"N" Is for Nice

"N" Is for Nice

By Allison Arieff
Sometimes all the numbers don't add up, but at least they can look cool. Studio 5 takes graphic design into the classroom and the kids are better than all right.

Nearly a decade ago, graphic designer Patricia Bruning attended an American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) conference on the lack of ethnic diversity in the design profession. "I remember reading a paper from the conference which cited that 98 percent of the design profession was white," Bruning recalls. That article easily could have become more fodder for the recycling bin, but instead it became the germ of an idea.

Designers and Studio 5 volunteers Mike Lenhart and Sandy Kitson with their class of fifth-graders at Sunnyside Elementary School in San Francisco. The lesson for the day was letterforms and type. By the end of class, the students had designed monograms of their initials for their own personal portfolios.

Following the example of LEAP (Learning through an Expanded Arts Program), Bruning set out to create a similar educational arts effort that would focus on graphic design for public school students in San Francisco. The pilot program, introduced at César Chávez Elementary School, is geared to fifth-graders because, as Bruning explains, "at this age they’re still open to thinking conceptually and just being silly. After the fifth grade, their hormones are raging."

Started in 1993 as a series of ongoing design exercises taught by Bruning and a few volunteers, the innovative design program known as Studio 5 has expanded a little each year: The program now serves as many as 16 classrooms per semester throughout the city. Since its inception, Studio 5 has reached over 7,000 students.

Run day-to-day by AIGA SF chapter director Amos Klausner, Studio 5 recruits volunteers through the AIGA membership. Every semester, two-person design teams are assigned to a classroom, where they present weekly graphic design lessons that cover everything from logotypes to sans serif fonts. Students are taught about graphic design as a profession and are made aware of the importance of design to their daily lives. At a time when arts education has all but disappeared from public schools, the value of the program—not only to students but to their parents and teachers—is immeasurable.

"Studio 5 was an idea which turned into a grass-roots effort, caught fire, and really grew," says Bruning. "We’ve reached thousands of students, and I really believe this program can change their lives."


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