by justin rand '18
Last semester, my Identity System Design class worked with the Mill City Park initiative. We spent the first half of our semester working on separate, practice systems to familiarize ourselves with the design process and then met with our community client. Mill City Park is a project under development that plans on adding a bunch of outdoor recreation features to Franklin, NH, including mountain biking trails, pump tracks (another biking thing, in case you've never heard of that like I hadn't), a whitewater park, and a community garden. They are focused on the outdoors, being active, and participating in the community, but the project also wants to link itself to the town's storied history. And since it's an industrial town, there's not much overlap between that and the other values the park wants to embody. Reconciling that was our big design challenge.
Speaking of design challenges, working with an actual client is humbling when all your prior work has been theoretical. The goal is different — instead of optimizing for the execution of the ideas you bring to class, you have to work with what the client brings and put aside a lot of the vision you have for the project (which is the last thing an art student wants to do). After mostly bringing our own cards to the proverbial table for three plus years, it was jarring to have them dealt to us by an organization we had zero familiarity with.
Even though our client ended up picking my logo as the jumping off point for their identity system, I probably had the most trouble out of anyone in my class with that adjustment. Our client wanted to draw on Franklin's past, but I wanted to paint a picture of its future — and after spending too much time trying to reframe the project so it worked the way I wanted it to, I learned that I could fulfill our client's vision without throwing away my design-minded priorities. Compromise like that takes a different kind of creativity than schools tend to teach. Recognizing that we lacked it, and that we needed to learn it for this project, showed us right away how it's going to be an important skill for our post-graduate careers.
Realizing this was especially humbling for me: after hours of research and hundreds of sketches, I got the honor of being the only one to have every single one of my concepts rejected by the client at our mid-process meeting. I was forced to switch gears — from trying to use good design on my own ideas to convince the client to want something they hadn't asked for, to accepting the parameters we were given and doing my best work within them. Turns out, swimming with the needs they dropped on us instead of against them makes progress a lot easier, and going all-in on what our client was asking for got my design chosen. Despite how I had to basically start over halfway through. I think everyone in the class saw that and took note of it — even though only one of us got to pat ourselves on the back for having our work chosen, we all learned the same lessons about how to apply these skills we've accumulated during our education.
Looking ahead at my own career, the Mill City Park identity project has been more than a chance to face reality and learn: I've been able to turn my success with them into freelancing and other resumé-padding opportunities with other related organizations in Franklin.
That's one of the big reasons I'd encourage Colby-Sawyer to keep scouting out opportunities like this for students — even though us art students like to think our fields are pure, sacred meritocracies, the reality is that just like other jobs, networking is a crucial part of being successful, and we should practice that skill as much as we can.