Thursday, July 25, 2013

What I learned: Service-learning in graphic design

Julie Spivey is an associate professor of graphic design at UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art and a 2012 Service-Learning Fellow through the Office of Service-Learning, a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach and the Office of the Vice President for Instruction.

Design is seen as a systematic, collaborative way of addressing problems and transforming possibilities: a process that encompasses more stages than merely the implementation of an end product. As a professor, I am constantly seeking more meaningful, applied design problems for my students as well as the opportunity to connect and collaborate with community partners and experts in other disciples.

In spring 2013, I incorporated a service-learning project into a course for the first time. While I had not been officially involved in service-learning before becoming a Fellow, I have long facilitated applied-learning experiences for students by mentoring them in various, select design projects outside the classroom. In an existing graphic design studio for second-semester majors, my students worked on developing a graphic identity for UGArden, the teaching and student-run community gardens on campus that focus on sustainable food production.

Initially, the UGArden approached us about various design needs to support their branding efforts – including creating graphics for an electric delivery truck. Through our initial process, we realized the UGArden not only needed an identity system, they also needed to clarify their name. Though still unfinished, the project will ultimately help UGArden increase awareness in Athens and at UGA about their services, as well as promote the UGA Local Food Systems Certificate. The students will gain valuable experience dealing with an actual client problem in the local community and have a comprehensive piece for their portfolio.

Throughout this experience, I have found that the uncertainty of these types of projects is the most frustrating and rewarding aspect. Just like in professional practice, things change constantly – project scope evolves, schedules must be adjusted and information at times is incomplete. Nonetheless, these inconsistencies can be a valuable lesson for emerging designers. Although the project is still in progress, the students have already worked beyond their skill levels and surpassed my expectations, especially as students with only one semester of design studies.