In this transdisciplinary course, students work directly with clients to strengthen Black and minority-owned businesses and brands in Los Angeles. Modeled like a design consultancy, students provide successful solutions and deliverables — including brand and product strategy, brand identity, product design and environmental design services — with immediate design implementation and results.
Interview with Instructor Emily Sawamura
ArtCenter: How would you describe the class to a prospective student?
Emily Sawamura: It's really doing two things at once: providing underserved communities, brands and businesses with the design help they need, while giving students a great education through real world experience.
For this project, we worked with Sole Folks, a retail co-op in Leimert Park that cultivates Black entrepreneurship, to design a retail space with several components: retail space design, inventory solutions, retail juice bar, sneaker gallery, outdoor garden space, creative incubator lab, office space along with an overhaul of their website, brand identity and graphic elements. It was a vast project.
AC: How did this course come about?
ES: During the Black Lives Matter movement in June, I was approached to restructure a Leimert Park brand. And I thought, this would be a great opportunity to have an entire class work as a team to rebuild a brand that's in need. Professionally, I work as a creative director within a design consultancy, Ernst Everything, where we do everything from brand strategy to product design and manufacturing. The idea was to run the course the same way we run a design consultancy, where students are treated as professional designers, more like an internship than a class.
AC: What inspired the direction you took with the curriculum for this class?
ES: Students get the benefits and responsibilities of working directly with a client. Clients are depending on students to provide quality work. So everything we've been teaching — delivering work on time and above expectations — students see first-hand why that's important. In addition to client experience, students from different disciplines work together. So product design students get to understand graphics, multimedia, environmental design. The concepts might be different, but at the end of the day, the processes are the same. Understanding other disciplines is beneficial in any industry. It's important to know how to work well together.
"I enjoyed working on a project with so much purpose. It really brings home why I am so passionate about design."Brandon ComerIndustrial Design
AC: What are some of the assignments and materials that challenged students to break new ground creatively?
ES: We wanted to make sure this was a collaborative, creative process between students and client. We had regular check-ins to make sure everything was aligned, cohesive and connected. Sole Folks gave great direction, feedback and inspiration, including bringing in guest speakers from the community.
AC: What were some of the most surprising ways students responded to assignments?
ES: With this project, we had a lot of design constraints in terms of how we could things better, smarter and within a tight budget. We delivered several concepts then students would rework and redesign based on feedback — it was a constant, fluid process throughout the term.
AC: What are some of the most important concepts and ideas you hope students take away from the experience/classwork?
ES: The experience of a collaborative creative process — that's key. Industrial design is never about the designer; it's about the subject, the client, the community. It's working toward the bigger picture of what's best for the client. Additionally, ArtCenter has such a large international population, and many of my students didn't completely understand the Black Lives Matter movement and how it was tied to America's racism, history and culture. Being able to provide these students with a better understanding of who composes L.A. and the country was really important.