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Retail Thinking

In innovative design courses, students collaborate on marketing techniques for local and national companies

Posted 11.01.10 by mica communications

High Grounds Artist Blends Label

Many consumers do not realize the impact a product's packaging design has on their desire to make a purchase. But study after study proves that what catches your eye greatly affects buying patterns. That is why companies like Kiehl's hire big-ticket artists like Jeff Koons '76 to design their packaging. Taking that cue, there are numbers of MICA courses that utilize real-world packaging. Taking that cue, there are a number of MICA courses that utilize real-world retail companies for their in-class assignments.

Take for example Competitive Advantage Business & Design, an environmental and graphic design course taught this fall by Inna Alesina and Zvezdana Stojmirovic. The students are working with Maryland-based Black & Decker and Dewalt, major national power tool brands, on design challenges to help shape strategy for a new product launch and to conceptualize a web component of a product redesign. The students learn how to implement scenario-based design, strategic thinking, demographic research, and strategies for making an effective proposal while actually doing it.

"In most graphic design courses, our students take on one real-world project in every class," said department chair Brockett Horne. These projects include everything from identity and brand design to interactive website creation, atual product functionality, and aesthetic design. Experiences like these help students not only build their portfolios but also learn how to interact with professional clients.

Rubbermaid ElementIn spring 2010, the Flex Studio class teamed with Rubbermaid Commercial Products (RCP) and marketing and design firm Hardly Square to implement a marketing communication initiative with a global reach for a new Rubbermaid product, The Element. The students got to work hand-in-hand with a top marketing firm as well as implement a Flash website.

"It was very exciting to...enlist the brightest young minds in design to rethink what our Rubbermaid Element microsite could be, and we have reaped the benefits with the creation of a world-class microsite," said Max Rudy, digital marketing manager of RCP.

"The students brought great insight to the table and the class structure led us to think in directions we might not have taken normally," said Hardly Square Chief Executive Officer PJ Sullivan, who taught the class along with Chief Creative Officer Devin Byrnes '04 (graphic design).

Other examples of innovative hands-on learning opportunites abound across campus. The spring 2010 Advanced Web Design class, led by interaction design & art faculty member Jason Corace, took on a different type of web-based challenge: to rethink some of the interactive features on popular online retailer Etsy's site. The collaboration allowed students to utilize Etsy's site API and marketing research to develop prototypes for site tools. And in Whitney Sherman's '71 illustration class, HandLetters, the students were tasked with rebranding the retail packaging of Baltimore-based High Grounds Coffee's 12-ounce bags, sold at Whole Foods and Wegmans.