Visual design students learn to be and do good

VDL students and Patricia Murphey (right)

Professor Patricia Murphey’s career path can be attributed to one quote: “When our work intersects with societal needs, we realize the potential for our work to both BE and DO good.” The words of JUST Design’s Christopher Simmon inspired her to channel her energy into the VisualDESIGNLab (VDL)—part of NAU’s School of Communication in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences—which she has been running since 2007. 

The idea of the lab is simple: establish a space for students to gain professional skills in an internship setting (be good) by working with local nonprofits who otherwise would not be able to afford graphic designers (do good). A win-win. 

Each semester, Murphey receives a number of nonprofit requests and narrows down the selection to about four clients. Representatives from the organizations come in to present their needs to the students; which can include logo design, a brand identity, web design, motion graphics, social media campaigns, posters, invitations, marketing materials and more. Then, the students divide into groups based on the skills they can bring to an organization. 

About 15 students usually enroll in the 300-level course each semester. Senior Mo Lalumendre is a repeat. She first enrolled in the class in Fall 2022 and worked with The Flagstaff Foundry, an adult variety show that provides Flagstaff community members the space to show off their art. She and a small team of fellow students created a line of branding additions to get the attention of potential volunteers. She had such a great experience that she enrolled in the class a year later—this time, choosing to work with The Flagstaff Leadership Program (FLP), an educational program for business professionals to help develop leaderships skills and become better community citizens.  

“After my second semester taking this course, I can confidently say that working with nonprofits allows me to feel a sense of pride for my community,” Lalumendre said. 

For the next four months, several members of FLP met with Lalumendre, who was serving as the project lead, and her team of fellow students: senior Megan Kurowski, junior Karen Morales and senior Joshua Boswell. Together, they designed a set of new logos, a new color palette, stationery, business cards, stickers, header images and, for the first time in the organization’s 30-plus year history, branding guidelines.  

“FLP has had the same logo since its inception in 1991,” said FLP board member Heather Pierce. “As an organization who works with business professionals, we need to look the part, and without consistent branding, we were in desperate need of an overhaul.”  

Old and new FLP logos
The old logo, designed in 1991 (left), and the new logo, designed by the VDL students (right).

Pierce was the one who recommended that FLP connect with the VDL—she had worked with them in a previous role at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy. Murphey and her students had helped the school develop a suite of marketing collateral to help promote the school to the Flagstaff community. 

“Because the students work with real problems, with clients that are not designers, learning about the organizations’ needs and working within their parameters, the students learn to listen, to project manage, to set expectations, to get feedback from clients,” Murphey said. “It is very different from the classroom environment. They have a lot more responsibility.”  

VDL students present at the FLP board meeting in December.
VDL students present at the FLP board meeting in December.

Lalumendre, for one, is grateful for the responsibility—it has prepared her for the professional world of desig studio spaces. Not only has she learned how to work in a fast-paced environment, shifting gears quickly to adapt to the client’s wants and needs, but she has gained the confidence to lead in a professional setting.  

At the end of the semester, she and her fellow teammates stood up in front of the 25 members of the FLP board to present their final products. After an immediate motion and unanimous vote to implement all the new branding the students put together, it’s safe to say this overhaul was a success.  

“The most rewarding part of this class is presenting our work to the clients who are excited and expecting,” Lalumendre said. “This class is entirely an exercise of our brains, and I will miss the adventure of it all. VC380 let me express my art form while getting the satisfaction of helping local nonprofits and for that, I’m extremely grateful.” 

To learn more or register for the class, email Murphey at in NAU’s Visual Communication Program.

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Carly Banks | NAU Communications
(928) 523-5582 |

NAU Communications