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Graphic design students use skills to benefit local not-for-profits

April 30, 2015
KOKOMO, Ind. — The poster Natalie Barker created for her graphic design class won’t just be in her portfolio — it will be displayed in Kokomo area businesses.

Barker designed the promotional poster for the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance (GKEDA) “Keep Kokomo Beautiful” campaign, as part of a competition for her graphic design production and practice class.

“I’m excited my poster was chosen for something tangible, that’s going to be out where people can see it,” said Barker, a junior new media communications major at Indiana University Kokomo. “You push yourself creatively when you’re working for an actual client, rather than just giving it to an instructor for a grade.”

Michael Koerner, assistant professor of new media, runs the class like a graphic design agency, seeking out jobs from area not-for-profit organizations.

“We don’t have hypothetical assignments,” he said. “All of our assignments are real-life, client-based efforts. My aim is for each student to gain professional experience and transferrable skills, that will offer career opportunities outside of the university.”

In addition to the “Keep Kokomo Beautiful” poster, students also created brand identity campaigns for GKEDA’s “Keep Kokomo Beautiful, Keep Kokomo Strong, Keep Kokomo Innovative” initiative, and designed posters for the First Friday Lantern Festival.

The class also developed campaigns for the Family Service Association of Howard County to support domestic violence victims, and created logos, letterhead, and business cards for its Jackson Street Commons housing complex for homeless veterans.

Students will end the semester by developing eight projects for the United Way of Howard County’s Day of Caring, which is in September.

Susan Alexander, GKEDA business growth facilitator, and Donna McLean, associate professor for communication arts, whose class planned the Lantern Festival, reviewed all the designs and made their selections.

During Lantern Festival presentations, Koerner hung all five posters at the front of the classroom, for Alexander and McLean to examine. The two women, armed with legal pads and pens, examined each one closely, leaning in to talk about them quietly.

“You’re going to make us pick just one?” Alexander said, adding that she would like to exhibit the posters not chosen.

“These posters take our event to a whole new level,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve highlighted the essence of a First Friday in a poster.”

Ultimately, she chose Matt Oberholtzer’s design.

Barker found it nerve wracking to watch her clients examine all the work, but was interested in their feedback. She said it was a valuable experience of what it is like to work as a graphic artist.

“In a class, you usually know what to expect, and what you have to do to earn the grade,” she said. “When you work with actual clients, there are curveballs, like the client not making a decision by your deadline, so you wait. It’s definitely nice to have that actual stuff happen that would happen to you as a working graphic artist.”

Rob Trlak, from Amboy, created the winning brand identity campaign that was utilized in Barker’s poster. He said the experience gave him a better idea of what his work environment could be like after he graduates.

“It’s a challenge, meeting clients’ needs and standards that aren’t hypothetical,” he said. “It’s forcing me to think outside the box of what I like to create, and I’m doing things outside my comfort zone that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. You have to find a way to resonate with the client, and express the message they want to communicate.”

For Chad Parkinson, the class is an opportunity to have real work to put in his portfolio, rather than a digital piece. He also appreciates having real, meaningful deadlines in order to meet the client’s needs.

“You could end up with a lot of projects to juggle, which tests your time management,” he said. “That’s a good experience to have before you begin your career.”
In addition to gaining professional skills, the students are learning to give back, Koerner said. He developed this model of teaching when he was creative director for the design center at IU Southeast.

“This opportunity is, at its core, community-driven,” he said. “I am striving for students to establish meaningful connections and relationships within their own community, to become invested in their community.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 04/30/2015