During the fall of 2011, I had coffee with a Professor from Architecture where we hatched out a plan to use our respective spring 2012 courses to create a functioning farm-to-market produce cart and related farmer’s market awareness campaigns for the Sustainable Student Farm on the University of Illinois campus. We had received a small grant to implement a portion of the project and had the feelers out to snatch in more money. It seemed exciting, however the biggest fear I had was that I was entrusting a fairly visible community project to a group of thirty sophomore designers who had no design experience working with a client. Compounding my concern was that it wasn’t just one client, but instead many ’96 M.Arch students, Zack Grant (the Sustainable Student Farm manager), Fresh Press Agri-Fiber Paper Lab, and Professor Jeff Poss from Architecture. Added to this complexity, was my demand that each design team utilize only sustainable (a term that was new to them) materials and processes that kept to a budget of $750. In hindsight, the decision to place the thirty design students into teams of two and soften the name “client” with “stakeholder” was an effective strategy to not completely overwhelm the class.
Despite my reservations, I was mostly motivated to assign this project based on a 2011 lecture by Bernard Canniffe, Chair of Graphic Design at Minneapolis College of Art. In Canniffe’s talk, he projected two information graphics on a screen that detailed how graphic design was taught in academics versus how it was really practiced in the commercial world. The two maps were strikingly different. The University model consisted of only two rectangles – the student and the instructor. Information was presented by the teacher and the designer interpreted that assignment and worked with the “master” to complete what was asked. There were only two people involved (outside of the student’s peers who usually provide some input). The second graphic illustrated how the graphic designer works in a studio. This image was a dazzlingly array of dozens of rectangles identifying stakeholders like project managers, illustrators, community members, etc. that the designer needed to interact with to produce a meaningful communication piece(s).
As these sophomores were just beginning their design journey, I felt the ethical obligation to share with them this difference in teaching versus practice and start them thinking about design beyond simply completing an assignment that I gave them. I urged them to keep in mind that I was only one voice and, when in professional practice, there would be many that they must learn to navigate, interpret, and embrace.
In the end, the project featured many of the twists and turns that multiple stakeholders bring to the table. The most important one occurred when the farm manager asked us to scrap what we had and start over using the vision of one of the design teams with one week left. The students were scared but motivated. I explained that this interaction with the client happens more often than it should, but, in my experience, has been for the best. The final design deliverables, as a whole, came in at or under budget and were more technically advanced than past sophomore classes I’d taught. I’m not sure whether the successes were based on the talents of just this group or motivated by the realistic demands of the project. However, all the stakeholders (including myself) were pleased with the design options.
Lauren Blackburn (BFA 2014), Andrew Fishel (BFA 2014), Rob Deering (M.Arch 2013), Zak Helmick (M.Arch 2013), Charles Huss (M.Arch 2013), Meagan Calnon (M.Arch 2013), Fadi Salem (M.Arch 2013), and Jordan Buckner (M.Arch 2013)
Heather Stickney (BFA 2014), Lauren Braun (BA 2012), Rob Deering (M.Arch 2013), Michael Johnson (M.Arch 2012) and Shaefer Kirby (M.Arch 2012)
Nini Kao (BFA 2014), Denise Castaneda (BFA 2014), Rob Deering (M.Arch 2013), Michael Johnson (M.Arch 2012) and Shaefer Kirby (M.Arch 2012)
Michael Zhang (BFA 2014), Evan Jarzynski (BFA 2014), Rob Deering (M.Arch 2013), Zak Helmick (M.Arch 2013), Charles Huss (M.Arch 2013), Meagan Calnon (M.Arch 2013), Fadi Salem (M.Arch 2013), and Jordan Buckner (M.Arch 2013)
Currently a curated selection of the student awareness campaigns are hanging on campus promoting the weekly summer farmer’s market on the Quad and final preparations are underway to choose the most appropriate farm-to-market graphics and implement them before students return to campus in the autumn.