Creative Spotlight: Cal Poly Pomona Service Learners

Last year as part of a service learning partnership with Cal Poly Pomona, 826LA had the privilege of working with Alyssa Lang, Associate Professor of Graphic Design and Associate Chair, Department of Art and her class of amazing student designers.

Over the course of a few months, Cal Poly Pomona students Dylan Abuel, Mathew Roldan, Morgan Cheung, and Richard Hollien worked with 826LA’s Design Manager to produce a whole suite of new volunteer materials. From tote bags to website banners, these young designers were able to capture the 826LA essence perfectly — adventure, education, creativity, and of course, time travel. Thank you to Alyssa and her design class for their fearless vision and collaborative spirit!

Read on to hear about the design experience and creative process of both Alyssa and her students: 

Professor Lang:

How long have you been involved with 826LA and how did you first hear about us?

It’s kind of a funny story! I got connected to 826LA through a piece I had written for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency called “Bono Gives the Rush-Hour Traffic Report.” I was asked to do a reading of it at 826LA for a benefit event. I was impressed with the design of the Time Travel Mart — the objects for sale were so thoughtful, quirky, fun, and playful. They took design risks. They liked puns! And behind the storefront was a great organization helping neighborhood students with their writing.

I just knew from seeing the place that I needed to be involved with this organization. After that, I participated in several Designer Roundtables at 826LA to brainstorm for products for the store. I am a professor of graphic design at Cal Poly Pomona and when the opportunity came up to teach a service learning course, I knew 826LA was the perfect community partner

What inspired you to not only approach 826LA about this project, but to also teach a service learning class to begin with?

Projects that involve social awareness are central to my personal design work and I admire the work 826LA is doing in the community. As more of a shy kid and now as an adult, writing has always been a natural avenue for me to express myself. As an educator, I know the importance of students being able to express themselves through the written word. 826LA is doing phenomenal work focusing on kids and creative expression.

I wanted to share my passion for giving a visual voice to deserving causes with my students, and 826LA was the right fit. I love the easy-going attitude of the 826LA brand plus it’s always great when a client is willing to take risks. This openness on the part of Diana and everyone at 826LA made for tons of design opportunities for the students.

In what ways do you think this project affected students to be better designers and members of the design community?

For many students, this project was their first taste of working with a client. Students were challenged to weave their personal ideas and aesthetic with 826LA’s. This part of the process is really hard (no matter how much design experience you have). I hope that this project planted the seed for my students to continue their design philanthropy throughout their careers and to seek out projects that align with their interests, beliefs, and passions.

I am truly grateful for the many, many hours the students put into this project, their positive attitudes, and their willingness to improvise our process throughout the term. I also want to thank Christina Gonzalez-Salgado and the Center for Community Engagement at Cal Poly Pomona for supporting the class. And lastly, thanks so much to Diana at 826LA for her excellent and professional feedback on the student’s projects and taking the time and energy to work with us!

The Students: 

Tell us a little bit about the creative process for this project. What was it about the 826LA brand that spoke to you and how did you implement that into your designs?

Mathew: What stood out to me about 826LA was their creativity in showing students how enjoyable writing can be. They know how to turn the whole writing process into an adventure and make it more engaging for the students. We tried to implement that idea of making writing an adventure into our design.

Morgan: Most of our early ideas shared the concept of making time travel “possible”, just like the Time Travel Mart does. Then Dylan came up with time traveler’s tool kit idea. We all loved it and decided to develop it as the main concept of the project.

Richie: We recognized the significance and uniqueness of 826LA, and we wanted to indulge in the brand in providing both tangible and intangible visual assets that spoke to the quirkiness of the Time Travel mart theme.

Was this your first time working on a service learning project? Can you tell us what you enjoyed about this class and working with 826LA?

Dylan: Yes, this was my first time working on a service learning project. What I really enjoyed about this class was the opportunity to work with other designers to overcome obstacles that would be much more difficult if worked on alone.

Morgan: This was my first time in a service learning class. I was happy that we were working with an organization which encourages creativity and education.

What were some of your biggest challenges when working on this project?

Dylan: The concept was the main and toughest challenge to overcome. We went back and forth between ideas trying to figure out how to integrate education and adventure while still trying to work with the theme of 826LA, which is time travel. We had many ideas, but we wanted to make sure that our concept was read clearly and quickly with the viewers.

Richie: Some of our biggest challenges consisted of gathering these tools that a time traveler would use. We attempted to formulate objects that were a juxtaposition of time and education to create some quirky and wild inventions. We strategically picked out tangible rewards for the volunteers that would be useful to an Angelino, rather than just promotional noise that would end up in a junk drawer. We formulated that with the recent tax implications of California Proposition 67, Plastic Bag Ban Veto Referendum (2016), we decided upon a reusable tote bag that would not only contribute to our efforts to support the great causes at 826LA, but also reduce our carbon footprint. 

Thank you to Alyssa, Dylan, Mathew, Morgan, and Richard for giving the 826LA volunteer program a visual identity worthy of the volunteers themselves!

For internships, design volunteer opportunities, or other creative inquiries, email Rachel Mendelsohn.


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