Delving Outside Their Discipline
Collaboration in business often yields positive results. While some people are naturals at the brainstorming process and working with other points of view, others need to practice the art. Learning collaboration while sharpening students’ individual talents was the goal of art instructor Steve Rezac’s new course Integrated Design in Business and Communication.
Fifteen students from communication, business and graphic design took the course to get a chance to work with a variety of thinkers on a specific project. The class combined “right brain” thinkers, those who tend to be more creative and random in their thought processes, and “left brain” thinkers, those who are more linear and ordered thinkers, to see how they could learn from each other’s strengths. Rezac hoped by working together they would develop what a London design firm has labeled “third brain thinking,” a metaphor for holistic thinking that allows people to move beyond their trained discipline.
They began the semester by learning about branding, or how one business or entity can differentiate itself from another. After they understood the basics, the students split into teams of three, one student from each discipline. Their assignment: tackle a really big branding project.
“I had been reading in different places about how much Moorhead has to offer,” Rezac says, “and it needs a new brand to bring in businesses and new families.” Rezac approached Moorhead leaders proposing that his class would work on new branding concepts for the city.
“We thought it was a great opportunity,” says Michael Redlinger, Moorhead city manager. “Students have some incredible ideas and a lot of enthusiasm.”
That enthusiasm ignited during a discovery session where students interviewed city leaders to determine the goals for Moorhead. The session was packed with information that guided their projects. One discovery was the need for more families and how important homes or “rooftops” are to the community. “To begin with, our group had been focusing on ways to upgrade downtown or the Moorhead Center Mall,” says Anna Gesell ’10, a business marketing major from Miltona, Minn. “We came to realize they (city leaders) are focusing on getting people here, because stores come with rooftops.”
The class evaluated the information and then split into five teams. The teams selected three to five marketing tools such as billboards, logos, print or radio ads to execute and show city leaders their idea of a brand for Moorhead. The group members Gesell worked with kept coming back to the word “pulse,” because of their perception of how alive Moorhead feels. It became the underpinnings of their brand campaign. “When we were trying to think of a slogan, we were able to take the pulse idea and run with it,” Gesell says. “‘A city with a pulse.’ The slogan really lit the fire.”
Working for an off-campus group was also exciting for the students because it is a practical application of their knowledge. The city served as the pilot organization for the class. Future classes will work with different Moorhead nonprofits. “I enjoy the responsibility this prof puts on us,” says Samal Siriwardane ’11, a business marketing major from Colombo, Sri Lanka. “I’ve never had an assignment this real.”
Besides the real-world client, the students also learned how to work with different personalities and goals. It’s a lesson Rezac believes would have benefited him before he began his graphic design career. “I really wish I would have gotten a taste of what the marketing people were doing,” Rezac says, “so when I was working with them I would have known how they think.”
That’s why Rezac proposed the course. It gives students an opportunity to learn their roles and how to interact with others as they would in a workplace setting. Gesell says the hardest aspect for her was letting go of parts of the project. “I usually take on the creative role in many of my classes. To hand that off has been interesting, but learning to collaborate has been a huge positive,” she says. “We’re a trio. A partnership of three and we all have different talents.”
Students say they also have new respect for each person’s talents after working closely together. “There was a different kind of energy in this class. We feed off each other’s ideas,” says Sonja Hyytinen ’10, a communication major from Rice, Minn. “I think it’s great to see business, graphics and communication all combined.”
Each team presented branding concepts to city leaders, who were intrigued by the possibilities of each presentation. “The students were able to throw some thought-provoking ideas on the table and helped us envision what could be different,” Redlinger says. Some of the students’ ideas could become billboards and taglines for Moorhead in the future.
“There were items and ideas that they loved and would like to use when their budget allows,” Rezac says. “They were impressed by every group and I am very proud of the students.”
Story: Amy E. Kelly / Photo: Sheldon Green