When the Napier Heights Food Co-op launched about a year ago, it did so without a brand identity.

“I think our profile picture was a tomato that my husband drew,” co-op founder Andrea Cooke said.

So when she heard that a Mercer University professor was seeking nonprofits in need of a branding or rebranding for a class project, Cooke jumped at the chance.

Napier Heights Food Co-op founder Andrea Cooke holds the nonprofit’s brand manual that advanced design students created.

A few months later, she had a professionally published brand manual, including logos and designs that she’s already implemented on the Napier Heights Food Co-op Facebook page.

Cooke, a Mercer alumna, also worked with students on a rebranding project for The Southern Center for Choice Theory, where she is the development director.

The students were “incredibly professional,” she said, and treated her as if she were a paying client.

“They had exciting ideas,” she said. “They were able to take the things that I said … and put it into pictures.”

Real-world experience

The project was part of the spring semester GRA 450: Advanced Design service-learning class taught by Tennille Shuster, associate professor of graphic design in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Shuster did a similar project at her former university in which students would pick a nonprofit to rebrand, but they wouldn’t partner with the organization directly.

Now, by working with the community partners, both the students and organizations benefit.

“It’s really such a win-win for the students and the organizations,” Shuster said. “The students get real-world, client-based work to include in their portfolios, and the organizations get a free rebranding.”

Shuster’s class worked with five local nonprofits, plus Mercer’s BearPulse. In addition to Cooke’s organizations, the class worked with Macon Head Space, Friends of Rosa Parks Square and Brave Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center.

The 16 students broke into groups, each focused on a different organization. The students did a brand analysis and needs assessment of each nonprofit and met with the clients throughout the semester to discuss their wants and needs. Site visits were not required because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so most meetings took place on Zoom.

Students also did market research to see similar organizations’ branding. At the conclusion of the project, each community partner received a brand manual including a logo, typography, colors, symbols, correct usage guidelines and suggested applications.

Ali Dupree, a rising senior majoring in graphic design, worked with Napier Heights Food Co-op.

This screen grab from the Napier Heights Food Co-op Facebook page features the Mercer students’ design.

“They were so gracious,” she said. “They were open to trying anything. They were super excited about the designs we had, and they were really honest about what they wanted.”

Although she’d worked with clients before, Dupree said the class taught her how to package the design files correctly and deliver them to a client.

“Getting more experience as an undergrad in design and actually having a connection with the organization that you’re working with was really great,” she said.

Community impact

Mercer students, from left, Sarah Dockery, Savannah Duringer and JunXian Xie visited Brave Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center for their initial meeting with owner Shannon Patrick.

While most communication with the community partners happened on Zoom, the student group working with Brave Meadows did make a site visit for their initial meeting. Brave Meadows is a therapeutic riding center for children and adults with disabilities.

“This was important because we were able to get a better understanding of the organization itself, their services and the community involved,” said Savannah Duringer, a rising senior majoring in graphic design.

The project taught her how to properly work with a team of designers and a client, she said.

“We all had great ideas and skills to offer. Having three people working on this project proved to help in the success of creating a strong brand identity for Brave Meadows,” she said. “Regarding working with the client, I learned how to properly communicate information to them. I also learned how to set deadlines for myself and the client regarding designs, decision and edits.”

The students “were fantastic” to work with, said Shannon Patrick, owner of Brave Meadows and a Mercer alumna. They also helped her implement the new branding on the Brave Meadows website.

“They were sweet. They were helpful. They wanted to know what my ideas were,” she said.

Class of 2021 graduate JunXian Xie, who majored in graphic design, said he enjoyed working with Patrick and helping her do things that she didn’t have the resources to do.

“It was really fulfilling,” he said. “It was a great portfolio piece, of course, but mostly, seeing her use our stuff made us actually feel like we had an impact on the real world.”

This screen grab from the Brave Meadows website features the Mercer students’ design.


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