the projects be the primary focus, we still wanted to inject our personalities into it. We created profiles for each of us accessible from the Squad page (curated Spotify playlists included!) showing our colors, graphics, and artist statement.


We wanted to leave our graduate experience with a bang. While we all work seriously, we are not serious people. Each of us likes to crack a joke whenever we can (even if it means privately sending it in our slack during class and watching each other in the Zoom call try to hide smiles) and can spend hours chatting about nothing, design, and anything in between or not in between.

21.svg culminates our personalities and designs through silliness, funk, and an exclamation point. We’re all proud of what we came up with for the 21.svg show and for our portfolios (endless slack messages in the vein of “damn, our show looks goooood”).

We don’t know, maybe you’ll even see a 21.svg design studio pop up in a few years. 👀

✨✌👒🍡🙃 ️– Thank You – 🙃🍡👒✌️✨


All 21.svg links


@tylerdesignmfa (Instagram)

21.svg on STELLA Online Art



Designers: Kat Brissette (‘21), Justine Kelley (‘21), Wenqing Liu (‘21), and Marisa Watanabe (‘21)

Categories: Design, Branding, Web Design, Social Media
School: Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Graphic + Interactive Design, MFA

Fun fact: “21” appears 63 times in this article (a multiple of 21)