KAYLA DRAKE | Multimedia Producer
What started as a professor’s brain child is now a fully functioning design firm.
The Interactive Media and Web Design Firm, now simplified to Digital and Web Design, was started by assistant professor Erica Blum in 2013 to allow students to build a professional portfolio.
“Every other class is individual projects with individual grades,” the firm’s adviser Tara Stepanek said. “[It’s] not the same as working on a team where your designs are in the same vein as what [your team is] doing.”
Blum had the foresight to implement the firm into the program because most agencies and companies require at least two years of experience, Stepanek said.
The firm’s clients are on and off campus, for profit and nonprofit companies. Students have even approached their employers and other companies to redesign branding in the past.
Past client projects have included designing the logo for the Library and Academic Resource Center, TEDx, the Lindy Awards and the Yellow Butterfly Project, a nonprofit designed to increase awareness about human trafficking, started by an alumna.
The firm offers three levels of classes that students can take repeatedly, and it also accepts volunteers. This year 24 students, nine of whom being volunteers, are involved in the firm.
“The firm is a required course now because it pushes people out of their comfort zones,” Blum said.
Stepanek said she operates only as “the adult face” and tries to hand off the projects to the students immediately.
“I appreciate being involved with the process, but not controlling the process, because that is not what the intent is,” she said.
The firm is completely managed by students. A project manager acts as the liaison between clients and the project leads if any problems occur. Each client signs a contract with design parameters before the start. Throughout the semester project leads and designers are assigned to clients and adhere to a strict timeline, with an extensive draft process. Before the final draft is given to the client, it has been critiqued by the entire firm.
Project manager Regina Huesca came into the firm as a freshman and said she didn’t know how to work Adobe Illustrator.
“When I first came to Lindenwood, I didn’t know anything,” she said. “I feel like if I would’ve just stuck with my regular classes…it wouldn’t compare to all that I’ve learned in firm.”
Stepanek said the firm provides what class cannot: real-world experience.
The firm designs print branding, websites and shoots video, mostly using Adobe Creative Suite. Once the digital file is completed, the firm has the capability to print in-house at the graphic design lab in the J. Scheidegger Center. Huesca said several Adobe programs are used to accomplish one project in firm.
Stepanek said other programs have coding and Illustrator classes, but the firm stands out from those universities.
“I was blown away and wished something like that existed when I went to school,” she said when she first saw the firm.
Huesca said as a designer, she is not an artist, but a visual communicator.
“Whenever someone tells you something in your head you picture it,” she said. “You think in pictures, not in words, so whenever we create something we want to transmit that.”
Blum said she tells her students they design “not for art, but for function,” and the firm provides the opportunity to hone that skill set.
Currently the firm is working on getting paid clients, as all of its previous clients the past five years have been unpaid.
At the end of every project the students are able to add it to their portfolio and if it is a material item designed, they get a free copy. All students also get a letter of recommendation upon completing the class.
Here are some of the marketing and branding projects the firm completed last year: