Design For The Future Youth Workshop
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Case Study By
Jessa Wilcoxen
Two 40-minute class periods
Pana Junior High seventh and eighth grade art classes, Pana, Illinois (2011)
Hillsboro Junior High seventh grade art classes, Hillsboro, Illinois (2012)
Project Title
Design for the Future: Youth Workshop
Jessa Wilcoxen, Assistant Professor of Digital Media, Greenville College, Greenville, Illinois


Design can be a foreign concept to young students in rural Illinois. Unlike those who live in more urban areas, these students are not surrounded by professional advertising campaigns in their daily physical environment. What good design is around them, they often don’t recognize as something that was done by a designer. The “Design For The Future” workshop was created as a pilot for a potential larger outreach event through AIGA St. Louis. It was loosely modeled after an event held by AIGA Memphis in 2009.

The goal of these workshops is to introduce design concepts and discuss employment opportunities to middle school students. During the first class period, the workshop leader presented on design principles, outlining the basic differences between art and design. Communication, hierarchy, structure and style were among the key concepts emphasized. Following this presentation, a brief was assigned, encouraging students to put these design principles to use, to think about visual metaphors and to create engaging copy.

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Students were encouraged to consider how typography might be used to aid communication.

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One of more than 40 final poster designs from Nancy Snyder’s seventh grade art classes at Hillsboro Junior High in Hillsboro, Illinois.

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Source images and fonts were given to the students to help facilitate the brainstorming process.

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The workshop’s activities were designed to be low budget, using materials that were already available in a typical junior high art classroom.

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“Save the Earth 2012,” a final poster design from one of Nancy Snyder’s seventh grade art classes at Hillsboro Junior High.

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Another final poster design from Nancy Snyder’s class.

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Another “Earth Day 2012” poster design from seventh grade students at Hillsboro Junior High.


The workshop was conducted in junior high art classrooms with limited technology, so computer use was not an option.


Since both the 2011 and 2012 pilots were conducted in April, near Earth Day, the poster brief encouraged students to convince their peers to take action to help “Save the Earth.” With only two forty-minute class periods available, it was important that the students developed their concept and completed their sketches, copywriting and basic poster layout during the first class period.

To facilitate this process, the students were given a variety of stock images that related Earth Day. Example themes included recycling and composting, riding a bike, using solar energy, turning off the lights and preserving natural habitats. Students were also given printouts of letters in various sizes and fonts. These image and text handouts were intended to be used as both drawing references and brainstorming guides. However, before the students were given the handouts or began any sketches, the workshop leader led them in two 120-second brainstorming sessions. During these quick sessions, the students were asked to think of words and phrases that related to “Saving The Earth.” This brainstorming activity helped produce original ideas, despite the fact that source images were also provided.

After helping the students with their creative concepts and pencil-drawn layouts, the workshop leader provided simple coloring utensils to work on the posters. The students used the second class period to fine-tune their visual metaphors and finalize their poster designs. Unfortunately, there was not time within the two designated class periods for students to formally present their designs to the class. However, following both pilot workshops, the junior high art teachers displayed the students’ final Earth Day poster designs in the school’s hallway.


The students that participated in the workshop were very engaged in the activity and many had pertinent questions about the design industry. According to Nancy Snyder, a teacher at Hillsboro Junior High, “This activity provided my students with real world applications of design lessons and a chance to meet a working professional. It was a great break from the routine!”

We believe the workshop would fit nicely in two 80-minute classes periods. With only two 40-minute classes to complete the assignment, many of the students chose to bring their poster home between classes in order to have more time to execute the details. In addition, one-on-one time between the workshop leader and each student was valuable in the mentoring process, as it helped facilitate original concepts and copywriting. Depending on the number of participants in the future, we think it would be helpful to have multiple professional designers available to serve as mentors in the conceptual process.

This workshop was built for a junior high audience, but it could also be adapted for early high school. The subject of the “call to action” poster should be crafted to fit the interests, age group and cultural context of the participants. Given the number of public schools that are no longer able to fund art classes, this workshop could also be tailored as a creative writing project for an English class.

Additional Information

The AIGA student group, AIGA Greenville College, plans to use this workshop format to conduct a similar activity at the Simple Room—which offers a wide variety of programming for youth in the Greenville, Illinois community—this coming school year.

Pro Bono

Since these workshops were held in public school art classrooms, the educational facility was asked to provide all necessary drawing utensils and tools.

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