Months ago, before COVID-19 caused the suspension of face-to-face classes at USC Aiken and activities throughout the area, plans were being made for the annual Memorial Day Parade, and one graphic arts class was key to the effort.

Dr. Michael Fowler's introduction to graphic arts class teamed up with parade planners to design what was to be the promotional poster for the event slated for late May which honors fallen service members.

"Our partnership with the university to develop the design for our annual Memorial Day Parade poster was amazing," said Linda Caldwell, a Vietnam War veteran who serves as the parade director.

"As the 'client,' I initially met with Dr. Fowler's class to explain our committee's role in conducting the parade, what we hoped to accomplish by working with them and what information the poster should convey.

"The experience was mutually beneficial as it gave the students the opportunity to interact with a different type of client – a group of veteran-focused volunteers conducting a public service activity – the annual Aiken Memorial Day Parade. For our committee, the opportunity to function as the client with an 'advertising agency,' especially one staffed by college students, was both enjoyable and exciting. "

Fowler's approach gives students real-world experience working with clients to design promotional materials – from the initial concept to completion.

"This project allowed me the opportunity to work with others and with a client in a professional way. It helped me improve my communication and design skills which will absolutely stay with me in the real world," said Gressa Olson, a student in the class.

"Dr. Fowler and his class expanded my creativity and gave me the chance to meet different people in our community. His course heightened my confidence in my artwork and design."

Several times a semester, the professor divides the class into small teams and then invites a "client" from the community to work with the graphic arts students. During the course of the class, students and clients meet several times. The first meeting allows the client to share insights on the project and the overarching goal the campaign is trying to achieve.

"Our discussions reinforced that Memorial Day is an opportunity to educate our youth regarding why we celebrate this holiday and to show our appreciation and sympathy to the families of military service members who have given their lives in support of our freedoms," Caldwell said.

The client and students then meet a couple more times, reviewing proposed designs, to ensure the in-class "ad agency" captures the vision and spirit of intent. Finally, the client - in this case the Memorial Day Parade Planning Committee - chooses one of the team's designs for use. The committee had 12 original "truly remarkable" designs to choose from at the end of the project.

"It was rewarding to see how they incorporated feedback from our second and third meetings into their final presentations," Caldwell said. "All of them were outstanding, and it was extremely difficult for the committee to choose the winning design."

Fowler said this class, through working to become familiar with a variety of digital and hands-on media, deals with conveying concepts appropriate to the design objectives.

"These objectives become clear only through the process of a back-and-forth with addressing client concerns while learning to promote their own design intentions," he said. "This process gets at the crux of what most graphic design is about.

"Judging from the client, students are able to approximate their own design concept with what the client had in mind. Most students benefit from responding to client and other student suggestions for tweaking their original draft to come closer to achieving the appropriate tone and appropriate hierarchy of information on the poster."

The committee chose the design created by Olson, a fine arts major from Champaign, Ill. Her artwork was inspired by her family, especially her grandmother.

"Since her father served in our nation's military, she has volunteered with the Memorial Day activities in her home town for over 20 years," Olson said of her grandmother. "She always made sure my sisters and I had our own little poppies every year, and I wanted to create a successful design that she would enjoy, along with Aiken."

This special inspiration is exactly what led the committee to choose her particular design, according to Caldwell.

"We chose Gressa's design because we felt she had incorporated the theme of Memorial Day in the most effective, impactful way," Caldwell said. "The kneeling soldier against a background of the American flag with the symbolic poppy flowers is truly powerful."

Caldwell added that the design captured the spirit of the effort, which not only portrayed to the public why the nation observes Memorial Day but also represents what it means to the artist.

"It is important to observe Memorial Day to remember and thank those who have risked their lives and so many other things to protect the rest of us," said Olson.

"I would like to thank all of those who have served their country."