Graphic Design, (Re)Designed: How it all went down

Back in late October, we blogged about Emmi Sprayberry’s community-engaged reimagining of Graphic Design.  At that time, we emphasized the steps Emmi took to plan for such a course, and we ended the blog with students in the early stages of working in small groups to come up with products they hoped would impress (1) the owners of Urban Foxes, a local small batch baking coffee and courtyard known for their pies; (2) Daniel Johnson, the owner of Significant Developments who uses art to connect community and businesses through creative engagement; and finally (3) Lauren Shields (Senior Manager of Advertising and Creative Services ) and Jennifer Hill (Graphic Designer), professionals that work for C Spire, a locally owned large network provider.  When we published the blog, neither of us had any idea whether the students’ projects would impress or flop in the eyes of these real-life clients.  Community Engaged Learning often requires leaps of faith in this way; these experiences are nothing if not unpredictable. We ended the blog with a cliffhanger . … and a promise to return with a candid update after the project ended.  So here goes: the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. (Because the i2 blog always keeps its promises.)

So how did it go, Emmi?

Not only did the students complete the tasks but they succeeded really well.  All three teams had deliverables for their clients, and all the clients were impressed; this was better than what they expected.  They are all using some if not all of the aspects . . . in real life! The students took initiative; it was empowering for them. They enjoyed being trusted. It gave them a confidence boost and [taught them that] they are doing great; they should trust themselves a little bit more.

Okay but let’s get real.  There had to be some struggles, right?

To tell you the truth it just worked really well overall.  They problem solved together, which really was the goal to get them to think outside of the box and work together versus individually.  This was and is a really unique class. They started out not knowing each other that well, and these projects brought them closer together.  Now we have this tight knit group. This brought out a lot of teamwork in them; I loved seeing them giving each other advice. Some rose to the occasion as really great leaders.

But don’t expect this with every group you work with! My fear was that they were going to get discouraged through the process and stay in that place. I expected hair pulling and tension and really it just worked really well. It was a testament to this group. They all had some sort of branding elements that they had to work within – some more expanded than others.  It honestly was great to get to see them wrestle with problems and then come out the other end succeeding. That’s not always the case creatively and just in life. I think for this group it was really awesome for that to be their first experience.

What did they end up producing?

For CSpire they created a branded box with a branded wireless charger, a phone credit card holder, some app recommendations, along with a gift card for $10. 

The branded box with various other goodies that the C-spire group dreamed up.

For DJ Cereal Milk, they delivered their logo. He was so pleased and he already is using it!

Urban Foxes received so much stuff that they’re going to roll out things over the  next year: shirt designs, templates to use for announcing bands and movie nights. Next winter they’ll use some of our designs for a sweatshirt.

What insights did you glean for next time you do something like this?

I could always give them more time, but deadlines within projects just helps relate the real world nature of a project like the ones they worked on.  I did like the idea of starting with three small groups working on different projects stacked together. The next project is going to be much harder; the whole class will be working on ONE project.  I think they will be able to work on strengths they built from these projects.   

What’s next?

My students loved this project because it gave them real world experience that enabled them to build their personal portfolios.  They are going to have more projects that are based on real life circumstances versus projects that are teacher-created . . . more deliverables and experience to pull from.  For example, later this semester we are working in partnership with Professor Kristen Tordella-Williams at Millsaps College on the Midtown Sculpture walk. We are also doing a collaboration with the first graders, taking their drawings and digitizing them and adding to them. They may pull it into a graphic novel that the Middle School is doing. I think it’s going to be fun and exciting to see what they create with the images they are given. I really wanted to create a collaboration that centered on more of the students, as I know with my kids they always loved when older kids came to their classes for some sort of partnership. So I thought this would be a fun way to do an art collaboration and just show one more aspect of the ways in which they can use their craft in a fun way that also speaks to the younger students that they are seen and valued. 

It turns out that Emmi’s leap of faith resulted in some pretty incredible results, both for the students enrolled in Graphic Design and the clients that partnered with them. Perhaps the most important takeaway here is that Emmi’s project didn’t take away time from learning the content of her class; community engagement became the mechanism to propel her students into the relevance-resounding terrain of learning-by-doing. Curious about how community engagement could possibly energize students to master your own curricular goals?  Reach out! We’d love to (re)imagine alongside you!

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