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Design Students Gain Real-world Experience with Rebranding Project

Abbey Schmitz ’18 created updated logos for Urban Ventures in Graphic Design II, and the nonprofit selected her work to be the face of their unified brand. Photo Credit: Abbey Schmitz '18

This summer, Abbey Schmitz ’18 will be checking her mail with more enthusiasm than usual. As a volunteer with Urban Ventures’ Siempre Padres program, she receives monthly newsletters. Sometime soon, she expects to see a facelift on the regular communications—the result of her work in Professor Jessica Henderson’s Graphic Design II course this spring.

Henderson is committed to incorporating as many hands-on learning opportunities as possible in Graphic Design II. “Half the semester is practical,” she says. “Not necessarily glamorous—but practical.” Henderson reached out to Troy Groenke—vice president of marketing and communications for local nonprofit Urban Ventures—to see if there were opportunities for collaboration between his organization and her class of students.

Groenke’s response was more than Henderson expected. Urban Ventures had recently entered discussions about their brand and how to clearly identify the many successful programs and initiatives that are part of Urban Ventures proper. “They wanted to roll out that core brand across all their materials so that when you have an experience with the other programs, you know they’re connected to Urban Ventures,” Henderson says. In the 20-plus years since the organization’s inception, this connection had never been established, so the process was a major undertaking.

Henderson and Groenke entered an arrangement with no guarantees. Henderson understood that Urban Ventures may choose not to use the materials her students created. But neither entity had anything to lose. Urban Ventures would receive multiple iterations of free design work while Henderson’s students were given the opportunity to work with an established company to come up with solutions to a real-world problem.

Hands-on Design Work

Luckily, the arrangement was a success for both parties. As a first step to the project, Henderson had each of her students design their own version of a “master logo lockup”—a vision for how all of the logos could be altered slightly to align with the core Urban Ventures brand, including preexisting images, type, and color palettes. The group from Urban Ventures enthusiastically selected Schmitz’s logos from among their options.

“The students’ understanding of who Urban Ventures is was crucial in this,” says Colleen Bemis, marketing and communications coordinator for Urban Ventures. “They didn’t try to reintroduce or recreate. It took a lot of discipline, which is something that is so admirable in design work because ideation and creativity is pushed and admired, but in the real world, discipline and understanding of who the client is, is so important.”

Perhaps that’s why Schmitz’s logos landed so positively with the company. As someone with firsthand experience working with an Urban Ventures program, she says maintaining the “integrity of the logos they already had” was a high priority. “Knowing something about the people who are going to be interacting with the [marketing] materials definitely influenced my design decisions,” she says.

After Urban Ventures selected Schmitz’s logos, the project moved to phase two: updating the assets used by each program to reflect the new logo design and refresh the overall look of those materials. That included thinking through how the brand would be represented in different media, such as newsletters, registration and volunteer forms, promotion posters, Microsoft Word and PowerPoint templates, and online. Though Henderson and students have described this process as tedious, and at times frustrating, many attest that it was a valuable learning opportunity.

Applicable Experience for Jobs and Internships

Petra Lee ’18, a graphic design and fine art double major, says the experience has already proven directly applicable to her career. Lee landed a competitive design internship this summer with Sussner Design Company in Minneapolis. In her role, she’s now working with design assets similar to those she encountered during her spring semester class, so she had a helpful preview to her day-to-day work. But perhaps an even more valuable take-away was learning how to complete a design project on deadline. “I learned that setting many mini-deadlines goes a long way,” she says.

Other students—like Mike Bussmann ’17—benefited from the experience by having a real-world project to include in their design portfolios. “[During one interview] it was a helpful [to say] that I have real-world experience working for a nonprofit on a big branding campaign,” Bussmann says. “Yes, it was a ‘class project,’ but I gained experience doing the same things [a paid] graphic designer does.”

This isn’t the first time Bethel has partnered with Urban Ventures. For the past three years, the two organizations have worked together to facilitate Act Six—a full-tuition, full-need, urban leadership scholarship. But Henderson’s project bolstered the relationship and provided further opportunities for collaboration and hands-on learning for her students.

“I cannot say enough about Henderson as an instructor,” Bemis says. “She took [all of the materials that we gave her] and translated it into work for her students and integrated it into a module that would be [mutually beneficial]. We’ll be using what they did for a long time to come in many different ways.”

Learn more about hands-on learning opportunities with Bethel’s Department of Art and Design

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