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Building Community Through Design

A month after I was hired as a Success Academy graphic designer in March 2013, I walked into my first Slam the Exam pep rally. The annual event celebrates the effort and achievements of our scholars before they take the state exams. The Armory was packed with thousands of teachers and scholars performing skits and chants. The energy and excitement in the air was contagious.

One detail in particular stood out to me: The teachers and scholars all sported orange shirts and blue foam fists. These design elements added to the joy of this community event, helping to create a celebration that was festive and meaningful. I knew then that I had joined an organization where I could draw on my passion for design to make a difference in the lives of children and families.

Graphic designers create first impressions and shape people’s perceptions of the world. Design helps people understand their surroundings, form opinions, and enjoy experiences. At Success Academy, my team uses design to turn schools into magical places of learning where our scholars grow and create lasting memories.

We design posters, hallway signage, and informational brochures. We create graphics that help people better understand complex statistics and information. From the first application filled out by prospective Success Academy families to each scholar’s graduation ceremony, our design builds a community filled with pride and belonging, and inspires learning each step of the way. And, we were responsible for those bright orange T-shirts and deep blue fists at Slam the Exam.

Before I was hired at Success, I worked in creative studios on branding and corporate design for banks, hotels, oil companies, and the entertainment industry. For the most part, I enjoyed what I was doing, but I felt I wasn’t being true to myself. I was visually communicating the values of my clients, but they weren’t values that I believed in.

When I started working at Success, I knew I had joined something much bigger than I had ever been part of before. It is an organization that not only is committed to education reform, but also cares deeply about bringing joy and inspiration to kids every day.

It is a thrill to have the opportunity to collaborate with individuals who make children’s success their life’s work, and I know—even if I’m not inside the classroom—that my designs help change kids’ lives.

Sometimes the best design is nearly invisible. It fades into the background and seamlessly becomes part of the moment. It helps define an experience while leaving the rest to the participants—just like at Slam the Exam. Still, I know that a few days or weeks or months from now, a scholar will look at one of those orange shirts or blue fists and smile.

Written by Christine Lhowe January 5, 2016

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