From the archives: Workshop with Paula Scher

The assignment required the attendees to create or define a business or organisation.

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I went to South Africa to run a week-long workshop which encouraged students to develop a visual language. The assignment required the attendees to create or define a business or organisation (or use an existing one) that they would then name, design an identity for and extend that identity to include all forms of media. The students had four days to complete the assignment.

The workshop was at an art school in downtown Johannesburg. Forty students participated: graphic designers, multi-media designers and fashion designers. Since the fashion designers were at a distinct disadvantage, the students were grouped as teams, each with different disciplines.

I had no expectations about the workshop. I was jet-lagged from the flight (I had arrived on Sunday night and would turn around and fly back to New York on Friday) and was grumpy about teaching from nine to five for four days.

On Monday morning I explained the assignment, divided the students into the appropriate groups, asked them if they had any questions, then gave them an hour to figure out their plan for the business they would design and asked them to announce it to the class. They all complied. Then I ate a sandwich, took a half hour walk and when I came back, 50% of them had figured out the basis for their extensive solutions. By the end of the day, the rest of the class caught up.

What followed was incredibly energising. The groups of students became highly competitive, each outdoing the other. The quality of work rose, the amount produced increased day by day, night by night (they worked all night). By the end of the week, each team had produced logos, letterheads, business cards, packaging signage, environments, uniforms, videos, websites and other forms of multimedia for their given businesses.

The quality of work exhibited by six of the twelve teams was as good or better than any produced by Pentagram or any other famous professional design office. And in four days!

I'm not quite sure how it happened. Maybe these were simply extraordinarily talented students. Maybe they were just hungry for the challenge, maybe I was so jet-lagged that I didn't realise what I was doing. I'll never know exactly what made it so successful and magical. But it was.

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