Design show goes digital

May 6, 2020 | Arts & Culture

This year marks a major milestone for MacEwan’s Bachelor of Design: it’s the first graduating year for the program, meaning that for the first time, the annual Design portfolio show – an exhibition of graduates’ best work – will feature graduates of the degree, along with graduates of the Design diploma.

“We wanted to showcase what the Bachelor of Design is all about,” says Robert Andruchow, chair, Art and Design. “We wanted to communicate that our grads can do so much more than design pretty things. They are problem solvers, and are specifically interested in communication problems and problems in relation to the connection between people and technology.”

Those problem solving skills were put to the test when the Coronavirus pandemic upended plans for the annual exhibition, which had been set to take place in the Mitchell Art Gallery.

Rather than scrap the exhibition entirely and deny grads the opportunity to showcase their hard work, the decision was made to move the show online. On April 30, Work It, a digital exhibition, officially launched. Though each year the portfolio show has a corresponding website, this time it was enhanced to present some of the details that audiences would typically see in the in-person show.

We wanted to communicate that our grads can do so much more than design pretty things. They are problem solvers.
—Robert Andruchow

“Good design isn’t just about the beauty of everyday things; it’s about the psychology of a person interacting with an object,” explains Robert. “Achieving that takes more than an artist’s intuition – it takes a lot of research and strict process to find a solution that fits the problem well. This year, we really wanted to showcase that in the portfolio show.”

The planning and design of the website was the responsibility of an executive committee of graduating students who got to work finding ways to translate the gallery exhibition into a digital format. This was particularly challenging because many of the works were print items, where material choices are a critical part of the design.

“We had to think about how we could still show the work and not lose a lot of the quality,” says committee member Anna Schroeder. “So we took a step back and realized the best thing to do was to let the work shine. So we found ways to show process, like adding extra images, sketches and text explaining some of the process for the capstone projects.”

Finalizing the website while meeting social distancing guidelines had some very specific challenges. Each student has a bio on the website, which was supposed to have an accompanying photo. “The week of the photoshoot was the week everything closed down, so we weren’t able to do the shoot,” says committee member Caitlyn Scaman. Fortunately, the group’s finely tuned problem solving and design skills came in handy. “We ended up doing illustrations using a public domain template – so it worked out.”

Though the grads are disappointed they didn’t get to show their work in person, they’re valuing the lessons learned from the experience.

“I think one of the biggest takeaways is the value of teamwork,” says Anna. “We really came together and leaned on each other, and that’s how we were able to make it work.”

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