April 10, 2017

Design. Education

Sometimes it takes a little while for the planets to line up. For example, we have worked with education clients for years but I only learned about the University & College Designers Association (UCDA) about a month ago. (It pays to have an informed network of friends and peers.)


Wait, there’s an AIGA specifically for higher ed? Okay, I’m game!


As luck would have it, UCDA held their annual Design Summit a few hours down the road in Greenville, South Carolina, at the end of March. The event promised to “help stimulate your creativity, improve your social media presence, and assist navigating the sometimes challenging environment that is higher education.”


Listening to the speakers and talking with attendees (this gathering was rather intimate with total attendance in the low 80s), it was interesting learning more about the pain that in-house departments face in an academic setting. The summit did its best to address some of these needs through the speakers.


My favorites included Ben Billow , Danny Gregory  and Hayes Henderson who I’ve been happy to call a friend for years. Topics ranged from ways to improve the creative content of storytelling online, quieting the nagging voice of self-doubt all creatives have, and understanding when opportunities present themselves to do great work to match the experiences students are having.


So what were my takeaways as someone who partners with schools? In short, I feel you. Limited budgets. Overwhelming workloads. A lack of understanding about what you provide and why internal clients should care. We tackle these same challenges here on a daily basis. I discussed cost center structures, client education and partnering with outside agencies, among other solutions to some of these issues. The conversations provided a good deal of insight.


But there are also plenty of opportunities for growth. Knowing when to push the envelope to make your work more compelling (sketch, do research, network, and sometimes say “no”). Just like something on campus always being under construction, as designers we should be growing and changing, continuing to add to our skillsets as well. We need to keep up with how Gen Z is consuming information (as well as their parents). That means multiple touches through direct mail and email campaigns, viewbooks and websites with snackable content, and perhaps an app that tells your school’s stories via a virtual tour or animated data points.


Designing for higher ed also has the added benefit of helping sell a product that changes the trajectory of people’s lives. That keeps the team here at Fifth Letter engaged with all our education projects. After all, there’s always more to learn.


See you at the next summit.


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Photo of Elliot Strunk

Elliot is the Ringleader of Fifth Letter. When he’s not writing blog posts he can usually be found behind an ever-scattering herd of cats.