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Opening career pathways for talented urban youth

Youth Designer Daniel Smelansky designs Back Bay billboard

November 30 2015

Seeing my work on a 36ft x 36ft billboard in Back Bay is quite a surreal and thrilling feeling. I never thought I’d see my work displayed at such a large scale in public! 

The billboard was commissioned by one of Youth Design's key supporters, Liberty Mutual Insurance, who asked us to create a fall-themed illustration.

To begin the process, fellow Youth Designer Christina Fernandez and I each sketched several concepts. With input from Youth Design and Korn Design staff, we arrived at four designs to present to Liberty Mutual. Although they plan to utilize all four designs, my joyful leaves design was chosen for the billboard!

While leaves are a somewhat clichéd image to represent fall, the style of the illustration and the faces create a lively and original composition. I drew the two leaves sharing a moment of happiness and emphasized the emotion with a vibrant, textured orange circle in the background. The orange is not only a reference to the changing color of leaves but is also the primary color of Youth Design.

I wanted the design to have a friendly, lighthearted feel so I retained the hand drawn illustration without refining it digitally. It's meant more to simply attract people's attention and brighten their day rather than explicitly promote Youth Design. I hope that people who pass by the image are pleasantly surprised by a billboard that, for once, isn’t trying to sell them anything, but is instead meant to invoke a feeling of delight.

Note: Daniel Smelansky is a freshman at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, planning to major in Industrial Design. A recent graduate of Boston Latin Academy, Daniel's experience in Youth Design while still in high school included design workplace internships at Korn Design, Essential Design, and Digitas. Additionally, through Youth Design, he has interned at Ideo.

Building Skills for Creative Problem Solving at “Design Thinking” Workshop

April 07 2015

DESIGN THINKING is a problem-solving process that leads to innovative and effective solutions to challenges both large and small. An essential part of our curriculum for high school students, Design Thinking "builds confidence that everyone can be part of creating a more desirable future."*

Youth Designers learn Design Thinking on the job and also through our creative classroom education. Our recent DESIGN THINKING WORKSHOP was a fast-paced day in which Youth Designers and design professionals worked collaboratively in teams to creatively address several challenging problems facing people and communities. 

"It's important that students see the power they have as creative people to solve real-world problems," said Alisa Aronson, YD Education Specialist and MassArt Assistant Professor of Design, who developed the workshop with UX/Graphic Designer Fatimah Kabba. Improving the T daily commuting experience; defining and addressing a problem that effects teens; and designing a festival that unites diverse populations were the challenges Alisa and Fatimah developed for the collaborative teams to solve.

Defining the problem, brainstorming many potential solutions, choosing one idea to follow-through with, developing the solution in as much detail as time allows, and presenting the solution to the larger group for comments and feedback were the steps designers and students undertook. It was a dynamic day filled with great creative energy, lively discussion and debate, and lots of quick sketching and ideating.

"What impressed me the most was the students' open and positive attitude to solving problems," said Richard Delgado, a graphic and industrial designer who found working collaboratively with Youth Design students to be very inspiring. "I would totally be on a different level if I had known the design process before college or had any ideas of what to do," Richard adds.

Faith Donnelly, a Northeastern University senior majoring in graphic design and a design freelancer, echoed Richard's sentiment. "As a college student and a working designer, I was most impressed by the ease with which the students came up with quality and original ideas. It's amazing to see young people developing a propensity for design thinking—a concept I wasn't introduced to until later in college." Faith added, "What Youth Design students learn in this program are invaluable skills that will really help them stand out in the workforce as independent and creative thinkers."

Youth Design thanks the professionals who collaborated with our students at the workshop—designers Richard Delgado, Faith Donnelly, Fatimah Kabba, Elizabeth Randlett, and Orpha Rivera, as well as Margaret McGovern of Boathouse Communications—for their participation that contributed to a valuable learning experience and a stimulating day for Youth Designers! 


Youth Designers in College:            Shirley Fang at Wesleyan!

January 08 2015


After three years of high school summers spent with Youth Design, it is time for me to start another chapter of learning in another setting. For me, it's at Wesleyan University. College has been a peculiar place where I'm trying to find my academic and social niche. I had a lot of enjoyable adventures, such as going to elective seminars about international politics and sexuality, exploring the quaint shops in Middletown, and drawing a life-sized nude self-portrait for my final. All of these activities opened hidden doors of knowledge and possibilities. Driven by curiosity, I had the courage to let myself explore a variety of topics that put me out of my comfort zone.

My exploration led me to continue my involvement in design and have the opportunity to lead a student forum on human-centered design thinking! Using many of the skills I have gained from Youth Design, I was able to tackle this new task with passion. I have been constantly researching creative exercises and reflecting on the structure of the curriculum. Design has such a great impact in my life that it will continue to be with me even after my precious time with Youth Design. Because of this, I know I will continue to seek opportunities to strengthen my design and critical thinking skills.

Besides design, I have also explored other subjects, such as learning hip-hop and taking Italian for the first time. In addition to trying new things, I continue to build on my art skills and knowledge by taking Drawing 1 and Renaissance Art History! All in all, I had a pretty solid first semester of college.

I am proud of the knowledge and lessons I have learned over the whole semester and I cannot wait to see what lies ahead!

Happy New Years, everyone!


Beyond Text Books: Real Lessons from College

December 05 2014

Take a moment and read this letter from Jeff Freedman from Small Army

Shortly after graduating from UNH in 1990, one of my favorite professors invited me to speak with two of her classes about my new career in advertising. I had just started working as a Media Buyer at Hill Holliday, and was excited to share my experiences (and, of course, brag about my cool new job – especially since an ex-girlfriend was in one of the classes).

The first class went great. I wowed the students with the millions of dollars of buying power I had, working with brands like Lotus, Wang and Hyatt Hotels; how I was being wined and dined by people from The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated; and how I was spending most evenings at Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox games with free tickets from my newfound media friends. (I, of course, neglected to mention my huge mid-teen salary).

After the first class, I had lunch with the professor, who further complemented me on my amazing position, and then we went to the next class for a repeat performance. At the end of the presentation, one of the students asked, “So, how much did UNH prepare you for what you are doing today”? I paused, smiled, looked over at my ex, and said something like, “Well, honestly, most of the things I do now, I learned on the job.” Since that day, I’ve not only regretted my response, but the way in which I approached the entire experience. It was not my best teaching moment.

So, a few weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to return to UNH and speak with the incoming Freshman class at UNH’s Paul School of Business, I presented a very different (and more meaningful message). The fact is that, without UNH, my advertising career would be very different (or, likely, non-existent) . College prepares us for the real world in many ways – but some of those are difficult to see at that time or, in my case, even for a few years after).

So, for those college students (or recent graduates) who are wondering how their days in college will help them in a career in advertising (or most any other industry), here are a few things to consider:

1. The toughest part about most careers (especially advertising) is getting in the door.
I was too busy playing in a rock band to take advantage of all the career services that UNH offered. So, by the time I got around to applying for internships, they were all taken. When I noticed that the rejection letter from Arnold Advertising was signed by my former Resident Assistant at UNH (Jon Castle), I picked up the phone and begged him for a job. He took care of me, and one week later, I was a media intern at Arnold Advertising. The toughest part of this business is getting into it. UNH (and Jon) took care of that one for me.

2. An internship IS school.
I’ll save the debate about paid vs. unpaid internships for another day (although, for the record, mine was unpaid). But, many of the “media-specific” skills I used at Hill Holliday came from my internship at Arnold – which was a credit-earning class from UNH (not a paying job). If you haven’t done so already, visit your school’s career services office and see how they can help you. Don’t choose it for the money, choose it for the experience. (Of course, everyone’s financial circumstances differ but at this stage, greater learning is more valuable than greater salary.)

3. What is in text books is only part of the lesson.
It is true that most of the day-to-day tasks I was performing in my new job were leaned “on the job” as opposed to from text books. However, without exception, every task was dependent upon my ability to work with other people. To collaborate, negotiate, share ideas, listen, learn from one another, navigate problems, etc. At the time I didn’t even realize it, but those are some of the most critical skills I learned in college (and some of the most valuable skills I use today). Every moment in college is a learning experience. Always remember that – and make the most of each one.

4. Every day is an opportunity to build lifelong relationships.
Success in any business depends upon relationships. And shared college experiences can be a great connection to build those relationships. The advertising industry in Boston (and beyond) is full of great people from UNH. People like Jane Deery (PGR Media), Lynne Montesanto (Dow Jones), Peter Ockerbloom (Penn Foster) and Mike Densmore (Bartle Bogle Hegarty). I’m proud to be associated with all of these industry rock stars – and each has been an important part of my career. Your college network can be among the most important network you will ever be a part of.

So, take a moment to thank your alma mater for all it’s done for you. It likely has much more to do with your success than you may give it credit. I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to re-visit my alma mater, and look forward to many more great conversations at UNH.

Go Wildcats!
Jeff Freedman

At Fashion Design Workshop Students Find Inspiration in “Anything and Everything”

December 03 2014

As part of Youth Design Academy, fist-year Youth Designers enjoyed a terrific workshop led by MassArt Fashion Design student Christian Restrepo, whose dramatic, award-winning designs have been showcased at the ICA, in Boston Magazine, and many other venues and publications.

“The designs Christian showed us were very interesting and different," said Youth Designer Tara Rahman, a junior at Boston International High School, "I learned that you can be inspired by anything and everything.”

Christian’s work challenged Youth Designers to think about fashion as visual story-telling and “wearable art” that needs to be daring, dramatic, and original to complete in today’s high-fashion marketplace. Jessica Villar, a Youth Designer from Brighton High School, echoed Tara’s sentiment. “I learned that anything can be a great idea,” she said, “like when Christian used the bottom of a frying pan in his dress design!”

Yes, Christian did, in fact, incorporate an image of a frying pan into the design of a gorgeous gown! After breakfast one morning he noticed the interesting combination of colors and textures left in the frying pan, so he photographed the pan, printed the photograph on fabric, and designed the rest of the dress to harmonize with it.

“What I loved about the workshop is that we got to do our own designs,” said Janet Diaz, another Youth Designer from Brighton High. Indeed, each student designed a “collection” of  three looks on a common theme, learning steps in the design process—defining the brief, creating a mood board, sharing their ideas and sketches for feedback, exploring a range of tools and materials, and finally presenting their work in critique format for discussion. “The project we did was helpful because we got to learn about the process and the work it takes to just make one design,” said Tara.

Although time was short, the students took up the challenge to mine their own interests outside the world of fashion as inspiration for their clothing designs. Janet's clothing designs, for example, were inspired by the colors and textures of the beach in her native Puerto Rico. 

“The Fashion Design workshop was a great way to get students to stop and think about what they see every day,” says Alisa Aronson, Youth Design Education Specialist and MassArt Assistant Professor of Design. “Moving from uncritically following trends to creating expressions of their own uniqueness is an important step in their growth," she adds. "Being resourceful, imaginative, and using the design process to create their own looks is empowering.”

The chance to learn more about the world of fashion is of strong interest to today’s teens. Youth Design provides a variety of opportunities for students to explore fashion design process, learn about fashion careers, and express themselves through this medium while building transferrable skills.

The Fashion Design workshop was a memorable experience for the Youth Designers' first summer. Thanks to Christian Restrepo for teaching this workshop and to MassArt Fashion Design faculty Sondra Grace and Meg Young for working with Alisa to plan and coordinate it.

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