In room 307 of Maryland Institute College of Art’s Brown Center, four students immersed themselves in a design internship for the summer. Sounds like any MICA student, but unlike most interns, they were designing social change.
This summer MICA and PNC Bank teamed up to create the PNC Design Fellows, a program to give students real professional experience and the opportunity to promote design in Baltimore.
“What we’re trying to demonstrate is the concept of design and it’s importance,” says Will Backstrom, Vice President and Territory Manager for PNC Community Development Banking. “This is as much a civic test as it is that we’re trying to get students to demonstrate that design can have real impact.”
At a competitive institution with an even more competitive application process, four fellows were hand selected to work in the city to help design various branding campaigns for nonprofits focused on multifaceted issues.
Fellows Crystal Dimeler and Sung Mun teamed up to rebrand the Women’s Industrial Exchange, by creating a cohesive and comprehensive way to repackage the organization. Being over a century old, the Exchange has undergone several rebrands; fellows had to sift through history to find a focus for the Exchange within the context of similar nonprofits.
“We’re at a really great time in our history as an organization, we’re looking at our history, and really focusing on where we go from here,” says Stephanie Halley, Executive Director of the Exchange. “As that conversation and our plans evolve, this initiative helps us not just with our look, but it helps our conversation for what the organization is going to be.”
The fellows attended an event, and visited the site of the Exchange frequently, an aspect of the internship that exceeds the usual.
“Those are experiences for our students that I just can’t provide within the context of a regular class,” says MICA Graphic Design Department Chair Brockett Horne, who also served as a mentor and project manager for the fellows. “For them to be able to dig so deeply and to understand, helps them broaden their definition of what design is, and to think a lot differently about what their role can be.”
Working well over the initially designed 20-hour weeks of the program, the students all realized the importance their design will have for the Exchange.
“Having a strong graphic design, having a strong brand for the Women’s Industrial Exchange will bring so many more people to the store. They’ll be able to know what it’s about,” Dimeler explains, “It’s a little misbranded right now. Now we’re going to have a bigger audience that will come and help support nonprofits.”
Fellows Shiraz Gallab & Juntong (June) Yu commandeered immensely different branding projects. Designing brand platforms for the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, Inc. (HEBCAC) Library and Baltimore Food Hub, the fellows had to organize the thoughts of board members and community partners to figure out how each organization fit in the community, while the organizations themselves are still in the works.
As campaigns projected into the future, both students had to listen to the goals of all those involved to develop a starting point for the starting designs of each initial campaign. The difficulty in working with a project less tangible than the Exchange forced fellows to deal with design obstacles that can’t be taught in the classroom. One of the most challenging aspects the fellows faced was relaying the importance of design.
“The great thing about our projects is that they get to inform the organization about design,” Shiraz explained, noting that graphic design doesn’t always translate well to those who haven’t studied the craft. “It’s challenging because I have demonstrate that graphic design has a point.”
Through countless hours and drafts of work, the importance of the fellows’ designs towards each organization’s future is incalculable.
“The graphics alone only do so much,” says Ed Sabatino, Executive Director of HEBCAC. “It provides us now with a visual look that is memorable and helps attract more attention to the project. And of course attention in our world ultimately means the ability to connect people to resources in a really meaningful way.”
Despite the completion of this year’s eight week program, the fellows’ designs have gone live or are continuing on in each organization’s campaigns.
“What you’re seeing right now is four people who busted their backsides to get this done, and there’s a downside to that, and there’s an upside to that,” Backstrom explains. “The concept of having a project with a deadline and getting it to customers, in a lot of ways, they’re sort of, I want to say Mad Women as opposed to Mad Men, it’s a real life experience. And this outcome is going to into perpetuity.”
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