Course Partnership Highlight: Principles of Visual Design & The East Decatur Greenway

April 23, 2018

Periodically SLS highlights a particularly interesting and fun course partnership.  Back in December, Camilla Warren of the EPA Southeast Region connected PhD candidate Firaz Peer who teaches Principles of Visual Design to Michele Ritan of the East Decatur Greenway.  Here, we’ve asked them to reflect on their collaboration.  Their comments offer insight as to the importance of communication, reciprocity, and shared expectations—and what results when Georgia Tech students channel their energy and expertise into real-world projects with a great partner!

What do folks at Tech need to know about the East Decatur Greenway?

MR: East Decatur Greenway is a very small nonprofit. However, our mission (public greenspace, environmental education) has a big constituency, so we really need publicity, branding, and related materials to get the word out and engage the community. Thus, we are most grateful for the opportunity to work with Georgia Tech students who can provide these valuable services at no cost to our organization.

FP: East Decatur Greenway (EDG) is a non-profit that has just completed transforming an abandoned gas station near downtown Decatur  into a park. The park is scheduled to open to the public on April 23rd, so the students were tasked with designing a poster campaign that would advertise the park and it’s inauguration to the residents, schools and businesses close by.

CW: EDG received a Brownfields Cleanup Grant from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2014. These Grants are used to cleanup abandoned gas stations and other “brownfields,” and remove blight from their communities. Once cleaned up, these sites are ready for reuse for the community. Many communities need greenspace for play and educational purposes. EDG wanted to let the community know their greenspace is ready for the community. EPA connected EDG to Georgia Tech for assistance with publicity for its grand opening.

East Decatur Greenway

Photo: Camilla Warren

What was the nature of this collaboration? What was the goal?  Why was it successful/fun?

MR: The students produced posters for use in local schools, businesses, churches, and government offices. Working with these students was a revelation.

They listened carefully to a presentation about EDG, asked insightful questions, and produced a remarkable range of creative, effective, and beautiful posters.  I felt like EDG had been given a consultation with a talented ad agency!

FP: Aligned with the Big Idea of ‘Doing good in your neighborhood’, the SLS course on Principles of Visual Design offers students the opportunity to use their design skills in the service of non-profit organizations operating in the city of Atlanta. Each semester, students design poster campaigns, logos and brand identities for local businesses, schools and entrepreneurs in Atlanta . . . . Before embarking on the poster design project, students completed several smaller projects that taught them the basics of visual design, such as line, shape, color, typography and grids. Students also learnt the basics of using tools such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign as part of their design process.

The focus through this collaboration was to encourage students to work with the organizations and treat them as partners rather than as clients. With this idea in mind, Michele and Camilla (from EDG) participated in the critique sessions and gave students feedback throughout the design process. This allowed the students to learn about project specifics that would not have been possible otherwise. In one instance, a student included a picture of a bird in one of the posters. This led to a conversation about the natural habitat surrounding the greenway and the kinds of birds, plants and flowers that were local, recognizable and could be included in the campaign.  

The 22 students in the class worked in groups of two, to produce 22 posters designed to work in a variety of settings, including schools, churches, businesses, libraries, MARTA stations and even PATH trails nearby. Some posters focused on the transformation process (from gas station to green space was the tagline they used), some on the different activities that were now possible at the park, while others were more open ended and invited the viewer to come check out this new public space.

CW: EPA partners with local universities all over the country for various outcomes: citizen science, research, and community engagement. In this case, EPA involved Georgia Tech students in an opportunity to learn more about brownfields, the need for greenspace in communities, and an opportunity for work with an innovative nonprofit. The students provided awesome posters at no cost to EDG, which allows them to encourage and motivate the community to join in the Grant Opening.

What are your unique perspectives— from your different roles and expertise— on working together and on the Greenway?

MR: This experience reminded me never to underestimate the power of young people to create solutions that make the world a better place. Their work will be so valuable in promoting EDG's mission throughout our community.

FP: Design has always been involved in changing existing situations into preferred ones. The design of this course, the collaborations, and the final deliverables have given the students the opportunity to work closely with community partners and collectively envision a future for those impacted by this project. Going forward, the hope is that this experience will allow the students to realize the social impact of their design skills and appreciate the role design can play in changing current realities.