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2010 News Releases
Design Lab gives students experience in design jobs
September 20, 2010
Longwood University's graphic design program now includes what has been called a "student-run design agency."
The Design Lab, a class offered both semesters, provides students with experience in working on design projects for clients. This began in spring semester 2010 with eight students who did about a half-dozen jobs. This semester the lab has 10 students, five of whom participated in the spring, who already are working on 12 to 15 jobs, with more jobs coming in. Although it's open to students from any major who range from second-semester sophomores to first-semester seniors, students have to be apply and be accepted. The work is done pro bono.
"The lab is about students having a professional experience and learning about design in a way different from how they would normally learn in a class," said Wade Lough, assistant professor of graphic design, who coordinates the lab along with Chris Register, professor of art.
"Wade and I tag-team as advisers," Register said. "Wade taught it in the spring, and I'm teaching it this semester. In a design agency, we would be the principals. We primarily drum up the business, and the students serve in a capacity like employees. All have different jobs to do, and they're not always doing the same thing. They work in teams. It's a collaborative effort, as if we were a company. The question always is: How do we approach a certain problem?"
Students in the Design Lab meet twice a week for two hours each, receive three credits and follow a syllabus, like in a regular studio class. However, Lough and Register say the lab is different from a class.
"It's more than a class, and it gives them something they wouldn't get in a class," said Lough. "We don't think of it as a class. It's a different dynamic than going into a classroom. The students learn not only about design but also about meeting tight deadlines and how to work with clients, especially how to listen to clients, which is important. It's a very exciting thing to have."
"In the lab," Register said, "the students are all working in the same direction, whereas in a class they work on individual projects. It's a collaboration they wouldn't normally get in an art program. A design lab like this is not common at the undergraduate level."
Among the jobs that Design Lab students did last spring were a security brochure for the Longwood Police Department, the "identity" and a logo for the Moton Museum celebration "Our Schools, Our Vision" (by students Erica May and Kaitlyn Smith), a web site for the Virginia Water Monitoring Council (Franki Starr, Jennifer Bapties and Berk Dunbrack), and a poster announcing the Farmville Tree Board's annual Arbor Day photo contest (Jessica Cox and Emily Staskiel). Jobs this semester include a logo for the Southside SPCA and the poster for Longwood's Simkins Lecture Series.
A surprising number of clients have come from off-campus. "We thought most of the jobs at first would be for the art department and elsewhere on campus, but many have been from the community," Register said. "It's been shockingly successful from the very beginning. We think there's a real need for design work at area parks and historical sites, so we may explore places like High Bridge Trails and Sailor's Creek battlefield, for example, to see if there is a need."
"I think the work (load) will explode," Lough said. "We may end up with too many jobs, which would be exciting. We want students to compete not only for jobs on-campus and in the community but also for national jobs, which they've already done. Last spring they applied to design a new logo for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges. Very soon Chris and I expect the students of Design Lab to participate in national undergraduate research projects in design."
The composition of this semester's class has been perfect, Register said. "Half are veterans and half are rookies. It works out well that we have five of each, which allows us to pair up one with the other. Students who re-apply also have to be accepted, like with first-time students. We were especially selective in the spring. We want students to be proud they were accepted and are in it, and we want that pride to be engendered in other students so they'll want to be in it."
The students are provided guidance. "It's not as if we're throwing them in the pool and watching them flounder," Lough said. "We try to match the students' strengths to a particular job. Often the more experienced students collaborate with less experienced students and help them raise the bar on their design. Also, Chris and I serve as a firewall of protection between the client and the students, which works both ways. We also ensure that the students stay on schedule with clients."
Because students must be at least a second-semester sophomore, which usually occurs in the spring, students in the spring will tend to be in the Design Lab for the first time, with a higher percentage of returning students taking it in the fall. "I expect the majority of the Design Lab students will be juniors," Lough said. "For whatever reason, student designers seem to blossom in their junior year. Perhaps it is because that, by that time, they have more experience but without the worries of seniors."
Graphic design is the most popular concentration in the Department of Art, accounting for about half of the department's 165 majors, including some 25 of the 49 incoming art majors. The graphic design program graduates about 25 students a year.
Appropriately, Design Lab students designed their own logo, which appears on a T-shirt. The logo, which features the words "design lab" in a style called jumble letters and a graphic that Lough jokingly called a "test tube pencil," was designed by Dane Summerell and Lindsay Scott and refined by Jessica Cox. "I think the logo captures the sense that a lab is a place for exploration and experimentation," Lough said.
"When I interviewed for my teaching position, Dr. Chuck Ross (dean of the Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences) and I had a good discussion about the necessity of undergraduate research," said Lough. "That discussion was one of the biggest reasons I came to Longwood. When Chris and I imagined Design Lab, we went to Dr. Ross, and he made our enterprise possible.
"The lab will show the students that they can compete on a level with other design programs at larger schools. I think it will have a profound effect on the culture of the design program here. We want students to realize that just because Longwood is located in a small town doesn't mean they can't do work as good as, let's say, students at VCU."