A viewbook is designed to showcase the best and most important things about a school. This would be the students, the teachers, the learning.
Last year it was time to start working on our new viewbook. This seemed like a perfect opportunity for our student designers and writers to come together, and to tap into some of the humor, color and vibrancy of the photos students take and share on social media. Our Graphic and Advanced Graphic Design and AP Language and Composition students could work together and apply skills and classroom concepts to a real-life assignment. One of the components of the AP course is developing visual literacy. Ms. Rossuck and Mr. Townsend were excited about the idea of collaborating.
The brief for the new viewbook was that it convey the four attributes that make Randolph unlike any other school in our area. These attributes were identified and defined by a group of parents during the 2012-13 school year.
How would the students relate to these terms? How would they interpret them? Ms. Rossuck and I introduced the three sections of her AP English class to the idea of the viewbook as a visual argument. A school's value proposition is a thesis supported by not only text, but image and design. Why is some text in a list? Who is telling the story? Why did they use this photo, shot this way, to make this point? Things that look random are intentional. The Class of 2015 is now reading college materials with a trained eye!
What I didn't want to create was a viewbook that read like a viewbook. I wanted to produce something that sounded like our students and that brought the descriptors to life. When we say that freedom is an attribute, what does that mean? What value does that have?
As we did a "chalk talk" exercise, where students wrote a conversation about each of the four words, they came up with an image and a question for freedom: an empty classroom. Learning is not limited to what you do at your desk. Learning, they noted, happened on Interim trips, during free periods, and through relationships with others. Freedom included being yourself, asking questions, being responsible, not being afraid to try new things.
As well as coming up with ideas and taglines for the four attributes, students wrote short, personal narratives on each, some of which you can read here, under the rstories13 tag.
While this was going on in English, the entire community was invited to take part in monthly photo challenges using the rstories13 hashtag. Throughout the year more voices joined in. In the end we collected more than 1,000 images. (You can hear more about the crowdsourcing project here.) I also worked with Lower and Middle school deans and teachers to collect stories from younger students through advisory sessions.
A group of 8th graders signed up to be in a focus group with Ms. Below. This footage, was eventually used in a video version of the viewbook, shown below, because there was something so compelling about the candor and enthusiasm of the students who took part. They hadn't been prepped or selected as spokespeople, but they demonstrated the power of the student voice in this endeavor.
In the last class with AP English, Mr. Townsend brought his Advanced Graphic Design class, six students who would develop the concept and visual architecture for the book, which, once developed, they would present, once informally and twice formally, to the client (the Advancement Team), and then to the Board of Trustees who serve on the Advancement Committee.
The first was the cover. The design wasn't working. There was a compass rose, quadrants and four colors, but it was hard to read, and the book's title, which was supposed to suggest travel, was actually the name of a series of travel guides. Mr. Townsend and I made a suggestion. The class could have moved on at this point, but they were invested. They debated pros and cons and retitled the book "Our Stories," referencing the hashtag and the describing the content. The square shape would reflect the role played by Instagram in obtaining material but the cover design would be less obvious in this reference. Mariam Hassoun, a sophomore not in either class, was asked to sketch a new compass rose. (Mr. Townsend and I later added the color squares in the final design, in the guise of printer's marks.)
The second hurdle was their role as art directors. Whether you are a student, a parent, or a person at work, the hardest thing you do probably involves other people. Group work can be challenging but it is good preparation for the rest of your life. The actual layout was to be done by the Graphic Design class, who were coming to the project cold. Their first layouts were very literal. It's supposed to look scrapbooky? Like kids did it? There you are. Well, I thought, looking at the first drafts, maybe that's all a beginning class can be expected to do. Maybe we are asking and expecting too much. But the art directors returned and the group talked some more. Circles, colors, the dotted line as a connector, a path, a journey, in some places you turn the book as you would a map. Then the book came together.
When Reed, who was in Advanced Graphic Design, and Owen, who was in both AGD and AP English, spoke to the faculty at the start of the school year about their work on the project they talked about the value of writing for a real audience and working on a real-life assignment. They learned about deadlines and working with others.
Reed said, "We had real discussions and arguments with anyone and yelling about whatever we thought was right and wrong and it turned out to [be] this."
Ms. Rossuck, Mr. Townsend and I are excited to share what we learned from this project at the 2015 NAIS Annual Conference. If you would like to receive a copy of this viewbook, please contact our Admissions Office, 256-799-6103.