Dealing with deadlines, getting constant feedback and developing an effective creative process: the best way to prepare design students for the job is by letting them work directly with real clients.
The question “what makes a great designer” can easily spark a discussion: is it natural talent, acquired skills or work ethic? It’s hard to decipher the perfect balance between the three, and for most designers, perfecting the blend comes through practice. Dealing with the complexities of working for, and with a client, end up shaping a designer’s working method and strategy - as well as their graphic design portfolio. So knowing this, it makes you wonder – how can a new designer understand this balance, without experience in facing a real client and real deadlines?
These questions are the focal point of Wix Design Playground, a 3-month long project-based program for graduate designers, located in Manhattan. For their first project out of three, students learned how to turn theory into practice and successfully initiate, plan and execute a campaign for a client. That client is none other than the design-centered brand Tattly, the temporary tattoo company, who worked with the 40 designers participating in the program.
The collaboration started off with a visit to Tattly HQ, so that the students could learn about their story and goals. The brand was founded in 2011, when the unstoppable Tina Roth Eisenberg (who goes by the name Swiss Miss) started it as a side project. Now, Tattly is leading the temporary tattoo market with renowned artists, designers and illustrators that contribute their work to the brand’s collection. As a company founded by a designer, Tattly makes it a point to work on a royalty-based model, and has paid more than $1 million to its artists since opening.
Right from its founding, the Tattly team began noticing their creative audience using their designs for additional purposes other than body art – such as for Easter eggs and planters. As these uses gained popularity, Tattly decided to use the collaboration with Design Playground to further explore the DIY potential of their products. The collaboration aimed to experiment with applications for tattoos by employing the playfulness and unique thought of the Design Playground students.
Turning theory into practice
As part of the project, students were asked to create a landing page for one of Tattly’s collections within three weeks. The design process was broken down into clear stages: conceptualization, visualization, production, content writing, and presentation. The project’s goal was to enable and ensure that each of the 40 students succeeds at perfecting the mission while learning about their individual approach to problem-solving. Each step in the process was assigned to an expert who assisted and mentored the students’ progress.
The starting point of the project was to explain how to identify a “good” idea – or in other words, finding what would motivate Tattly’s fans to DIY. Once that was set, students needed to understand how to take this idea and turn it into a design plan. While the students were told to go wild, they also needed to keep the production aspect and deadlines in mind. Using design research methodologies, workshops (like how to create a moodboard) and pre-production instructions, students were given actual tools to manifest their ideas. To boost the students’ confidence, Lobulo Studios gave a mask paper-crafting workshop inspired by overcoming fears and insecurities.
Creating against the clock
Once each student was set on an idea and got their production plan approved, they began creating materials. Working their way to their first client presentation, each photoshoot needed to be planned to ensure that budget and deadlines would be kept. In the transitional stage of turning a good idea into a good design, the main challenge was planning ahead, whilst taking into consideration conceptual and technical complexities. Another crucial point was getting all designers to think of their landing page as a dynamic creation, versus a static poster design. The Playground’s planning team met these challenges by constantly reminding the students to focus on the message and medium. By leaving the design software aside and checking how it works online, they succeeded in moving from a philosophical discussion to a practical standpoint.
For this shift, the team thought carefully about the tools to offer students, constantly questioning what may appear to them a bulletproof plan. Each step (for instance, coming up with an idea) was followed by a ‘then what?’ question, leading to finding a solution. This idea was implemented not only during the main project but also throughout ongoing workshops that dealt with seemingly small elements that could have potentially ended up holding back a student’s design. One such element was the landing page’s header, which led to a dedicated workshop. Experts focusing on writing skills, marketing tips and layout assisted the students in creating their flat design. And to facilitate the transition from personal to communicative, designer Adam Kurtz gave a zine workshop in which students were asked to share a personal story.
Bringing web design to life
After getting valuable feedback from Tattly, each designer started transitioning their work into the Wix platform. Workshops ranging from illustration and animation, to motion and writing, enabled students to push their designs further, as well as conceptualize how to work trends into their creations. Before finalizing their work, it was crucial for the students to understand more about explore the influence branding has on our everyday lives, so Debbie Millman delivered an insightful talk about the history and future of branding. Finally the time came for the final presentation to Tattly: each student needed to prepare a pitch and work on it with the Wix Design Playground mentors. Tattly highlighted five projects that they felt combined a compelling idea with exemplary execution.
As the Playground program aims to cover a full-cycle web design curriculum, working with a client and meeting deadlines were the first valuable lessons. Inspired by a ‘learning by doing’ approach, students produced everything in-house, individually and through collaboration, and drew skills gained in the workshops to support the main project. On top of the overall dedicated atmosphere, a major factor that contributed to the students’ motivation was the final requirement: to present their work to fellow students and to Tattly. In a controlled learning environment, collaborating with Tattly was not regarded as practice but rather, as the real deal. For the mentors, conveying the importance of making your own design happen and enabling the students to work with a large brand, was the collaboration’s biggest success.