8 September 2011
Education, like life, is all about taking risks. As educators, we need to provide real-life scenarios for our students. Of course each student, each class, and each school is different. What follows is how the Academy of Art University's School of Web Design & New Media has introduced real-life challenges in our program that rely on blending talents across disciplines. These projects have helped our students learn to communicate, set goals, listen to client needs, and work together to execute projects that have real-world potential and exciting creative results.
The Academy of Art University's School of Web Design & New Media is a program that blends traditional design with production techniques using new technologies; our students readily overcome production barriers that stymie traditional design students. Conversely, our students' design skills allow them to solve visual problems many traditional design school students cannot. Because our students can bridge so many obstacles, they are ideally suited to collaboration with students from other disciplines. We say our students are strategic designers and thinkers who create cross-brand and cross-media — and we really mean it.
The Academy has always supported collaborative projects and the resulting benefits of cross-pollination in its curriculum. The School of Web Design & New Media has likewise supported collaboration through group projects in many of our courses. Our philosophy is to prepare our students for their future roles in the design industry. We know from feedback from our alums in the industry and our New Media Advisory Board that the ability to collaborate is an essential skill. In design studios and agencies, talents from numerous people are brought to bear to solve communication problems that will eventually make clients happy. Because our students are comfortable with so many technologies for producing design, they work easily with experts from other places in the industry.
For many organizations, collaboration is just a buzzword, but for us it's part of a philosophy that extends from the classroom to the workplace.
We have learned from incorporating collaborative projects into our curriculum how to stimulate students toward exceptional results. Our first collaboration was to participate in the 2008 CompostModern, an AIGA conference on sustainable design. CompostModern was co-founded by Phil Hamlet, Graduate Director of AAU's Graphic Design department. Because our students are skilled in digital video, we were asked to participate by recording and editing interviews with that year's speakers. Our Video Design class made arrangements, under the direction of Gino Nave, Associate Director and author of our video courses, to interview and record the speakers as they left the stage. It was hard work editing these interviews down to bite-size chunks for the AIGA web site, but the students gained a great real-world experience with some of the most important designers in the field. David Keller, one of those students who had recently acquired an interesting seamless lavender background through an independent collaboration with majors from Advertising, headed the team using equipment from his personal studio combined with that from our department.
In our second major collaborative project, we allowed students to drive the collaboration. Inspired by Bielenberg's model for Project M and our students' participation in CompostModern, New Media students requested a special topics class in which they could create their own civic-minded series of projects inspired by the Project M model. Project M alums Dana Steffe (a New Media alum), Christopher Simmons and Tim Belonax all participated in the initial meetings of the participants. It was made very clear during this initial meeting that the risk of working with such a diverse team of talent and skill could possibly lead to negligible production results; ultimately the process of the collaboration would be the most important result. And so it was in this second case study.
The students established their roles based on their personal leadership abilities, design and production skills and then set out to define the project itself.
The formal name for this collaborative project was Merge, 2008. Merge, as defined by the participants, was to be a series of printed communications and an interactive web site that would guide city dwellers in San Francisco through the pitfalls of every day commuting. Rules of behavior and commuter etiquette for pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders, motorcyclists and car owners would be dispensed through intriguing graphics and a compelling web site. Their message was, "Be cool, be in San Francisco, and commute as neighbors."
This group of bright and talented New Media artists defined their leadership, design and production roles and timetables. The group created a logo, terrific graphics, and the structure of a powerful web site, but ultimately failed to complete all its tasks by the end of the semester. For those involved it was a valuable experience in learning the real meaning of collaboration at the cost of completing the integrated campaign components. Still, as predicted in the initial meeting, many in the class regard this experiment as an invaluable part of their education. They learned that to work together in groups means not permitting egos to get in the way of the message and the projects' success. For the School of Web Design & New Media, the results of this class populated by such talented and hardworking students was a clear message that future collaborations should be managed using different strategies and techniques.
Our third collaboration, participating in the Urban Forest Project competition, was highly successful. Susan Toland from the Academy of Art University introduced us to The Urban Forest Project, a design competition held each year in cities across the United States. Its goal is to plant as many trees in urban environments as possible in order to improve the urban landscape. New York, Dallas, Denver, and San Francisco (among others) have all been part of this amazing effort to provide greenery in our cities. Susan mustered participation throughout the many departments in our university, and New Media was happy to do what we could.
New Media students, from freshmen to seniors, worked together to create designs for the street-side banners and web site. Our digital illustration, imaging and web design classes all accepted the challenge. To our delight, our midpoint BFA student, Judy Zhao, designed, illustrated, and coded the winning site. Other students in our department designed several of the banners that will be hung around the city. Working collaboratively with Susan Toland along with Andrea Pellegrino and Mark Randall from Design Ignites Change and WorldStudio Projects, Judy worked like a professional making the necessary changes to complete her site design. Please visit this web site to experience the extent of our midpoint web design curriculum and Judy's amazing talents as designer and producer. For her efforts, AAU's President Elisa Stephens awarded Judy a scholarship to continue her studies at the Academy.
The fourth collaboration was also very successful. In Spring 2010, our department established a new course, WNM498 Collaborative Project, with the School of Advertising. Its focus was collaborative workflow to garner recognition for its participants, mostly seniors in both programs looking for positions after graduation. After many discussions and planning sessions, Melinda Mettler and Mark Edwards from Advertising helped us get this first-time collaborative up and running. Between our two schools, nine New Media students, nine Advertising students, New Media instructor Johanna Rogers and Advertising instructor Jon Clifton all worked together to create an exciting collaboration that garnered many successful design projects. One of these projects, "Post It Anywhere," became a Finalist in the Future Lions Competition in Europe.
Chris Vilchez and New Media colleagues William Chu and Jason Costello also received an Honorable Mention in the ADAA competition for the video project, "Slow Down. " Their Advertising partners in this project were Taiyo Kitagawa, Vickie Sornslip and Justin Macha.
Our most recent collaborative attempt was the new course WNM498 Application Design. Tiago Cabaco (winner of this year's ADAA Best Web design, Klavika Case Study), and Bo Paweena participated in the development of and presentations for a new application called "Smart Kitchen." It would allow users to automatically sync their kitchen pantries, grocery lists, and their appetites to create delicious home-cooked meals while saving time and money.
They made their final project presentation before three principals from Attik Design. I was the fortunate instructor who monitored their progress. I sometimes counseled them but often followed them as they worked from their original concept to final prototypes, from case and persona studies to creating wire-frames and user friendly designs, from interface concepts to finished web and application prototypes — from concept to presentation! I reviewed their navigation, user experience, interface design, and illustration studies. I was a lucky participant in this class to witness the culmination of our program's goals — concept through presentation of a completely formed, original new media project! It was a fantastic experience that was the culmination of everything we teach in our program. I was delighted to have participated in this unique opportunity to experience our program in its most complete form.
Collaborative projects have benefited our students in many ways. They enjoy learning from other future professionals and gaining perspective from different disciplines. They learn to assess their own and others' skills, to submerge their personal vision when necessary to meet group goals, and to enjoy taking credit for creations as a team rather than as an individual. We know that our students who participate in collaborative projects are well suited to join the real-world work force in digital agencies and hi-tech design departments because they have experienced a workflow similar to the one they will encounter in industry.