With themes ranging from the surreal to the concrete, here are the top five student projects in the Shutterstock x Lecture in Progress Creative Challenge.

Back in October, in partnership with Lecture in Progress, we hosted a Creative Challenge among university students, with design and creative majors, in the United Kingdom. We challenged them to use Shutterstock assets for their university projects, or coursework, by granting them exclusive access to a free image collection. Amazed by the creativity students displayed in their projects, our in-house design team selected five extremely impressive projects as winners, spanning a broad range of themes — from the consequences of mass tech consumption to raising awareness for mental health. Each project used multiple assets in new and imaginative ways. Take a look.


1st Place: “iCons of the Anthropocene” by Daniella Chukwuezi

"iCons of the Anthropocene"
This image exemplifies the elements at play in altering the Earth’s environment. Image via Daniella Chukwuezi.

Currently in her third year of a B.A. in Design for Art Direction at the University of the Arts London, Daniella’s project was informed by the role that tech giants like Apple play in people’s lives. The title, “iCons of the Anthropocene,” is a direct response to the Apple products (including iPhones, iMacs, iPads) taking over the world.

Daniella set herself a brief, which centered around “Humanity’s impact on the earth. [Particularly] when we’re gone, what will we leave behind as proof of our existence?” This led Daniella to research into “technofossils,” a new term for congealed human-made materials and the Earth’s current age.

"iCons of the Anthropocene"
A concern for the safety of the environment is clearly conveyed in this piece. Image via Daniella Chukwuezi.

In her submitted work, Daniella used a diverse selection of images — from business icons to backgrounds — to create the base of her designs and creatively blended all different elements with frame animation, overlays, and type manipulation. In her judging of the entry, our creative director, Florence Lau, described Daniella’s designs as, “effectively capturing the feeling of a dystopian future by applying posterized effects to the planet and combining icons of humanity.”

Joining a Shutterstock challenge was always on Daniella’s radar, and for the young designer, it seemed like the right moment to experiment with her new graphic design skills. For Daniella, “stock makes the design process so much quicker. I have an idea, type in the key words, and there are so many options and avenues available.”

Assets used:

See more of Daniella’s work at her website and on Instagram.


2nd Place: “Lums in the Red World” by Adeel Zafar

"Lums in the Red World"
The subtle use of colors and gradients makes for an intriguing abstract. Image via Adeel Zafar.

As a student of Visual Effects and Motion Graphics at Brunel University, Adeel Zafar finds himself at the very beginning of his 3D journey. He describes his practice as abstract art and was motivated to get involved with our creative challenge for the types of assets that were available to him. It was imperative he tried his hand at “utilizing them for something creative.”

Channeling his interest in 3D experimentation, Adeel’s submitted work drew on an impressive range of colors and gradients. His use of marble at the center of the image trickles into the color scheme throughout the piece, making up an intentionally intriguing and abstract look. Manipulating the contrast and hue also helped bring the color scheme together.

"Lums in the Red World"
The selected stock elements help create this surreal visual world. Image via Adeel Zafar.

Playful experimentation with contrast and hue, in combination with well-selected stock elements — including 3D renderings, as well as photography — resulted in a surreal visual world that captured our judges’ attention. For creative director, Florence Lau, the image was “vivid, surrealistic, and humming with energy.”

Assets used:

See more of Adeel’s work at his website.


3rd Place: “Chairbeing” by Kaja Kusak

"Chairbeing"
The symmetry and light produce an ethereal presence. Image via Kaja Kusak.

Currently taking her graphic design skills to the next level at Shillington College of Graphic Design, Kaja Kusak’s work explores space, perspective, and light. Having recently begun experimenting with techniques beyond illustration and graphic design — such as videography, photography, and painting — she has found that “mixing practices has produced some of [her] best work to date.”

"Chairbeing"
The textural overlays allow the repetition to seem playful. Image via Kaja Kusak.

In this piece, Kaja experimented with interiors and landscapes to create a piece that repositions the ordinary — resulting in an environment where an everyday chair can effortlessly float around. Integrating a handful of gradients from our blog post to create more depth, she used texture overlays as a way of playing with repetition.

Kaja initially applied because she enjoys challenging herself and she believes stock imagery “always gives great, unexpected results.” For her, it was imperative to get imaginative with the brief as “stock assets are a great way of enhancing creative projects, and a fantastic source of inspiration.”

"Chairbeing"
The simplicity of this image forces an everyday item to seem desolate and beautiful. Image via Kaja Kusak.

Florence Lau remarks that Kaja’s use of “perspective and repetition really created something mesmerising out of everyday items. There’s a sense of disorientation that includes nods to Brutalist architecture.”

Assets used:

Beachy Waves Swatch and Living Coral Swatch from Free Gradient Pack: 64 Gradient Backgrounds, Shapes, and Swatches

See more of Kaja’s work at her website and on Instagram.


4th Place: “The Golden” by Sophie Khoo

"The Golden"
This image encapsulates the juxtaposed design of something beautiful yet fragile. Image via Sophie Khoo.

Sophie’s work, “The Golden,” was born out of an ongoing project entitled Mania, which juxtaposes beauty with pain, as it explores the potential of the human imagination. Currently in her third year, studying B.A. Photography at Middlesex University, Sophie’s work dances with a range of colors and concepts.

Sophie tells us a little about her project brief: “My project is based on a line from Billie Eilish’s song ‘Everything I Wanted.’ She sings about having a dream where she jumped off the Golden Gate bridge, the second most used bridge for suicide.” She goes on to explain, “The Shutterstock assets really helped me bring this body of work to life, as it supported my conception of hallucination and surrealism in a professional way.”

This particular piece was awarded fourth place for its beautiful composition and symbolism, highlighting an important and poignant topic. Subtly mirroring the Golden Gate bridge, we observe “a profound scenario — a woman lost in thought, balancing on the cables.” Presented with dream-like qualities, the image’s hyper-colorful and polished finish raises questions around what a polished veneer might be hiding — with the use of stock imagery only further reinforcing Sophie’s agenda in creating a fabricated scene.

Asset used:

See more of Sophie’s work at her website and on Instagram.


5th Place: “Distractions” by Diana Barta

"Distractions"
Image via Diana Barta.
"Distractions"
The fluidity and color contrast lends movement to this image. Image via Diana Barta.

Specializing in visual storytelling, Diana Barta can be found practicing her craft at the University of the Arts London, as a B.A. Illustration and Visual Media student. Diana was excited by the opportunity to experiment with images in her design work, as she mainly creates drawings and illustrations — thus enabling her to venture out of her comfort zone.

Her submission was a “personal project about using constant distractions — such as sound, words, activities, and social media — as a means of keeping yourself from resolving issues you may have.” Diana used stock imagery to create “water ripples and marbling as waves and shapes to convey movement and represent these distractions.” Diana uses stock regularly, particularly to “create environmental paintings and cinematic scenes” for her backgrounds or foliage texture edits.

"Distractions"
Image via Diana Barta.
"Distractions"
Image via Diana Barta.
"Distractions"
The succession from fluid to chaotic is representative of our own life journeys. Image via Diana Barta.

Diana’s final pieces invite us to be mindful of the chaos of life, and have been commended by Florence Lau for their exploration of “fluid patterns and high-contrast colors” in an attempt to convey rapid movement.

Asset used:

See more of Diana’s work at her website and on Instagram.

It’s amazing to see how combining a variety of assets has helped these students produce award-winning projects. It’s clear to see that these designers and photographers have a bright future ahead of them. They have displayed a range of skill sets while responding to their own briefs — and we’re excited to see where their work takes them next.

Cover image via Kaja Kusak.