For the last three years, local businesses from Port Huron to Lexington, Michigan, have been building their brands with the help of students from St. Clair County Community College’s Graphic Design program. The students are enrolled in Graphic Design I and II courses led by Adjunct Instructor Chris Krolczyk, who has helped make practical application and work with real clients a staple of the curriculum.
The projects began in earnest when the City of Port Huron reached out to Krolczyk’s classes for help designing an “Explore Port Huron” map of retailers, restaurants, coffee shops and other hot spots around the city. Then when Cedar Sub and Salad — a Middle Eastern restaurant in downtown Port Huron — was getting ready to open, they came to Krolczyk for help. This presented a perfect opportunity for students to think bigger.
“The owner was in the process of gutting an old Subway restaurant and told me ‘I have a name, but I don’t have a logo, brand or anything.’ So we started executing that, with each student creating their own design and ultimately settling on one,” Krolczyk said. “Not only did the class get to develop the business’ brand identity, but we were asked to help design the interior of the restaurant, too. It was a great experience.”
Last year, his classes worked with Water Tower Sports Pub in Lexington to create a new logo, social media ads and two menus. This year, they started working with Chef Shell’s, a well-known restaurant and catering company that has been serving Port Huron for the last 20 years.
“Everyone we’ve worked with has been very supportive and excited about partnering with the college,” Krolczyk said. “They realize it’s a benefit to their business and our students.”
With Chef Shell’s, the classes are working on different projects throughout the year, designing a new house menu, catering menu and labels for the company’s spices and sauces. The first step was all about establishing the art direction. Once that is set, everything else can fall into place.
“These projects are all about practical application, working with real-world clients, going through the procedures and attacking every aspect from concept through production,” Krolczyk said. “It gives our students, whether they are moving on to a four-year institution or elsewhere, the ability to enter the workplace with real-world experience and real work to put in their portfolios, which is more important than anything else when you’re trying to build your career.”
The classes were given the current menu, logo and color scheme, and each student was asked to develop their unique interpretation. In late October, students presented their concepts to the business owners, who narrowed it to two designs. The classes brought those concepts together to finalize the art direction and design full layouts for the six- to eight-page menu.
While the focus was on graphic design work, the project also allowed for collaboration with other classes. Students in Adjunct Instructor Mark Rummel’s Digital Imaging and Photography class spent an evening snapping shots of carefully crafted meals to be featured in the menu. And students from Professor Gary Schmitz’s English course were brought in later to proofread and copy edit the nearly finished product.
“It gives our students the chance to experience the whole creative process, working with photographers and editors, and really understanding what it’s like to work collaboratively and be part of a team,” Krolczyk said. “It also helps them realize the constant revision involved in the process and how to take constructive criticism.”
With menu designs from each student in hand, Chef Shell’s faced a tough decision. They ultimately decided on work from two students: a full menu and a layout for a breakfast and beverage insert.
“It’s really been an exciting experience. The students were so engaged and they all presented wonderful ideas,” said co-owner Michelle “Chef Shell” Wrubel. “It was a huge blessing for us. We had been talking about menu design, so the timing was perfect, and the product that we’ve seen has been above and beyond our expectations.”
As the fall semester comes to a close, students are making final adjustments and preparing the menus for print in an important stage that complements the Graphic Design program’s Production Processes course. Next semester, students will work with Chef Shell’s on labels for seasonings and sauces, along with a variety of smaller projects.
Business owners across the community are recognizing the benefits of working with the aspiring graphic designers at SC4. In a small program at a small college, the advantages for students are immeasurable.
“Client-driven opportunities, internships, national competitions and award scholarships are all integral parts of the Associate of Arts in Graphic Design program at SC4,” said Professor of Fine Arts Sarah Flatter. “Collaboration with the community, along with college and classroom collaboration, give students confidence and exposure. The contributions made by instructors Chris Krolczyk, Mark Rummel and Professor Gary Schmitz exemplify what makes our classrooms — and our college — such a fantastic place for students.”
As Krolczyk explains, many of his former students have received full-time job offers right out of the program, while others have gone on to four-year institutions with a leg up on their peers because of the real-world experience these projects provide.
“Being a full-time designer, when I’m working on a project I’m constantly thinking ‘My students should be learning this,’” Krolczyk said. “I want to bring things into the classroom that you’re going to encounter in the workplace, from tasks to critiques to hard deadlines. Fictitious projects can be fun, but when you can base a class on real work with real clients — especially when you’re doing it in your own community — I think it benefits everyone involved.”
Learn more about graphic design at SC4 and find out how to apply in time for the winter 2019 semester. If you are a local business or government agency in need of design work, please contact Professor Sarah Flatter at email@example.com or 810-989-5617.