Renée Stevens has been my best friend since our college days. We both graduated from RIT’s School of Design and have shared our most important milestones together, both happy and sad. Through it all, Renée has always been there for me, supported me, and encouraged me. She is a very special type of friend—you don’t come by people like Renée very often. So when she asked if I wanted to participate in a workshop she was organizing, it was my turn to support and encourage her.
Pixels & Print is an annual design workshop created and organized by Renée, who happens to be an Assistant Professor at Syracuse University within the Multimedia Photography and Design Department at Newhouse. Last year, she recognized a need to provide her students with a design challenge to prepare them for the real world. She sought out organizations that were in need of branding and digital help. But not just any organizations—she chose ones that strive to change lives in one way or another. After pitching these selections to the students, she allowed them to vote on their favorite. One in Twenty was officially chosen as the organization that would receive donated time from students and professionals for three days. The end result would provide them with branding materials, a motion graphics campaign, and a responsive website. One in Twenty creates a voice for those dealing with mental illness. It encourages them to share their story online to initiate the healing process. They strive to build a community that reinforces healing through storytelling to reach those who feel unreachable and to ultimately save lives.
Upon arriving, I was met by a group of other coaches who had traveled from all over the United States. We were there to help art direct and motivate the students to solve the client’s needs in a very short amount of time. We met with the client and learned just how much this opportunity meant to them. It was a very emotional presentation on their behalf and immediately we were all 100% invested in getting them the best possible work we could from these students. When we learned of the deliverables and the extent at which we needed the students to execute, we did everything we could to not freak out.
I remember asking Renée, “Okay, so I have 9 students of varying ages and skill levels that need to come together to make ONE website in TWO days?!” She looked at me and said with a great deal of excitement and a giggle, “Yup!”
So we got to it. We met all the students (about 30 in total) that were divided into groups for print, web and motion. Myself and two other coaches were responsible for the web team, comprised of 9 students eager to get started. To our surprise, none of the students knew each other and all were very shy. We knew that in order to make this a successful weekend, that had to change. Little by little we broke down barriers and got them comfortable working with each other. We learned everyone’s strengths, weaknesses and skill level.
For the next 2 days, we worked with the students from 9am until midnight — sketching wireframes, providing feedback, and reviewing designs. We realized that in order for these students to design a cohesive website, we had to divide it into components as opposed to pages. We created a list that included such elements as: the navigation bar, homepage hero, interior headers, forms, etc. Each student was assigned a component of their choice and during our first design review we had them print their work and tape it to the wall.
To be perfectly honest, our first review had us coaches terrified. Design styles were all over the place and we had to somehow wrangle these into one consistent experience. We gave the best feedback we could and went around providing additional guidance as they worked. Our second review came to pass and we were absolutely blown away! The students really listened to our critique and it was so exciting to see how it was all coming together. You could feel the passion and excitement in that computer lab. These once shy students were now speaking up, talking to one another, sharing ideas, and collaborating. It was a beautiful sight to see. All the while, none of the coaches touched a mouse, ever.
The final presentation had the client crying tears of joy. The students gave everything they had, and I later learned that none of this counted as school credit for them. Those who had participated were on borrowed personal time and had the passion to do this extra work all their own. The coaches and I were so very proud of how hard everyone worked and the feeling in that room is something I hope the students hold onto, because it was so much more than a print, web, and motion presentation.
Thanks to Renée and all her hard work organizing this event, the students had their first look at what it means to do work that matters… work that changes lives and work that’s changing the world. You don’t get that opportunity in college and sometimes you don’t even get that opportunity in the real world. This gave them a glimpse at how rewarding it feels to put your talent to work for a purpose much greater than yourself. It taught them to be selective with their job choices when the graduate. To ask themselves if their employer has a client list with organizations that mean something to them. Because this is why we (designers) love what we do everyday. We have been blessed with the God-given talent to create experiences, tell beautiful stories, and help change the world.
So, students at Newhouse, now that we’ve seen what you can do, how will you use your talent? The world awaits…