Designer bees: Marathon session for architects, artists

onarch-cvillerail-webAbby Larner helps create a new logo for CvilleRail at the second annual Design Marathon.

“The mission, should you choose to accept it, is to create 11 design projects in 12 hours and hand them off completed to clients. This RFP will destruct in 30 seconds”Š”

At 10:30 this morning, 35 volunteer design professionals, working in teams of three or four, went to work on 11 pro-bono design projects for area nonprofits. It’s all part of the second annual Design Marathon at the Charlottesville Community Design Center on the Downtown Mall, which wraps up at 10pm tonight.

The event is the brainchild of Serena Gruia, creative director for Alloy Workshop, who floated the idea to CCDC’s director Jane Fisher last year. You may not have heard of Alloy, a construction/architecture/graphics design company, but we’d be surprised if you’re not familiar with some of their work. They created the distinctive logo for sushi place Ten, the Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers [CLAW] book with photog Billy Hunt, burger place Boylan Height’s logo, and the newly constructed Rise Pizzaworks in the Barracks Road Shopping Center.

Gruia says she had wanted to find a way for designers in the area to freely

onarch-jacksonvia-webEugene Ryang and his team work on designing "outdoor learning areas" for Jackson-Via Elementary school students, who contributed their own drawings for the project.

collaborate, without the normal professional pressures of working for a firm or a client, and what came to mind was a dance marathon for charity that she remembered her high school holding.

“Originally, I had wanted it to be 24 hours,” says Gruia excitedly, before admitting that wasn’t workable for most design professionals. “So we changed it to a day-time event.”

Gruia says she was also attracted to the CCDC’s light-filled space on the Mall, which is above Bashir’s in the Market Street parking garage complex. Inside, separated by partitions, teams of designers were busy hammering out ideas.

“It’s so cool to pollinate like this,” says Gruia.

UVA design student Abby Larner – each design team had to include a student–was busy working on a new logo in a branding campaign for CvilleRail, a project championed by Meredith Richards, which just brought a new, daily Amtrak train from Lynchburg to D.C. and the Northeast to Charlottesville on Wednesday with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine onboard. Part of the challenge now for the new train, which is costing Virginia tax payers $10.6 million over the next three years, is getting people to ride on it.

onarch-gruia-web-3Alloy Workshop creative director Serena Gruia dreamt up the Design Marathon idea last year.

Another group was creating something long overdue for the Jefferson Madison Regional Library–a new library card design. Indeed, the dull, tan-colored card has been a worn presence in the wallets and purses of library-goers for years. New concepts included an animated reptile and puppy for children, and graphics that emphasize other media, like a stack of books wearing headphones and a shiny image of a CD.

Landscape architect Eugene Ryang and his team were busy working on creating “outdoor learning environments” at Jackson-Via Elementary, where school officials say 70 percent of the student body is considered “at risk.”

“They go home and can’t play outside or even go near their windows because of the fear of drive-by shootings,” Ryang says his design group was told.

Beside an architectural drawing of the school and its grounds, about a dozen drawings by students expressed their wishes for what outdoor areas, which may include an edible schoolyard and a wildlife habitat garden, might look like.

Wes Webb, a designer at Alloy, and his group were at work on a new logo and brochures for Kid Pan Alley, a local nonprofit that holds song-writing workshops for children across the country.

“This is a great way to get involved with other designers,” says Webb.

Other projects included a logo design for the Montessori Community School, a marketing campaign for Habitat for Humanity and for the Quality Community Council, an overhaul of two teacher’s lounges at Burnley-Moran Elementary, and an office renovation at the Second Street Gallery.

With plenty of Mudhouse coffee on hand, and food donated by the recently opened Market Street Market, the stage appeared to be set for some rare collaboration and perhaps a little creative magic.


There are pros and cons to this sort of thing. Considering the crap that is taught in design school, it is good for students at least to have a real world problem to tackle from time to time. I can't see why a professional would bother though and it's shooting yourself in the professional foot to some extent(not to mention shooting your underemployed colleagues in the back in this economy).

The dumbest thing that architects in particular do is to continue to play along with the competition game which this is very similar to in many ways. Look for instance at the Water Street competition from a few years back. It's bad enough that the city wasted so much money on it, but consider how many wasted hours of design time went into it with nothing gained by anyone but the more or less randomly chosen "winner" who got a bit of cash, but no commission.

Does someone with a legal or a medical problem ask 20-30 professionals in one of those fields to submit their best plans and then select one to pay for his or her professional services? Of course not, they would get nothing but laughter in response. Architects routinely play along though. No wonder the profession is so poorly paid.

I'd have to agree with Cash. Designers these days have it tougher than ever. Not only is the economy against us, but we live in an age where everyone thinks they're a designer by purchasing the latest version of Adobe Creative Suite and a How-to guide. It is difficult enough to get for-profit businesses to see the value of design and the need to budget for it, and now here's an event that basically tells non-profits to not even bother with paying for it - you can get it for free. As an experienced designer who frequently works for non-profits, I just don't see the value of this event for the design community. Instead of giving out free services, why not try creating an event that educates the greater business world in the value of design - when done by a professional, the ROI is invaluable. This group should be supporting designers and providing opportunities for designers to grow within this region, instead of setting up an opportunity for overworked and underpaid designers to provide free services under the "idea" of helping the greater good.

This is a wonderful event I see here! Everyone is a winner: non-profit organisations receive proffessional logos, whereas designers get a chance to learn from others' experience and students get connected to the world of design. It would be interesting to see the final results!

why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

the idea of working for free is brilliant and at the same time extremely short sighted. it really depends on what side of the winner loser line you fall. because you are no doubt a designer and self perceived masochist, I’ll start with the losers in the game.

first, you are working for free in a room for twelve hours with two or three other egodriven, self aggrandizing sacks of human waste. so they want to save the world, and eat vegan food. doesn’t change a thing. wake up sackmiester! nonprofit is merely a technical distinction, those NPs have operating budgets and executive staffs just like your nemesis coke. if they want a service they should pay for it! they can’t find the dough? raise the dough! I have always wanted a porsche 964 Carrera RS, but I would be remiss not to accept a sucker’s offer to provide me with one for free. any takers? these same designers who participate are going to find themselves with out a job when the NPs in the area find out that billable hours shouldn’t add up to more than 12. wait why are they going to pay anyway? there are idiots lining up to work for free! great! finally, any designer who is a taker on this should think about the big picture. the group organizing this is going to get the credit and the lion’s share of the buzz. for what? a quaint poster/postcard and blog site? bad news”Šnot twelve hours of work, and you are on the second rung.

now, your drive to succeed has brought you this far, so let’s see why you are brilliant! we have already established that the real winner here is the company organizing this farce. you have the publicity what else could you deserve? you deserve a pat on the back! let’s see why. first you have a bunch of NP networking to do. you have busted your ass generating interest in your company but the only people beating down the door say they don’t have money. relax Tom, nobody wants to look like a jerk turning down work because some benevolent organization can’t pay. but you don’t have the spare capacity or the patience to deal with another committee of society housewives who have real opinions about edwardian script or they have seen the movie helvetica. just between us designers, right? the solution? whitewash the whole problem! this town is full of huckleberrys. the plan works! you divert all of the non-paying freeloading NPs onto the competition and look like a doll in the eyes of those that "can" pay. all because you organized a benevolent bamboozling! you are the best!

-Seymore Cash

P.S. when was the last time you heard about a drive-by shooting at jackson via? never happened.

I think it works if you put students in the designer seats and let them help those that can't afford it. Even if these companies can afford to go somewhere and get their logos designed, it's great experience for those going into the field. As a designer that doesn't get to be creative in my current line of work, I would have loved to join in this activity.

Interesting take from 'Seymore Cash' regarding the design profession. Some salient points behind the bluster and vitriol but misdirected towards non-profits and the mission behind the design marathon. Further, if you take off your stained glasses and read the article, you'll read that drive-by's occur at the homes of some of these kids -- not at school. Believe it or not, it happens in Cville too, young 'Seymore'. 'Sayless' and 'Seemore' and you'll be amazed at what you can learn.

So glad to hear this went well. Bummed I missed it. Hope to be in a better place when the next one rolls around ââ?¬â?? I’d like to show up. Just a tidbit for the up and coming. Don’t ever put down your traditional tools (paint brushes, drawing stuff) no matter how cool all things digital appear. I don’t know many folks who after 30, or 40+ years in the commercial biz, wouldn’t love to just sit down, or stand, and just paint ââ?¬â?? oils, watercolors, plein air . . . A case I point: Paula Scher is about as accomplished a designer as anyone should hope for. Her cousin tells me Paula now spends many a weekend painting flowers.