The Create event is something close to the hearts of all students graduating from Tyler School of Art and Architecture’s Graphic and Interactive Design program at Temple University— it’s our portfolio presentation event. Held in the well-known green hallway of the school at the end of the spring semester, this event gives graduating students the opportunity to display their work to not only friends and family but also alumni and employers. The event has had growing success as it gained more traction in the Philadelphia and larger Tri-State area community — looking at attendance patterns over the past few years, we found a general 25% increase from year to year. The Create Team — a group of five seniors at Tyler — took on the responsibility of designing this event at the beginning of January 2020, determined to make it the best yet.
At the beginning of this project, we applied for roles within the team and conducted interviews to see who would best fit which role. The roles included Project Manager, Lead Strategist, Production Manager, Design Manager, and Client Manager. Our professor, Abby Guido, then assigned each of us a position with defined responsibilities. This was incredibly useful for multiple reasons — it was great to practice interviewing but it also allowed us to learn each other’s strengths and divide up tasks for the large project. Having defined responsibilities on top of our design work allowed us to make sure that we were covering all aspects of the project as well as holding each other (and ourselves) accountable for the work that we were supposed to be doing.
Taking our roles on the team in stride, we started with research, organization, and writing a creative brief for the event. The Project Manager, Zareen Johnson, worked with our Design Manager, Spencer Smith, to create a timeline of due dates for different components of the event as well as a Slack group for us to communicate in. Lead Strategists Rebecca Hawkins and Samantha Ruiz spent time researching different aspects of the event including branding, social media, web design, and feedback from previous years. Our Production Manager, Emily Funck, created a fantastic file organization system in a shared google drive (along with a user guide) to enhance file collaboration. With the foundation laid, we then moved onto writing the creative brief where we laid out general information as well as our goals and intentions for the event.
We dove into our audience and created personas for both alumni and non-affiliated employers to lay out their needs and desires. We found this information by reading through survey responses from the last year to make sure that we were able to address specific issues and desires. One thing in particular that we found was that most reviewers struggled to find the type of specific designers that they were looking for. This brought up a lot of conversations about how we define ourselves and the ways that we could better present this information both in-person and online. Setting up specific success metrics, like reaching a minimum of 120 professional reviewers to follow our growth pattern, was the next part of our brief. This was valuable because it gave us something more tangible to strive for with this project. For the last part of the brief, we included both competitor research and visual inspiration. Looking at the branding of competitor events allowed us to not only understand what others were doing but to also make sure that we stood out from the crowd. Visual research, through a shared Pinterest board, allowed us to gather design ideas that would be useful to look at and consider as we moved into concept and logo development.
Concepting the event and developing the logo was where the truest collaboration for our team began. After separately trying to come up with ideas and feeling that there was nothing substantial enough to work with, we began group brainstorming sessions in front of the whiteboard where we could share ideas and build off of one another. This was great for both idea generation and bonding as a team. We put out everything we could think of — even the ridiculous stuff — to make sure that we didn’t miss any opportunities for a great idea.
The brainstorming led us to a few concepts that we wanted to move forward with: “steps,” “methods and mediums,” and “behind the design.” With these in front of us, we began logo sketching to see how these concepts could be applied to the branding and design. We went through a few rounds of logo development, where we would work on separate concepts and then shared our files. By sharing files and switching around concepts, each of us were able to have our hands on the different logo files — this enabled us to create logo concepts that the group as a whole felt strongly about and attached to.
After narrowing down ideas and starting to think about how our brand and logo could be applied to an invitation and website, we ultimately decided to move forward with the concept “Behind The Design”. We felt that this concept was the strongest because it not only led to the most interesting design, but it also allowed us to show both our process and personality. As a team, we felt that to build the connections that we were looking for it was important to be able to show off more than just our work with this event — we wanted to show that Tyler GAID students are creative problem solvers, conceptual thinkers, and most importantly, wonderful and interesting people.
At this point, we began to have working sessions outside of our designated class time in order to finalize our logo and design the printed invitation for the event. These sessions included a mix of sharing ideas, eating pizza, and huddling around one computer to all give input on the design we were collaborating on. Looking back, it seems that these meetings were significant in helping us to continue growing as a stronger team and to create an invitation that we all felt was ours. Having everyone together for this process was also vital in helping us to define our brand as a group and create assets and a style tile that we could continue to use in the future to maintain consistency throughout the rest of the event.
For the final invitation, we created a tri-fold piece with angled cuts to reveal different parts of the invite at a time and mimic the peeling back feeling of the logo and general concept for the event. We wanted to create an experience for the person who received the printed invite that got them interested in and excited about our upcoming event.
Unfortunately, this is where things ended up taking a turn — just as we finished up the invitation document to send to printing, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation. This put a pause on our efforts as we waited to see how Temple University would react and tried to decide what we could do moving forward depending on the outcome of the situation. As things got worse and Temple had to close the campus, we found ourselves no longer having an event to design for — Create 2020 was canceled. Although as seniors we were upset by the fact that our last semester of college was being changed in a way we could never have imagined, we realized the importance of our role as the Create Team in this situation. Without the physical event in place to let graduating students show off everything they had worked for during their time in the program, we decided we needed to figure out how to create a digital campaign or event that would allow students to still feel that they were given the opportunity to present their work.
Understanding that time was limited, we swiftly came up with a pivot plan that we presented to the faculty at Tyler. This included the use of a robust portfolio presentation website and an extensive social media campaign that would take over our program’s Instagram. We felt that the best way to help students feel seen was to get them and their work out onto multiple channels. Things were hectic at first as we transitioned to Zoom meetings from our respective homes, but we ultimately found solace in the fact that we still had somewhere to meet on a regular basis. We divided up our team into a social media team and a web team and began brainstorming how we could bring our ideas to fruition.
The Instagram social media campaign became a two-fold project as we tried to navigate creating buzz and interaction from community members while helping the graduating students feel more at ease during this time. The first component of the campaign was creating student highlights for each individual graduating from the BFA or MFA program this semester. We created a form to collect student work with specifications for formatting, considering how the posts would look as both part of our Instagram feed and as a story. In the form, we asked students to submit examples of work, a short bio, and how they define themselves as designers.
Calling back to our previous understanding of employer needs, we felt that highlighting people’s interests within the design field was still important and valuable digitally. We also felt that the biographies were a great way to allow people to express themselves and show off their personality a little online. Luckily, we had also taken headshots earlier in the semester which was another asset we could use to show people off. Next, the team created a spreadsheet that laid out who would be posted when so that the production of people’s content into the post templates could be prioritized correctly. Student posts began daily on March 30th to make sure that we could get everyone seen on Instagram before our website went up on April 30th.
The second component of the social media campaign called for alumni interaction, so we reached out on Instagram and posted a call for volunteers. Just juggling all the responses we got from alumni eager to help was a task in and of itself. We sought advice that the alumni could give to the Tyler GAID students as they navigated graduating from college and starting their careers. This was important to us for multiple reasons — we felt that it was a great way to let alumni know about the campaign and get them to interact with it, but we also felt that it could help students feel less anxious trying to enter the workforce at such an unprecedented time.
We brainstormed a long list of questions, then organized them into topics. We based these topics on what information we wanted to put out each week — for example, we knew we wanted to start with portfolio advice so that students could use the advice while they were still working on their portfolios. We created a questionnaire form that we sent out to our alumni, and were met with a resounding desire to give back. With close to fifty responses, we found ourselves with an abundance of information to sort through and post. We were able to post professional advice on our Instagram story three times a week for the last four weeks of classes. Sharing this alumni advice was both useful to students and showed off the great community Tyler GAID has.
All while this was happening, to create a website that would take on the event in digital form. We had originally planned a smaller event website but decided that we needed to build this out into something much larger — and so we recruited help from another professor, Scott Laserow. For the website, we wanted to create something that not only had strong branding and interaction, but that also created a user experience that guided people to viewing student work and portfolios.
Since our physical invitation was no longer being sent out, we decided to replicate the work done there by creating a slider at the beginning of the site that goes over both the reason for the site and statistics about the class of 2020. Once through the slider, we implemented a filter system for the students based on their area of design. Since this website was going to be sent out to employers, we wanted to create something where they could find the specific type of person they were looking for easily. Each student got their own page on the website with their portrait, bio, and work so that the website could essentially be a hub for everyone to exist on. We then link out to everyone’s Instagram, LinkedIn, and portfolio websites so that if someone wanted to contact a student they had paths to do so.
In the end, the Create project ended up being one of the best collaborative experiences we could have hoped for and was successful in different areas. The Create Team delivered on something that we were all proud of and felt team-wide ownership over — even in the midst of an unusual time that required us to change the scope of our project. In our social media campaign, we found by looking at analytics that our posts from the campaign had close to 8,000 engagements including both likes and comments on feed posts as of the end of April. Our follow count on Instagram also went up by about 200 people as our campaign gained traction and got shared to other pages. Individual students gained a range of followers on their respective Instagram accounts and one student even got a job offer in correlation to their highlight on the Tyler GAID page. As we finish up our website for the event, we are setting up posts for Instagram as well as an email blast to 518 professionals that we will use to broadcast the launch of the final component of this project. We plan to use Google analytics to continue to track progress and success for the website.
Visit our website at www.tylerdesignbfa.com
Credits as followed:
Project Manager and Designer: Zareen Johnson
Production Manager and Designer: Emily Funck
Design Manager and Designer: Spencer Smith
Lead Strategist, Client Manager, and Designer: Rebecca Hawkins
Lead Strategist: Samantha Ruiz
Client and Professor: Abby Guido
Web Development: Scott Laserow