A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

A Career Made Better by Design

By Cathy Cruise, MFA '93 on February 6, 2017

They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. And on first try, Khoi Phan, BFA Art and Visual Technology ’09, didn’t quite make it.

Koi Phan
Photo courtesy of Koi Phan

Having just graduated from Mason, where he had a concentration in graphic design and a minor in photography, Phan tried to find work as a professional designer in the Big Apple. But, he says, “There was very little opportunity. Even with a Mason degree and ambition, you also need luck.”

It wasn’t long after he returned to Virginia that he found work at design agency HZDG in Washington, D.C., and not long after that, he says, before “the NFL came knocking.”

Phan headed back to New York, this time for a job with the National Football League, where he conceptualized and designed global campaigns such as NFL Salute to Service, the Super Bowl, and NFL Honors. His work can still be seen each NFL season.

Now an art director at AKQA, a top global agency that creates digital services and products, Phan is immersed in campaigns for A-listers like Nike, Verizon, Jordan, Maserati, and Chanel. Seeing his work on these and other immense projects, such as the Nike+ app and the My Verizon app, he admits is still “kind of mind-blowing.”

His choice to attend Mason rather than a design school empowered him to be more boldly assertive with his talents, Phan says, and introduced him to “classmates who pushed me to challenge myself. When people around you value you, and teachers take note of you, it gives you that extra edge to compete against the best.” A soccer fanatic, he even founded Mason’s club soccer team.

Phan is on the path to become a creative director and oversee large-scale projects at AKQA, then maybe transfer to one of its offices in Europe. While the way forward may not be obvious yet, that’s fine with him.

“There’s no clear path,” he says. “And there should never be a clear path. If you want to see yourself grow, you have to take risks and assume the risks will eventually pay off.”

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