'Design Ignites Change' billboard project: High school students' designs to be displayed in their communities
Learning not to hate people who are different is something young people should learn at an early age—and so is creativity.
These two ideas merged recently in West Virginia high schools, where art students had the opportunity to design their own billboards featuring the theme of tolerance. The “Design Ignites Change” mentoring program, “Create! Don’t Hate,” partnered them with design students from the West Virginia University College of Creative Arts.
The program is sponsored by WorldStudio Foundation in New York, which helps artists and designers become proactively involved in their communities.
At the end of the project, three winners were selected and will have their billboards displayed in their communities beginning today (May 21):
Michaela Michael from Morgantown High School won with her billboard, “Intolerance Locks Your Mind.” Her student mentors from the WVU School of Art & Design were Kevin Cogan, Grace Baldwin and Nicole Siedman. Her billboard will be located on Walnut Street, across from South Park.
Andrew Carroll from Musselman High School in Berkeley County, W.Va, created the billboard “Knowledge Removes Prejudice.” His WVU student mentors were Jesse Ackerman and Tricia Dunn and his billboard will be located on Route 11, south of Warm Springs Ave., beginning May 28.
Mariah Dawson from Clay-Battelle High School in Blacksville, W.Va. created the billboard “More Than One Color,” which will be on a digital billboard on Easton Hill, past the Mileground in Morgantown. Her WVU student mentors were Katy Kinsey and Sarah Adkins.
The College of Creative Arts is printing the billboards and all the spaces were donated by Lamar Advertising.
Graphic Design Professor Eve Faulkes and graduate student Lindsay Estep were advisors to the student mentors for the project. The three winners were selected from students who made it through the whole curriculum, from among 23 art students who participated from 17 high schools in West Virginia.
“The students’ ideas on tolerance were solid and the judges were impressed,” Faulkes said. “We would like to thank WorldStudio for allowing us to participate and Lamar Advertising for partnering in this opportunity.
“Not only were these ideas good visual design, but also the messages are very important for today. Respect for human beings must prevail.”
Faulkes said it was the first time her students tried the idea of mentoring high school students remotely.
“We at WVU wanted to communicate what this field of design is about by sharing a problem to solve that let the high school students see the design process in action,” she said. “Many people have the idea that creative ideas just flow from creative minds. But design is more like science than you might think. It has methods and it requires research to find ways to connect with people who are often not looking for that message.
“It takes empathy and some psychology and the process itself is one of tolerance. That is what we tried to convey in the six-week curriculum we developed for this project.
“We also wanted to coach the students about the aesthetics of a powerful image or composition, as well as give some practical advice about how to create a message that has to be read and interpreted in three seconds—the time it takes to drive past a billboard.
“There are lots of ways that a design can fail if the designer’s homework is not done. You could miss the target for your message. You could make the image too quiet to be found in the environment. You could make it too complicated to be discerned from the highway. But, by putting our minds together, we could be sure none of those important aspects would be overlooked.
“Ultimately, we wanted the students to know about a field that can make a difference in the world,” Faulkes said.
Knowledge Removes Prejudice
Winner Andrew Carroll said he was challenged to work outside his element on this project, but found that he excelled on the large format billboards.
“It’s really cool to find success in an area that I haven’t had much experience with,” Carroll said. “I’ve mainly focused on photography, along with painting, so I really felt out of my normal range of ability working on this project, but I think that’s what I liked the most about it.”
The mentors provided constructive criticism and demonstrated techniques to better implement the students’ ideas.
“Andrew was given a guideline of the idea we wanted to put out about communicating diversity in schools,” said student mentor Jesse Ackerman. “He came up with the idea and I helped to teach him about what makes a successful advertisement and gave the guidelines he should use to create it.”
The mentors are all studying graphic design in the School of Art & Design at WVU and said their classes have given them useful knowledge that they were able to pass down to the high school students.
“I told Andrew that he did not have to go crazy with ‘cool’ fonts, and that the billboard should be short and to the point,” said Ackerman. “As Professor Faulkes says, people only have three seconds while driving to process what is being advertised on a billboard—so the simpler the better.”
Intolerance Locks Your Mind
Michaela Michael, who plans to attend WVU to major in graphic design, said she came up with her billboard idea after thinking about how people sometimes stereotype and show intolerance towards someone wearing black clothing and labeling them part of “the bad crowd.”
“It’s because I experience that type of discrimination all the time from teachers, or just people in general,” she said. “They think that because I wear black, that I never go to class or I’m really dumb, until they realize that I actually take A.P. classes and study all the time.
“My mentors helped shape and focus my design into one concept and, in the end, they also helped perfect the final interpretation,” she said. “It’s really an important idea for a billboard because it happens all the time and often people don’t even realize what they are putting others through.”
More Than One Color
According to Mariah Dawson, most students at her small rural school are not exposed to a variety of cultures until they reach college.
“I thought an easier way to portray that there is ‘more than one color’ of people was to show the earth,” she said. “Also, by incorporating the world, it creates a general overview of people and the misty-vibrant colors attract the reader to my message.
“I started with several drafts, while working with another design, but when I began creating the final draft, if flowed easier with the help of my mentors,” she said.
“It’s an amazing feeling to have a piece of my artwork on public display. I’ve worked so hard to incorporate a message into my past pieces and it finally paid off.
“As a minority, I feel every day the weight of criticizing eyes,” she said. “I hope my message will attract the attention of secluded cultures and help them realize there is a bigger world out there. In addition, my design could be helping minority groups feel more comfortable within their own skin and to feel equal among others.”
Create! Don’t Hate
“Design Ignites Change” is a Worldstudio program that supports designers and architects who want to make a difference in the world. The program reaches all age groups, including high school students, college students and professionals.
The high school mentoring programs help professional designers and college students collaborate with high school students to execute projects with social themes.
The current theme, “Create! Don’t Hate,” addresses tolerance in a variety of compelling and thought-provoking images. The program is designed to give participating students the tools and guidance they need to create a message which will have broad visibility within their community.
West Virginia high schools that took part in the “Design Ignites Change” Billboard Project include Musselman High School in Berkeley County; Wheeling Central Catholic High School in Ohio County; Bishop Donahue High School in Marshall County; St. Albans High School, South Charleston High School and Capital High School in Kanawha County; Pendleton County High School; Gilmer County High School; Clay-Battelle High School, St. Francis High School, Morgantown High School and University High School in Monongalia County; Ripley High School, and Ravenswood High School in Jackson County; and Winfield High School in Putnam county.
For more information about the “Design Ignites Change” project at WVU, see the website at
Faulkes said the students’ work will reside permanently at this site, and WVU will be adding to a blog that goes with it. The winning entries will also appear in the catalogue/proceedings book from the national conference “Designing for the Divide: a Conference on Community Action Across Lines of Difference,” that was held at the WVU Creative Arts Center March.
CONTACT: Charlene Lattea, College of Creative Arts
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