Thanks to a nimble and creative redesign, the Red River College Design Show, an annual event showcasing the talents of RRC’s graphic design, communication design, 3D and digital media diploma grads, is making the leap to a virtual format on May 7.
In normal years, the Design Show fills the Roblin Centre atrium with displays of the students’ best work. Industry partners and alumni join the Red River College community to meet the grads in person and learn more about their projects and design sensibilities. There’s also a shop where students can sell the products they designed in the program’s Design Management course — everything from posters, artwork and stationery to jewelry, clothing and bags.
This year, however, was not a normal year. COVID-19 struck and campuses closed, dealing the graduating class a huge blow.
“The grad show is a one-of-a-kind tradition for us,” says design student Andrew Mingo. “It’s an experience that all RRC design students have shared over the years.”
It’s also an invaluable networking opportunity, says fellow student Natalie Kilimnik. “This year we missed out on our final work placements, where many of us get our careers started. The show was another way to meet people in industry, to connect face to face, because getting a job is about who you are as a person as much as design skill and talent.”
Graphic design instructor Oliver Oike says these connections are critical for industry, too, from small-to-medium design firms to design departments in large corporations looking to hire top talent.
“Apart from work placements and mentorships, industry veterans and experienced designers sit on our advisory board and ensure the skills and knowledge our students graduate with is what they need to hit the ground running. The prospect of losing that opportunity to meet our students has been disappointing.”
The physical event, which the students had been planning all year, was on put on pause indefinitely, until students on the planning committee — including Andrew and Natalie — gathered one night on a group chat and started brainstorming ideas for an online rebirth.
Inspired by online events at other colleges and universities, and excited by the possibility of saving a beloved annual tradition, the students shot ideas around like pinballs, repurposing and redesigning their event to fit a whole new set of parameters.
From there, says Andrew, “everything fell into place very fast.”
The show itself has moved to Instagram and on Facebook — where each of the 36 graduating students is featured along with examples of their design work. Videos and Q&As with each student will go up May 7, allowing industry professionals to get to know the grads virtually, as designers and as people.
“It’s hard to beat the impact of an in-person, face-to-face connection, but this was an inventive effective alternative the students have managed to execute in very little time,” says Oike.
A website, 2020.rrcdesignshow.ca, has already been launched, and will soon link to each student’s full online design portfolio — a project and program requirement already in the works before COVID-19 derailed the show’s other aspects. This website will also feature the grad portfolios of students in the Communication Design, 3D and Digital Media Design programs.
One of the toughest challenges was resurrecting the shop, says Andrew.
“The items we sell come out of a Design Management course where we not only design and build a prototype but create all the branding and pricing strategy around it. But because of the outbreak, we didn’t all have access to materials and service providers to fabricate our products. Our motto became, Let’s do what we can anyway.”
He adds, “Design doesn’t end because the world feels like it’s ending. Design is part of communication, which is an essential service. The need for good design is constant in our lives.”
Students who were able to produce enough inventory will feature their products on their Instagram profiles; a few others will sell their products by pre-order. Anyone who wants to purchase an item can contact the designer directly to arrange payment and delivery.
Natalie, who sits on the grad show’s branding committee, says the name of this year’s show is especially meaningful to her graduating class, given the times in which they are graduating.
“Points + Paths evokes a first-year assignment called Dots and Lines, an excruciating exercise in creativity and precision that pretty much acts as a rite of passage. The name reminds us of where we started and how much we’ve grown and matured over the past two years. Points + Paths refers to the trajectory of our lives: the decisions that shape us, the challenges we’ve overcome, and the paths we hope to follow.”