In fall 2017, Stevenson University’s School of Design began offering a new multidisciplinary course called “Design Center” for students who were seeking real-world, collaborative design and business challenges.
The design center is currently offered to business communication, film and moving image, and visual communication design students. According to the current syllabus, the course focuses on integrated marketing communication, competent research, innovative strategy, and thoughtful design. The agency was renamed “The Mill” at the end of the fall semester after students in the class pitched their naming ideas to the School of Design faculty.
Students from each of the three majors have expertise in different fields, and therefore are expected to achieve different course objectives in collaboration. Business communication students use communication skills to solve a problem or situation, and pitch stories to persuade target audiences. Film and moving image students produce appealing films for companies, and visual communication design students generate creative ideas and designs for clients’ needs.
This spring semester, there are currently 15 students taking the course. The fall course was instructed by Stephanie Verni, professor of business communication, while the spring course is currently under the lead instruction of Inna Alesina, assistant professor of visual communication design; Verni continues to assist when needed.
“This class is about bringing different groups of people and teaching them how to be creative,” said Alesina. Verni described her experience teaching the design center: “It was interesting to try to teach a course that was like an agency.”
Alesina has taught product design for 15 years and graphic design for four. She emphasized the importance of design thinking in the course.
“Design thinking is a methodology that allows people to be creative,” she explained. “We are going to understand the problem and we are going to propose to clients what we think they should be doing.”
Baltimore Greenway Trails Network (BGTN) is The Mill’s client this spring semester. BGTN is creating a 35-mile trail that connects parks and more than 50 neighborhoods in Baltimore City. The goal is to utilize the abundant green space in the city through building a trail that connects communities, where locals can bike, walk and enjoy the unique city scenery.
However, BGTN is facing a challenge. Much of the trail–as much as 20 percent–is left unfinished because some locals dislike the idea of having a trail going through their neighborhoods for safety reasons, according to Alesina. Students in the course are on a mission to solve this dilemma for BGTN.
After the students and professors listened to the neighborhoods’ concerns, the students started conducting research and generating ideas. They decided to make deliverables, such as films, posters and newsletters, using their storytelling skills to convince locals that the trail will be beneficial for them and their community.
The Mill students has successfully served two clients thus far: the Eastern Communication Association (ECA) and the School of Design (SOD) at Stevenson University. The students created social media posts, videos, a new logo and invitations for the ECA. The students also worked through the semester to create new naming and logo possibilities for the SOD center.
In the future, Alesina and Verni would like to include fashion design and merchandising majors in the mix, and Verni revealed that the long term plan is to have a dedicated room for The Mill in the Manning Academic Center.
Verni said students are learning how to find compromise in disagreements, and, most importantly, understand that the client drives the project. Alesina believes that students can learn how to respect other people’s methodology, collaborate with one another, communicate effectively, and develop time management skills by the end of the course.