Seventeen students, five weeks, and one vibrant, beautiful city: London. For the tenth anniversary of the Graphic Design program’s Sustainable Design class, students arrived in Heathrow International Airport, ready to tackle our clients’ project and eager to explore every inch of the city we got to call (temporarily) our home once again.
Partnering with UK-based engineering firm BuroHappold, the first two weeks of class were spent in Orange understanding our brief: a new city, strategically located in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, crafted to innovatively blend sustainable design with idealistic living and working conditions. The stakeholders in this ambitious project asked for Generation Z’s perspective, insight, and values. Students turned inward, asking: What is important about where I live? What does my future workplace look like? How can the design of a city inherently make things better for its residents? What do people in other countries value in their cities?
Last minute packing, a group shuttle ride, and we were off. Even a brief separation on the tube ride between the airport and the hotel couldn’t dampen spirits, although we did learn a lesson about clear communication in group travel.
In the gaps between ethnographic research, preparing presentation decks, and even generating the perfect name for the city, the class ventured into London. Together, we took in the views from Primrose Hill and the apex of the London Eye, journeyed to the project site in Stewartby, and toured Oxford. Some went even further afield, taking trips to Bath, Brighton, and even Edinborough on the weekends.
Walking the historic streets of London, and observing how people live in other cities and cultures provided all of us the opportunity to imagine a “city of the future”. We were somewhere unfamiliar and being exposed to a different way of life expanded our collective thinking. Between our own observations and the interviews we conducted with young Londoners, answers to our clients’ questions became more focused and impassioned. As one team focused on presenting our research, another labored over choosing the city’s name. Drawing on the Bedfordshire area’s history and brickmaking background, front runners Wythe, Wilden, and Brixby were chosen for further development out of almost 300 potential names. But only one could continue and, in the end, Brixby emerged as the champion.
In our final worked days we distilled all of the values from our research in a brand for the city. Several brainstorming sessions, yards of tissue paper, multiple drafts and revisions, and a few minor breakdowns later, we were on our way to our final presentation. With pride in our effort and results, the class presented four unique identities of Brixby, including logos and color palettes, as well as a synopsis of the research that informed and enriched our design process. That final day was equal parts relief and melancholy, a chance to reflect as a class on our progress and on our unwillingness to leave London. In a relatively short period of time, all seventeen of us grew as people, grew as designers, and grew closer together. There was elation and frustration, adventure and misadventure.
Whether it was a portfolio piece or good memories, we all came away with something valuable.