Alumni Stories: Samantha Nardelli

After graduating with her BFA in Graphic Design back in 2013, this Marywood alumna hit the ground running by founding a new business called Shanty Town Design, right here in Scranton, PA. Since then, she’s crisscrossed the United States, grown the business, and settled with her partner in Denver, CO. She and her team are members of the Ad Club, AIGA, Tech Ladies, and AAF, and they recently won the 2020 Best Web Designers in Denver Award. Meet the wonderful and talented Samantha Nardelli!

Samantha Nardelli

Graduation Year & Degree: 2013 BFA 

Major: Graphic Design

Marywood Clubs & Activities: CMYKlub

How long at current job: 7 years in October 2020


Social Media Links: @shantytowndesign

Samantha Nardelli

What was your favorite part about studying art at Marywood?

The support! Everyone was always cheering me on and making themselves available and adaptable to my work style. The flexibility of my professors to trust my *sorta weird* process of creativity was always very encouraging. I wasn’t great at following rules lol.

How did your art education at Marywood help your career?

It helped me to value myself and always aim higher. The support after I graduated is something I don’t think many other colleges are able to offer. I started my design company just a few months after graduating and still to this day, professors have helped to guide my direction, sent me leads, give me feedback, and assist with finding talented designers and interns to train and hire. I feel like they genuinely believe in my success.

What attracted you to this career path?

I’ve always been an “artist”. I’ve been involved with the arts in some capacity my entire life. I even have my little portfolio from elementary school still floating around somewhere. So going for an art career was always the plan, but I didn’t know what that was going to look like when I first went to college. I wasn’t a strong enough fine artist to consider painting or illustration and I still craved logistics, strategy, and working collaboratively with people. I loved learning and technology so graphic design felt like it combined all of in one. I can tell you now it definitely does. Management, creative thinking, personal growth, philosophy, art, and math are a culmination of who I am as a person. Graphic design truly satisfies both left and right brain.

“Graphic design truly satisfies both left and right brain.”

Did your career path match your vision of a career path? What’s different?

Yes and no haha. As soon as I started designing, I knew there was no going back. I had a pipe dream of working in a huge ad agency in NYC, Philly, or LA for a long time. I worked SUPER hard at freelancing all throughout school, continuing to learn as much on my own as I could and building my portfolio. What I didn’t expect was to be ‘the boss’ so soon in my career. The original pipe dream went from Silicon Valley vibes to a passion in handmade and small business real fast. I’ve only worked at 1 agency (while I was still in school) and gained the title ‘creative director’ immediately. (Spoiler: I was the only designer there lol) I realized that in that role, and that style agency, I didn’t have the control I craved of working with the types of clients I wanted to. I started getting impatient and saw my future flash before my eyes of grinding in an office, working on things I wasn’t passionate about, getting told what to do (which is a separate issue), and quite literally climbing the ladder of building someone else’s dreams. The top of that ladder didn’t seem too satisfying anymore. When I realized how much I had in common with some of my freelance clients such as being a solopreneur and building something from the ground up, that felt way more in tune with what I was craving. And the perk of graphic design? I can work anywhere I want.

What is your favorite thing about your current job?

Oh man, everything? Haha. I do what I love every single day. I fully control my own life. Which can be hard at times, but in a motivating way. My company has grown so much over the last few years. I don’t think I ever imagined myself as a business owner in the capacity that I am today but looking back I don’t think I would be good at anything else. I love creating, I love leading my team, I love helping clients, and meeting new people. I love learning and exploring new ideas, technology, and tools. It’s so nice to have such an intertwined lifestyle that allows me to feel both personally and professionally fulfilled. I feel so grateful and fortunate.

Are you currently working on any interesting side projects?

Always! I blog a lot on training materials for my DIY clients. I also have a ton of ‘one day’ design projects that I dabble in, such as a tarot card deck. Currently, I’m spending a lot of my down time as the Programming Co-Director for AIGA Colorado. My partner and I lead our Chapter’s public event scheduling. We’ve had the pleasure of working with creatives locally (in Denver) and internationally on speaking engagements, professional development events, panel discussions, and more. Something that is tough about the design field is it can feel very exclusive. We’re working super hard to give BIPOC, LGBTQ+, women, and other underrepresented voices the chance to share their stories, experiences, and knowledge.

What are some of the biggest rewards in your career?

Looking back and seeing how far I’ve come and how it’s so beneficial to trust your gut and follow the path you’re meant to take. I began freelancing when I was 21, started Shanty Town at 23, now at 30 I’ve got a decently successful remote design agency, an amazing team of creatives, even better clients and projects, and I know the next 9 years are only going to get better! Community recognition has been very humbling too. We’ve won some awards along the way.

What’s something that would surprise people about your day-to-day?

I barely wear shoes lol.

What inspires you?

People. The people I work with, whether it’s clients, colleagues, team members, friends, or family. Everyone has an amazing story to tell and a passion that drives them whether they know it or not. I love learning about a person’s journey.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Don’t underestimate writing. As a creative, journaling, keeping a sketchbook, and documenting your ideas is a great way to look back at your journey. You may not think you’ve come as far as you have, but if you’re keeping notes and ideas together in a physical fashion, it’s really easy to see your progress and fuel your creativity even more.

Any advice for current art students at Marywood?

Never STOP. When you’re into a project and craving more and class is over, keep working. Keep exploring. Keep following your gut. Continue learning. Downtime and self-care is also important, but remember inspiration comes in waves. If you feel momentum, take advantage of it. Write down your ideas and let it flowwww.

“Keep working. Keep exploring. Keep following your gut.”


Graphic Design – Bachelor of Fine Arts: Design
Our graphic design program at Marywood will introduce you to a variety of design disciplines. Conceptual development, technical skills and professionalism are emphasized. Students have the opportunity to work independently, with partners, in small groups, with professionals in the field and real clients. Regular class critiques and portfolio reviews are stressed throughout the program.

Low Residency MFAs in Graphic Design and Illustration are offered through our “Get Your Masters with the Masters” MFA for Working Professionals and Educators in Graphic Design & Illustration. This 60-credit Master of Fine Arts degree is specifically designed for working art directors, designers, illustrators, new media artists and art educators who have to budget their time and resources carefully, while continuing with their full-time occupations. While production and technical skills are stressed, the thrust of our program is on creativity and concept.

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