Bringing Graphic Design Students out of the Classroom and into the Community

So much of graphic design education is focused around the computer that it is great when opportunities arise where we can escape the digital frontier and find ways to work with design in the environment. So many artists and designers are actively starting to engage community by bringing work out into public spaces like Candy Chang, Jenny Holzer, and Banksy. A great project that is very close to home, Living Walls showcases huge graffiti projects on the exteriors of buildings all over the city. The project hopes to create a new narrative to the urban landscape through art. While some styles are considered more graffiti art or “guerrilla style” and others considered urban art projects or “civic projects” they all fuel objectives like bringing community together and creating public narrative through public art.

With this trend in mind, and my personal appreciation and interest of urban art projects, I wanted to incorporate this idea into our standard introductory type class at Georgia State. A lot of the introductory courses at State focus on graphic design education using software so it was a pleasant change for the students (and myself) to step away from the computers and work at a larger scale, the environment. I proposed we work with a temporary medium, chalk, and stencil our designs on large slabs of pavements. I think initially, the students were not super excited. But, as it turned out, the students really enjoyed the project once they started to get their hands dirty.

The Project: Letterform Anatomy Compositions

We worked on hand rendered drawings initially and then brought color and the computer into the equation. The final project required each student to finalize (on the computer) three letterform compositions in black and white and color. As a last exercise, I challenged each student to build a stencil to assist them in recreating their favorite designs during class time outside in the corridor. Each student chose a square panel (about 4′ x 4′) and redrew their designs to scale with chalk. The experiment turned out to be a great success and while the students were really excited to see their work out on display for all to see, we also received a lot of positive feedback on the exercise.


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