I was fortunate to have been enticed by my department chair to consider working as a graduate assistant for the University of Arkansas’ Latin American & Latino Studies program (LALS). At the time I was not considering taking on additional work since I felt overwhelmed by the expectations of being a graduate student, but my time working for the program was very rewarding and offered many opportunities to create exciting work that provided much needed creative outlets to balance my academic workload.
I was given my position due to my artistic and technical backgrounds so that I could provide broader perspectives to the strenuous and often thorny situations that are needed to be navigated in order to make the best on what a Humanities department has to work with. One of my first challenges was improving the program’s image and visibility on campus, particularly difficult given departments in our college are not allowed to have their own logos and there were hardly any images or past work to build off from.
My solution was to circumvent the restriction of being unable to field our own logo and instead create a design system for all LALS graphic materials that utilized a modular set of 25 unique icons. The system can then mix-and-match these glyphs using predetermined color combinations to have 100 colorful icons (though the colors can be adjusted for special events/celebrations).
The designs of the icons are inspired by textiles found throughout indigenous communities in Latin America (from Anahuac to Tawantinsuyu), and azuleja cermaic tiles imported from the Iberian peninsula. The designs are given a contemporary look, feature prominent Xs to fit in with the recent Latinx trend. In this way, the set is fusion of many cultures across time all brought into one. It also brings together many of my own academic interests and art styles, so it became a passion project that fortunately many others in the LALS program felt connected to as well.
The strategy has been a success in improving student recognition and awareness of the program. Across the time I served as their graduate assistant, we were able to create flyers for billboards and emails, postcards to easily promote the program in advising offices, stickers, and banners and posters for events that include our easily identifiable icons in a coherent style and brand. The stickers in particular have been a success, with many finding a home on student’s laptops for those that take our courses, and our colorful postcards easily catch the eye of prospect students when looking for classes with their advisors.
Too often, university departments are hesitant in dedicating much time in their image knowing that student positions are in a revolving door and knowledge transfer is limited. Someone can come in and do a good job, but the successor cannot continue previous work because of an incompatibility in skillsets or interests. To minimize this, I was able to leave for the program documentation, style guides, and ready-made templates