Last year, I was contacted by Ashley McFeely, an instructor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha‘s Graphic Design program. Ashley was looking for professional designers who could commit to mentoring her Graphic Design 3 students throughout the upcoming semester. During the initial class meeting, students came up with various concepts for their single semester-long project. They then broke into small groups based on the ideas that interested them the most. They were given the week to build presentations and pitch their ideas to the mentors. I was really impressed with the excitement students Evan Ludes and Natali Bianco had for their concept. After a discussion with my fellow mentors, I requested that I work with them.
I really enjoyed the mentoring throughout the semester and wanted to share one of my student’s thoughts on the experience. Evan was graciously willing to answer a few questions I had for him about his group’s project.
Explain your project.
Nature’s Nectar is a honey company that promotes using natural honey as a substitute for processed sugars. Our color palette is warm, earthy, and neutral in saturation. We carried the natural aesthetic throughout the brand by using muted earth tones and rough, textured “recycled” paper to show our commitment to conservation. We took our own photos whenever possible, allowing us to control our aesthetic from shooting in the field all the way to physical production. The Nature’s Nectar logo shows that our honey comes directly from nature, unlike processed sugar. Our brand believes that we are what we eat and we reap what we sow, meaning we sell only the healthiest honey products locally sown with integrity.
What did you learn about design from your mentor?
Adam helped show us that sometimes the simplest design is the best, but don’t shy away from exploring new concepts. Design doesn’t have to use words to communicate its message, sometimes it’s simply a feeling evoked by certain colors or forms. He showed us that good design is often driven by some form of civic responsibility, whether it’s increasing awareness about disease, or making civic and social functions (like voting or finding a bus stop) easier.
In what other ways did you benefit from working with a mentor?
Working with a mentor/design professional was crucial because we didn’t just gain new insight and a fresh perspective on our work. We were given the opportunity to establish connections with the design community as a whole. Working with a mentor really allowed us to get comfortable with the idea of meeting other designers and being able to really talk about the rationale behind our work with people in the field. Instead of simply critiquing projects in class, we had our foot (and our portfolios) in the door of real businesses.
What did you learn about project management and team collaboration?
Initially, our group for Nature’s Nectar was supposed to be a group of three designers. After a couple weeks, one designer had to drop the class for personal reasons. Both Natali and I sort of had that “oh crap” moment and looked at each other, fearing it would somehow put us at a disadvantage. In reality, it ended up being a type of blessing. We have very different portfolios, but our lengthy discussions with our mentor about our brand really ensured that we were on the same page in terms of our branding and message behind Nature’s Nectar. As a group of two (three, including our mentor) we were able to bounce ideas off of each other quickly and efficiently.
While the Graphic Design Studio course in UNO’s design curriculum focuses on individual thesis projects, the Graphic Design 3 course creates an environment where collaboration and project management are do-or-die skills. Whether in a group of two or five designers, if everyone doesn’t do their part, deadlines don’t get met. In our case, a huge chunk of our deliverables would have been missing if one of us stopped pulling our weight. Our mentor helped us see how important it was to play to group member’s individual strengths in order to move our branding forward in a productive way.
Did the class shape what you’d like to do in the future?
Spending a semester branding a company that promotes healthy alternatives for a better world certainly shaped what I’d like to do in the future. Obviously landing a job in the design/photography field is in my sights, but now more so than ever I find myself seeking positions that somehow give back to the community as a whole. Whether it’s photos that increase public awareness on issues like severe weather or helping build the brand of a non-profit dedicated to eradicating homelessness, I look forward to doing work that helps make the world a better place through design.
It was an absolute honor mentoring Evan and Natali on their project. From helping them clarify their initial concept to forcing them to have reasoning for each and every decision along the way, I really enjoyed guiding them without telling them what to do or how to do it. At the end of the semester, each group presented their project in competition at UNO’s Design Tank. Guest judges selected Evan and Natali’s project as that semester’s winner.
In addition to working on becoming one of Nebraska’s next great designers, Evan is also an extremely accomplished photographer of nature. Check out his prints here. To contact Evan about this project or potential job offers, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.