Blog: 13 April 2016Never work with animals or children... or so the saying goes

Aaron Clarke

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Aaron Clarke

Graphic Communication Director

Reading office

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For many (myself included), a corporate charitable/pro bono day conjures up images of a team dragged unwillingly out of their nice comfortable offices, sporting high-vis vests and grimacing as several of the team concentrate on yanking out a shopping trolley from the murky depths of a local river whilst the team leader looks on assuring everyone that “we’re doing this for the community”! I suppose another (slightly more appealing) vision is one of planting sunflowers in a community garden on a sunny day in spring whilst being offered cups of tea and digestive biscuits. In fact, the latter sounds very appealing. In any case, these were the initial thoughts that ran through my mind with the announcement that the Partners had made the decision to offer all members of staff 7.5 hours of charitable/pro bono time. However, I felt that we should take our professional knowledge and our quite considerable range of skills and use this time in a more creative, meaningful and positive way.

The beauty of graphic design is that it can be shaped and moulded to every taste conceivable and every age imaginable – including younger children who gleefully ignore current trends and possess the ability to see through what ‘we’re supposed to like’.

So why not put this to the test I thought... and so, for our 7.5 hours of charitable time, I volunteered our services to a local primary school. Upon hearing this, the rest of the graphic design team reacted in a way that I can only describe now, with the benefit of hindsight, as pure abject terror. As the initial shock subsided, the team and I approached the day in much the same way we would approach any other project: map out the timescales, individual tasks and eventual output. We had several meetings with the year six teachers and ensured we were working in synergy with the current term topic (Rulers and Governments), when terror struck again as we realised that instead of teaching one class we were, in fact, teaching two classes (60 children). However, as time went on we realised that we had a truly fantastic opportunity to ignite a spark of creativity in 60 children. We had been given a chance, for one day, to provide an alternative from the academia-laden aspect of the current curriculum and sow a seed in young minds that a career in the creative industry is a possibility... and we were determined to take this chance.

The day itself was set out with military-style planning (which flew out the window within 10 minutes). with each lesson set up to assist the children with advertising a made-up political party – part of their course work set by the school. An initial presentation challenged the children to explain what they thought graphic design meant to them and through the use of well-known logos, vivid colours and popular culture we encouraged children to think with an open mind. Each designer had a group of five under their creative wings, guiding initial logo ideas for each political party through to completion and eventually digitalisation. Posters were created using the logos and identities and from there we filmed a short campaign video for each group (in-between group lessons in flying a drone and taking aerial photography of the school grounds).

With the permission of the parents and teachers, we recorded the events of the day and have created a short film (see below) which both the school and Barton Willmore can use. It’s nice to see the finished film as I don’t think any of us can recall much of the day as it felt like such a whirlwind from start to finish. We also presented the school with the finished campaign videos as well as the finished campaign posters for each child.

Volunteering at the school was a real honour and proved to be a fascinating design experience also. We had no time to dwell on designs or answers to questions, instead relying on instinctive responses, guidance and solutions – cutting through our usual approach to creativity like a hot knife through butter. The children approached each task with sheer enthusiasm – keen to learn and express their own individual ideas. In many ways, it took us back to our art school roots and reminded us why we chose this profession in the first place – the pure enjoyment creativity can bring.

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Graphic Design, Creative, CSER, School, Volunteering