Students Doing Awesome Things: Project Khomble

Portfolio shows. They are the debutante’s ball of the design world. It’s the nerve-wracking rite of passage we all go through to demonstrate to the world that we’re ready to leave the comforting nest of design school and spread our wings in the marketplace as professionals. But for the founders of Project Khömble – Carmen Garza, Hugo Perez, Lucie Pognonec and Athena Floudas (above, left to right), all students at the Art Institute of Houston – one portfolio show just wasn’t enough. They wanted something more substantial, more focused, and more unique than the show they all received as graduates. So they got busy working on a crazy idea – an independent portfolio show of their own making – and earned some pretty impressive fans along the way.

This independent portfolio show will be held Friday, December 16 from 6–11pm at Houston’s Alley Theatre, free of charge and open to the public. Be sure to check out for more information (including the show’s participants and their portfolio sites) and @KhombleProject on Twitter.

Of course, at this point you may be asking, “what the hell is a Khömble?”

Khömble (pronounced KOOM-bull) is a mash-up word invented by the founders to encapsulate the attitude of its participants: “confident but humble.” Proud of their skills and all they’ve accomplished, but grounded enough to know they have a lot to learn. “It was just an idea, in the beginning,” says Athena Floudas. “I wanted us to have something that we could always look back on, memories; [an event] to promote the way we want, to have a fun time and a great show. And at first we weren’t sure, but – now we’re here!”  The ‘here’ is the heart of Houston’s theatre district, the Alley Theatre. An impressive venue, no doubt – one they were able to secure through Ricky Ruiz, a Khömble participant who happens to also work for the Alley. “Khomble turned from an idea into a full-running project once I showed them [the terrace room]  – right away I could see the spark in everyone’s eyes,” said Ricky. From there, the students developed the overall concept, began meeting regularly to hammer out the details, and got busy making sure the entire project had a clean, professional look. Khömble suddenly became kind of a big deal.

The level of promotion in both traditional and social media for Khömble has been impressive, to say the least. Silk-screened posters, leave-behinds, t-shirts and business cards – even the old-school route of actually sending formal invitation letters by mail (remember those?) – compliments an online presence that is professional and approachable. The cost for this campaign came through a combination of donations (printing costs and space) and good old fashioned creative ingenuity. “Just about the only thing we’ve had to pay out of pocket is the postage,” said Lucie Pognonec.

Khömble’s Twitter account has been a means for the group to reach out to and correspond with some notable figures in the design world. “The typeface we’re using for Khömble – Benton Sans – was designed by Cyrus Highsmith, and he sent us a shout-out. He sent us inspirational words of wisdom, his ’10 rules for students and teachers.’ So amazing that he would do that for us,” said Carmen Garza. Erik Spiekermann was also another notable advice-giver via Twitter, and others have contributed advice via uploaded video that will be shown at the exhibition.

17 designers in total answered Khömble’s call for entries, and all 17 were accepted into the exhibition. “Everyone who wanted a spot got one,” said Athena. “The call for entries was our way of making sure everyone who wanted to participate was going to appreciate it; to take it seriously and make the same effort we were. We let everyone know: you have to be motivated.” All 17 are students of the Art Institute of Houston, however, that was more a result of where the project got started. Khömble is not an Ai exclusive event. “To me, the school [that you come from] does not matter; it’s not about the place that you went to. It’s about how much you wanted to be there. For us, the Art Institute was just the place for us all to meet,” said Lucie. Athena would also like it to expand going forward. “I’ve seen the work from the students at UofH and HCC and others, and we would love to have their work in the show in the future,” she said.

It’s tough for these students to look too far past this Friday night. They’re hoping the whole thing goes off without a hitch and that they get the largest turnout they possibly can. But in the long run, they don’t see Khömble ending this week – they’d like for it to grow into an annual or semi-annual event. And though all students participating happen to be from the Art Institute of Houston, they plan to encourage students from the greater Houston area to participate in the future, giving employers a unique opportunity to see some of Houston’s emerging design talent. But the future of Khömble hinges on Friday’s turnout.

Come out this Friday and support Project Khömble. AIGA Houston wishes them all the best of luck, and we would also like to encourage students from other schools around Houston to take the initiative and launch more independent projects of their own – no matter how crazy they might seem at first. It’s these kinds of projects that really help to elevate your student experience – and Houston’s student design community at large – rewarding you with recognition, priceless experience and the forming of friendships that last your entire career.

See you all Friday.


If you are a student or student group member and would like to involve AIGA Houston in an initiative of your own, email education (at)

By Andy Rich
Published December 13, 2011
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