SIGD Students Complete Workshop With The People’s Graphic Design Archive

Graphic Design students archiving Graphic Design works

This past spring, students in Robert Finkel’s Graphic Design History class completed a workshop with The People’s Graphic Design Archive (The PGDA), a crowd-sourced online collection documenting the history of graphic design. Finkel, chair of the Graphic Design program in the School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD), created the workshop with Morgan Searcy, a SIGD alum and one of the driving forces behind The PGDA. “The Archive is all about preserving the ‘everyday’ materials that have been a part of our visual lives,” explained Searcy, who is co-director of The PGDA. ”Anything designed, printed or made ten or more years ago belongs in the archive!”

With Searcy’s blessing that anything goes, Finkel’s students worked to document and archive a wide variety of graphic design works. First, they were assigned to find digital design work and to bring at least two physical items into class. “The students found these items from all over,” explained Finkel. “A lot came from the thrift and antique stores in the area, but some also found them at their family homes or on their travels during spring break.” Once they had chosen their items, the students worked in teams to make connections and develop themes linking their designs to the major design eras they have studied in class. They photographed and researched their selections and then uploaded them to The PGDA with detailed historic information. At the end of the project, each team presented their group’s thesis and a digital presentation board, which will be displayed on the digital wall in Auburn’s Ralph Brown Draughon Library later this year.

Many of the works the students collected were created in the 1960s and 70s. Submissions included a needlepoint magazine from 1956, a poster of John F. Kennedy, Jr., from the 60s, the packaging from Hungry Jack pancakes made in 1968, a German beer coaster from 1970 and images from the classic children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, which was published in 1969. “The secondhand stores seem to have a large amount of work from the 60s and 70s,” Finkel said. “The wide availability of inexpensive consumer goods at that time was due to mass production and the increased role that advertising played in marketing these goods to audiences. It’s the golden era of Madison Avenue and a time of rich editorial design. The emerging full-color photomechanical printing methods also enabled more eye-catching graphics at lower production costs than previously. That is what’s so great about this project; We can start to link design artifacts and specific aesthetic choices to broader socioeconomic factors. Graphic design is history’s hard copy.”

A 2019 graduate of SIGD, Searcy currently directs her own studio through consulting, designs for Nike with Wieden+Kennedy Portland and co-directs the People’s Graphic Design Archive. “Morgan was a great collaborator for this class and an excellent role model for the students. She understood where the students were coming from and knew how to meet them where they are. Her insight balanced her own experience in the Auburn GDES program with what she has learned since graduating,” Finkel said.

In addition to working with Searcy, students were also able to get advice and direction from Kasia Leousis, Librarian for the College of Architecture, Design and Construction, who came to work sessions and met with the students. Leousis helped each group to narrow their focus, select keyword tags for their submissions and develop their project thesis statements. “This was a wonderful project for Robert’s students to tackle,” Leousis stated. “The PDGA and the thematic archives created by these graphic design history students serve as a reminder that design is all around us and should be collected and preserved inclusively.” The students’ work is available to view in a gallery on the PGDA.