Pedagogy Community Projects page 2


Community Projects
On occasion, we would do a mini-project during the second semester of the Junior year as a means for preparing students to work on the more extensive Senior project. At other times, we might do a course assignment based on a local situation with a non-profit organization.

Over the years, we did the decor for the 1961 International Design Conference at Aspen. We designed and produced all the materials in Minneapolis and twenty students made the trip to Aspen and installed the design work. We worked with the Minnesota State Department of Parks and Recreation. The state wanted to increase tourist traffic at the parks and the system needed to be better identified and promoted. We did a demonstration of how Kansas City, Missouri could use an identity system and make visible all public properties or activities through a coordinated design system. This led to the city developing such a system. At a later date we did the same project for Tempe, Arizona. Again, the proposal was carried through and the city established a Graphic Design Office. The Kansas City Missouri Zoo was a municipal one and its budgets were declining at a time when there was critical need for renovation and new facilities. The students did a project to publicize the zoo, effect a paid admissions and build membership for Friends of the Zoo, a private supporting organization. The student project resulted in a paid admissions which could be used only for improving existing exhibits and building new ones. We did a signing system for a new Children’s Zoo in Phoenix, Arizona which was implemented and won a national award. One year we did visual aids for Nelson Elementary School in Minneapolis. Later we designed educational aids for Kenwood School, a demonstration school and Operation Headstart in Kansas City. The year the national poverty programs went into effect we did a large photographic reportage on poverty in Kansas City, Missouri called “On the Other Side of Town.”

University Projects
When I began to teach at universities, it seemed plausible that projects conceived within the university might be similar to community projects. A special problem for Graphic Design within the university is that it is identified with the Art Department

As such, design is often viewed by administrators and many other segments of university as being a relatively unimportant field of study. University attitudes toward art and design range from it being frivolous, to not understanding art or design or being dubious of its role in the university. Art Department generally have the lowest faculty salaries, the worst space and lowest operating budgets.

My strategy was to identify activities in the university where design would be helpful and appropriate. With the recent emphasis on research, there were numerous opportunities for students to bring their expertise to bear on various research projects, and at the same time, we could create a more favorable impression of Graphic Design within the university as an educational program. We could build respect for Graphic Design among our colleagues and with administration.

One of the best examples of this was at Carnegie Mellon University. The university had just established a Robotics Institute with a substantial grant from Westinghouse. We met with the Director of the robotics program and he was agreeable to the project. The project was a demonstration of how Graphic Design could further the objectives of the new Institute. Some of the goals of the institute were:

To recruit the brightest graduate students from other schools.

To create an identity for the institute.

To solicit industrial membership.

The research goals were to use robots in situations dangerous to people, robots with sensory capabilities, robots to do jobs that were repetitious and tedious for humans.
The students designed materials such as a map of robotic activities as they were scattered over campus, a mark for the institute, a bulletin which would publish research reports, a plaque for industrial members, a signing system, posters for recruitment of graduate students, a catalogue of graduate studies in robotics, annual reports and promotional materials.

The students planned and installed an exhibition of their work and arranged for members of the Westinghouse Design Offices to speak about the value of design. The program was directed toward the Robotics Institute staff and university administrators. It was a well conceived and executed project but the Robotics Institute did not use any of the materials. Carnegie Mellon University proved to be the least receptive of any clients I worked with on student projects. At Arizona State University we were extensively involved with the Anthropology Department, and in particular, Dr. Charles Redman. Students designed exhibits, newsletters, and went on field trips to do photographic documentation at various digs. It was beneficial for design students and I think they enjoyed the involvement. Dr. Redman seemed to relish working with Graphic Design students. He was a stimulating and exciting individual for our students. I found that Graphic Design students collaborating with people in other disciplines to be broadening, and it most certainly expanded their educational horizons. Using their knowledge and skills in Graphic Design as a base to enter into, or relate to, other fields was extremely effective as an educational practice


I think there is much to gain from similar university projects in terms of student educational experiences and promoting design within the institution. Graphic Design workshops accomplish some of the same goals by doing a variety of work for various clients in the university. However, they rarely get into the same depth as an entire Senior class working on a university project.

For portfolios, most students would show slides of an entire project and then identify their contributions to the project. These materials were so different from what most interviewers saw in student portfolios that it elicited considerable discussion. Often the interviewer would ask other members of the firm to come and look at the slides. Because the projects required teamwork, dealt with clients and involved practical solutions, most inter viewers were favorably impressed.



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