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Environmental Sustainability and Memorial Sites

Nathaniel Square Park photographed by Mallory Tabolt
Nathaniel Square Park photographed by Mallory Tabolt

This week, students in RIT’s Visual Communication course were asked to research a memorial monument and its significance in terms of placement, narrative, visual effects, and what the memorial site suggests is valued in that community. Students posted illustrations and their interpretations of these sites on the Visual Communication Illustrations Page.

One of the illustrations focused on Nathaniel Square Park, located at the corner of South Avenue and Alexander Street in Rochester’s South Wedge neighborhood (Nathaniel Square Park Illustration). The park is a memorial site for Nathaniel Rochester, founder of Rochester, NY. “The South Wedge Environmental Enhancement Project (SWEEP), headed by community activist, now South Wedge Planning Committee (SWPC) board member Cheryl Stevens, worked for over seven years to transform the spot” (O’Donnell). The park was opened in 2006 after the SWPC managed to raise “$300,000 in state and corporate funds to build Nathaniel Square” (O’Donnell).  The statue is Nathaniel Square was created by sculptor Pepsy Kettavong who is also responsible for the creation of the Fredrick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony statues located in Rochester (O’Donnell).

Other illustrations focused on the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, the Schiller Monument, and the George Eastman Memorial located near the entrance to Kodak Park.

O’Donnell, Nancy. “Nathaniel Square Received Coveted Design Award.” The Wedge. February-March 2012. <>.

Global Village residents give their feedback about ‘Unplug’ stickers

This past week graduate students in RIT’s Visual Communications class conducted interviews with undergraduate residents in the global village dorms at RIT. The purpose of these interviews was to gain feedback regarding the “Unplug” stickers that were handed out as part of their ongoing sustainability project.

The overall goal of the project is to influence students to conserve energy at RIT. It was decided upon by the class that the best way to grab the undergrads attention was with the message “Unplug,” featured on large blue stickers for laptops and small green stickers for other electronic chargers. These stickers are meant to be a reminder to students of the importance of unplugging their electronics when they are not using them. After weeks of preparation the final product was distributed to residents in global village.

After interviewing undergraduate residents, the responses about the stickers were very positive. Many students indicated that they liked the colors and sizes of the stickers, commenting on their attractiveness and message. Most of the students interviewed had seen the stickers prior to being interviewed, while other students were not familiar with them. Students who had seen the stickers said they had been given to them by their RA’s, seen them in friend’s dorm rooms, and on laptops. The mini stickers seemed to be a big hit, as many students said they would definitely use them, however, students also mentioned that they had not seen or received the small stickers.

When asked if they were likely to use the stickers, one student said yes, “Either my laptop case thing that goes on my laptop or my binder, planner thing, that I put stickers on, or my bed board. I haven’t made up my mind yet.”

Students were honest about the likelihood the stickers will change their behavior, but they do seem to understand the purpose, saying things like, “I think its a good idea, especially since people might not know that it uses that much electricity when they are not being used,” and, “If its right there I’d do it more than not knowing about it,”

Whether the stickers will make a difference in lowering energy consumption in the Global Village dormitories is yet to be seen, but hearing all of the enthusiastic feedback from students is a good foreshadowing of positive results. The class has also designed glow in the dark light switch covers that will soon be given out to Global Village residents. One student in particular is very eager to receive this sticker stating, “I really want the ones that says, don’t leave me hanging.”

Students in the Visual Communication class have been working on this project since the beginning of September with hopes of raising awareness about sustainability at RIT.

Sustainability and Graphic Design

Phil Hamlett’s article Sustainability and Graphic Design, stresses the importance of getting the business community involved in sustainability practices. Hamlett states that “like it or not—since the business community and the capitalist system in which it operates sets the pace for society at large, acceptance here is crucial for any meaningful impact” (Hamlett, 2005, p. 185). Although some companies such as Toyota, The Body Shop, Aveda, American Apparel, Nike, Hewlett-Packard, and Starbuck’s have already caught on and implemented sustainability initiatives, there are still many others have yet “to recognize the inherent value in such behavior” (Hamlett, 2005, p. 186). This is where the designers come in.

Hamlett suggests that it is the role of graphic designers to help with sustainability initiatives and use “design as a vehicle for social change” (Hamlett, 2005, 188). He gives many suggestions for designers as to how they should move forward in addressing these issues, but the most important point that he makes is communicating the message. The article states that “there is an increasing need to explain these issues to a world eager to understand them” (Hamlett, 2005, 186). It is crucial that designers not only supply consumers with information about sustainability but also provide it to businesses.

After reading Hamlett’s article, students in RIT’s Visual Communication course posted images showing examples of the ways that graphic designers have contributed to promoting sustainability issues. Below are some of these images. For more images regarding this article and others being reviewed in the Visual Communication course please visit the Visual Communication Illustrations Page.

Posted by Amarilis Ramos Gonzalez
Posted by Amarilis Ramos Gonzalez


Posted by Lauren Palmieri
Posted by Lauren Palmieri

AIGA’s GAIN: Implementing Social Change

How can visual communication promote social change? That’s the big question our visual communication class is asking this quarter. Though we are specifically focusing on visual communication and sustainability, I find it important to try and learn from any designers and communicators who try and make an impact with complex social issues through visual communication. This week, I was lucky enough to attend AIGA’s Gain: Design for Social Change Conference at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

The conference invited “design, business and social innovation leaders from a variety of industries share their visionary approaches to creating social value.” According to the marketing materials, these speakers would “demonstrate the broadening role design plays in institutional strategy, leadership, process and service, product and message, and how the creative attributes of designers provide special advantages to tackling socially relevant projects and enhancing the human experience.” I personally believe this is a pretty difficult thing to demonstrate but I was sure the conference would at least provide our class inspiring ideas.

One particular workshop that I found especially relevant to our sustainability project was titled “Implementing Social Change” and was lead by Andréa Pellegrino, founder of Pellegrino Collaborative and University of Notre Dame Associate Professor Robert Sedlack. Andréa identified as a “Social Impact Strategist” and now that is my new career goal – ha. She actually does not have a traditional background in design but began her career as a publisher. She eventually was connected to design projects through AIGA and Design Ignites Change. Yet another instance where a communication professional ends up working intimately with projects of visual communication.

Pellegrino & Sedlack speak at the Contemporary Jewish Museum at GAIN
Pellegrino & Sedlack speak at the Contemporary Jewish Museum at GAIN

Pellegrino and Sedlack spoke primarily about the together + project they’ve been involved in for about 2 years. The together + project is an anti-xenophobia campaign to reduce fear and build connections and community in South African neighborhoods where South Africans and refugees compete for scant resources. They showed this video below to help attendees understand the context of the problem.

Life and Death in Diepsloot

Leaders of the project decided their multilingual campaign would be educational in focus and would try to convey misconceptions of common stereotypes and South African and refugee’s common humanity. Eventually, they came up with a community mural project, a healthcare rights campaign (this looked like a small brochure), a welcome to South Africa Guide and a “Blooming Together” children’s book. Pellegrino mentioned that the children’s book was really the center of the campaign. This was partly because in their initial interviews with students (Pellegrino and Sedlack had interviewed 3rd, 6th and 11th graders back in October of 2011), they noticed the 3rd graders were the most malleable in their opinions about refugees. I personally think this was a really interesting idea that maybe we could extend to children at Margaret’s House at RIT but related to sustainability.

Similar to what we plan to do with the sustainability project, Sedlack and Pellegrino applied for numerous grants and other funding in order to continue the project and send students to South Africa. I’m thinking it would be exciting for us to develop a visual communication and sustainability collaborative. If any of you are interested in a thesis related to visual communication and sustainability, we could work on applying for grant funding for your project. There were a few students who worked on writing grants as their senior projects. It is possible for CMT students to work on a senior project as opposed to a thesis if that is what they choose (I’m not suggesting that this is necessarily preferable, just an option). 

Sedlack also strongly suggested that it is best to work with other disciplines on campus. For instance, in this project they also worked with anthropology and business students and professors such as warfare anthropologist Carolyn Nordstrom. Sedlack and students said this kind of additional expertise was invaluable. Maybe visual communication students could eventually work with designers in CIAS and the Institute for Sustainability?

What I really wanted to ask Sedlack was about the research students did in creating their designs. There was no mention of any kind of visual communication theory, visual literacy theory, behavioral psychology theory, early childhood education theory, etc. I stayed afterward to ask but the line to speak with them was incredibly long and then we were actually asked to leave the room. I do plan on emailing them both, however. There also wasn’t any mention of research related to the social change project. I feel that this is something we could include in the vis com and sustainability collaborative that would make us unique — a combination of prior investigative research, social implementation and academic and popular publication of results. I also plan on asking them for a copy of their budget and grant proposal. I’ve NEVER seen such a beautiful grant proposal and even their budget was aesthetically pleasing. I would love to share this with all of you.

If you have more questions about the presentation, please comment on this post!

Project Design Decisions

After conducting interviews with undergraduate Visual Communications students and Greentopia attendees, the graduate students in RIT’s Visual Communications class, with the help of Professor Kelly Martin, Senior Sustainability Advisor Enid Cardinal, and Graphic Designer Ryan Rich have selected the marketing collateral that will be used to create awareness about sustainability on the RIT campus.

Graduate students in the Visual Communications course have spent the last four weeks determining which forms of the designs will be most effective in reaching undergraduate students residing on campus and creating awareness about sustainability. The designs are focused on delivering messages to students informing them of the importance of unplugging their electronics and turning their lights off.

These marketing materials include stickers for laptops, posters, vinyl clings for light switches, and small stickers that students can place on all of their electronic chargers. These materials were created with the hope of reminding students on the Rochester Institute of Technology and University of Rochester campuses to turn off their lights and unplug their chargers.

The marketing materials will be distributed to RIT students after a short presentation during Global Village’s Community Hours in the upcoming weeks.