Designing Across Disciplines

November 21, 2018

A fundamental part of working as a professional designer is the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with designers across disciplines. This fall, retail merchandising students in RM 4216 and graphic design students in GDES 3352 are learning these skills by working together on a single branding project.

RM 4216 has been offered in the Retail Merchandising program in various incarnations over the years, though the core principles haven’t changed with retail promotion continuously being at the epicenter. Retail promotion is naturally related to branding and brand development, which is the main focus of GDES 3352. Once they realized that both courses have the same focus on brand development Associate Professor Hyunjoo Im (Retail Merchandising) and Professor Sauman Chu (Graphic Design) started discussing the possibility of creating a collaborative project between the classes.

“When I joined the University in 2012, I learned that Professor Chu offers a course on corporate identity design,” explained Im. “From my industry experience in brand development, the connection between the two courses was so clear that I wanted to collaborate with GDES 3352 as soon as I learned about the course. This year we’ve finally been able to make a collaboration happen,” she continued.

In order to make the idea of a collaboration between the two courses a reality, Im and Chu carefully examined the course objectives and syllabi for each course. After a thorough review, they developed the combined course schedules and determined when the classes would meet together, and what objectives they would work towards. To keep the collaboration on track once it started, Im and Chu checked in with each other each week to discuss how the courses were progressing, and if anything needed to be changed or adjusted to make the collaboration a success.

The major project that the students from each course were tasked with was the creation of their own brand and all related materials. The retail merchandising students conducted extensive market research in order to develop a business plan that was then presented to the graphic design students who then developed the brand logo and shaped the identity of the brand. During the second half of the course, the graphic design students developed websites and stationary systems with which the retail merchandising students used to present their overall media strategy and plans.

Through the process, students from both courses learned to rely on and learn from each other. Graphic design students gained an in-depth understanding of how market trends are analyzed, how to target a specific audience, and the steps needed to construct and develop a business plan. The retail merchandising students learned more about the design process, how to create the identity of a brand, and how to stylize and create visually appealing reports. Chu reflected on the experience saying  “I think students appreciated the interdisciplinary effort and opportunity. Students in the graphic design course expressed how different it was compared to other classes they had taken in the past. They learned to work with students who do not necessarily have the same design background, and needed to learn how to handle disagreement and challenging questions.” Im agreed, and added that “Retail merchandising students were very happy to see their ideas embodied in visual designs.”

The hope of this collaboration was that through the experience of creating a brand together students would understand the importance of teamwork, and learn how to work together to reach a common goal regardless of any differences in their backgrounds and frames of reference. Im said that the collaboration between the courses is much of what would be expected day to day in a real-world design firm, “Brand managers would hire a firm in its entirety to develop their brand identity, and go through the same process. I believe this course structure better prepares the students for real-world experience.”

Because of the success of this course, Chu and Im have decided to collaborate again next fall, “Through this experience, I believe both retail merchandising and graphic design students have gotten a chance to better understand the unique expertise they bring to interdisciplinary teams,” concluded Im.

In partnership with University Extension’s Neil Linscheid, Associate Professors Hye-Young KimHyunjoo Im, and Ph.D. students Claire Whang and Sanga Song have developed the Joint Retail Assistance Program, a project designed to forge connections between retail merchandising students and retailers in rural Minnesota.

Students in GDes 3353: Packaging and Display partnered with a student group from the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) last fall to create a brand identity for a proposed tap house on the St. Paul campus.

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