Can graphic design save a river—and a region? Doug Barrett, M.F.A., UAB assistant professor of graphic design in the Department of Art and Art History, and his students have laid out a plan to do just that, creating logos, brochures, signage, and more to draw attention to the Cahaba River and surrounding communities. And it seems to be working. A campaign they created last summer in partnership with the economic-development organization Alabama Engine won a 2013 Ideas That Matter grant from Sappi Fine Papers—one of only 13 awarded to designers nationwide to help them create and implement print projects for charitable causes.
“Graphic design is more than mere styling,” Barrett explains. “Good design is doing deep research and creating meaningful concepts and stories around products, ideas, and initiatives that connect with consumers on an emotional level.” That deep research, known as “design thinking,” is increasingly used as a tool to develop solutions to social issues, he adds. The American Institute of Graphic Arts has embraced design thinking in its “Design for Good” initiative, which has inspired the students’ projects.