Class of 2019: International student Kehong Lu brings visual communication to life
For Kehong Lu, graphic design is more than just a medium. It’s a unique form of communication, a special language that can speak louder than words.
Perhaps most importantly, graphic design is way for Lu to be himself. That’s why he believes that when people see his designs, his art should evoke a reaction and create connections.
“I want to make people happy,” said Lu, a visual communications and graphic design senior graduating this December. “When people interact with my designs, I want the designs to communicate back to them. I want people to think and feel differently because of my art.”
Lu did not come from a very artistic background, but he knew he wanted to study art in college. When he came to Virginia Tech from Hanzhong, China, he planned to join the graphic design program in the School of Visual Arts (SOVA) so he could share his love for art with the world. After excelling in SOVA’s prerequisite courses, he enrolled in his major of choice.
Over the past several years, Lu has built up an impressive portfolio through dedication and an innovative approach to his designs.
He first applied to design flyers for the Academy of Integrated Science (AIS), a science based cross-disciplinary program in Virginia Tech’s College of Science. AIS liked Lu’s work so much that they requested he design for them on a long-term basis.
Lu’s designs did not go unnoticed, even outside of the university. In 2018, he was accepted as an intern by two major companies.
During the summer of 2018, Lu worked for the Wonderful Agency – the in-house, full-service marketing and advertising agency for the Wonderful Company in Los Angeles, California. The Wonderful Company is home to powerhouse brands like Fiji Water, POM Wonderful, Wonderful Halos, Wonderful Pistachios, and more. That summer, Lu worked on advertising for the new Fiji water campaign as well as JUSTIN Wines.
Later that fall, he took a gap semester to work for Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, California. Although Lu initially applied to work on presentations, he soon realized his experience as an international student would pay off. Since his managers were looking for someone who could translate Mandarin, he was given the opportunity to complete design projects for the actual Disney parks. Some of the projects he worked on included “Zootopia” in the Shanghai Disneyland Park.
“I had always wanted to work for Disney, so it was a dream to intern there,” said Lu. “Someday I can go see my work. It will be so rewarding to be able to say, ‘I did that: I worked as an Imagineer. I designed that.’”
In the summer of 2019, Lu was excited to return to Los Angeles once again to work for Illumination, the entertainment company behind animated hits like “Despicable Me,” “Minions,” and “The Secret Life of Pets.” There he designed some of the artwork for the “Minions 2” movie.
Although Lu’s internship experiences helped him grow his portfolio and professional resume, he has also found rewarding work with local community organizations along the way.
In the spring of 2019, he worked with SOVA Assistant Professor Patrick Finley to help rebrand Local Colors, a nonprofit organization based in Roanoke that highlights the region’s ethnic and cultural diversity. Lu’s illustrations will be or have already been showcased through the organization's website, promotional pieces, logo, and T-shirts.
“Kehong is just naturally really creative,” said Finley. “One nice thing about him is that he doesn’t have a specific aesthetic; he just does everything really well and is a very smart designer. He lives a very creative lifestyle.”
Finley recognizes that through his internships, Lu is fortunate to have already showcased his talents in the world of graphic design. However, Finley doesn’t simply want students like Lu to be able to find a job in design when they graduate, but also to become leaders in their field.
“I want students like Kehong to make their way up in the industry where they’re making work that has a positive social impact,” said Finley. “I want Kehong and all of my students to be outspoken, passionate designers and positive leaders.”
Lu is hoping his leadership and design skills will help him find his next adventure. After he graduates, he is determined to return to Los Angeles and eventually work for entertainment companies again.
“Los Angeles is really different,” said Lu. “I think people there just want you to be yourself, and I really liked that. I can make a difference there just by being me.”
— Written by Colie Touzel