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When students at Kansas University (KU) realized demand for quality design services on campus, they proposed an enterprising solution—a student run design center. According to The University Daily Kansan, “Student Senate president Libby Johnson and vice president Gabe Bliss pitched the idea” for the Student Design Center after learning that student organizations were having a hard time effectively communicating to the larger student population. Thus the KU Student Design Center was born.

The center, which “serves as a creative resource for KU students, registered KU student clubs and organizations, and University Departments” opened earlier this year on February 5th, and fills the need for creative services while providing students with the opportunity to get the hands on experience they need working on actual graphic design jobs while building their portfolios. They also gain valuable skills, such as learning to manage projects and work with clients. As KU Student Center designer Emily Mullet described it: “The KU Student Design Center has been a great way to work with other people in an almost real world setting. We meet with organizations and work with them closely to create flyers, logos, and posters. Because it is set up like an internship, it has been awesome to have this experience while I am still in school.”

Working at the center also helps give student designers insight into professional challenges to come. For example, when asked about her experience of client work versus class projects Emily responded that “The biggest difference is [that] when I work on school projects, I obviously do what I prefer and what I think is the best solution, but sometimes when I work with a client, they choose things that I wouldn’t choose but that is part of being a graphic designer.” Emily’s response points to an important realization that even professional designers occasionally have difficulty with, that ultimately client wishes often win out over even a well reasoned case for a proposed design solution.

Another positive impact of the KU Design Center is that although student organizations do receive three hours of initial design time free graphic design students are paid for their work, reinforcing the value of design.

This type of initiative is a great example of innovative ways schools can bridge the gap between academic theory and professional practice as well as elevate design awareness and appreciation both in their on campus communities and the community at large.