DS Graphics/Universal Wilde Taps Students for Annual Calendar
DS Graphics/Universal Wilde, which has locations in Canton and Lowell, Massachusetts, creates and mails an annual calendar as part of its marketing efforts. Every year, it attempts something a bit different, and this year, that was partnering with Worcester Technical High School in Worcester, Massachusetts, to create a unique piece and get students excited about print.
“Every year, we face the challenge of bringing something unique to our calendar. We’ve experimented with augmented reality, 360° videos, and contests in the past,” says Erin Pellegrini, creative services manager for DS Graphics/Universal Wilde. She notes that this year, they were looking for a fresh idea and connected with former DS Graphics employee Nicole Carlson, who had left to pursue a career in education at the school.
“Nicole has always been a valuable sounding board for me," Pellegrini continues. "Recently, she shared some impressive designs created by her students for candy wrappers. This sparked a discussion about the remarkable talent these students possess. Inspired by this, I envisioned a unique approach for the calendar — having the students design the artwork."
It was a tight deadline, with school starting in August and the piece needing to go on-press in October. Still, Carlson and Pellegrini worked together to coordinate everything from both sides, with the students being part of the process — from the initial creative brainstorming via Zoom to a field trip to the shop to watch the final product being printed and finished on the presses.
So, how did it all go down? Once Pellegrini got the DS Graphics team on board, Carlson got her team of fellow teachers and the school on board as well. And it came at the perfect time as the new school year got started, she notes, because it gave them something exciting to work on as they ramped back up for the year.
“It seemed like the perfect opportunity to collaborate with [DS Graphics] on this and give our junior and senior students the opportunity,” Carson says. She adds that the most challenging part wasn’t hitting deadlines or coming up with ideas — it was helping them understand the process.
“The difficult part wasn't adhering to the client’s expectations, as I knew we have a great group of students,” Carlson notes. “It was demonstrating to the students that we are not the client and that we do what the client asks of us. … It was challenging to convince the students to have free range of what they can do while keeping it professional. By professional, we encourage our students to behave as if they were in the workforce.”
And DS Graphics left the door fairly wide open, wanting the students to have as much input as possible. Pellegrini notes, “I deliberately refrained from adding my thoughts on the creative brief, wanting the students to unleash their imaginations and craft their own concepts. While we provided guidelines, sizes, and suggestions, the overarching message was: ‘Be creative, have fun!’”
A Great Experience
While DS Graphics got a great calendar out of the project, perhaps more importantly, the students got a fantastic experience. Carlson points out that the entire project “changed their opinion of the industry” and got them excited about print, especially since, she says, the school no longer has an offset press for them to work with.
And that matters, with one student who was part of the project, Kiannaliece Gordon, noting, “I’ve been interested in the printing industry since I started my journey with Graphic Communications at Worcester Tech, but lost my love for it after our offset printing area had been closed off due to shortage of staff. However, after seeing the process of the calendar being made and printed on big presses made me feel the same way I felt as a freshman and sophomore operating an A.B. Dick printing press.”
Another student notes, “I learned a lot — I’ve become more creative, especially with creating more sceneries. I learned more about the printing industry, and I was able to see the inside and all the different departments that went into making the prints; I loved seeing the big machines that cost millions of dollars. I would definitely do this again — it's such an honor to have my artwork on a calendar to be shared with lots of other people. Overall, it was an awesome experience to learn about the printing industry, and it was an experience I wouldn't change at all.”
Another student reports that it has opened their eyes to a possible future they might have never considered, stating, “I learned a lot more about the printing process and the industry, and discovered something that could potentially be a future career path for me. I was not that interested before the program because we did not do a lot of printing like that in our shop, but seeing the huge presses and how advanced everything [changed my viewpoint].”
That kind of excitement about the printing industry, Pellegrini says, is precisely what they want to hear. “I’m eager to welcome some of these students to join our team. At [DS Graphics], one of our goals is to bring young talent into the industry. We currently have former interns who are now part of our team, receiving mentorship in sales. We would be thrilled to see a new generation showing interest in the print industry.”
Pellegrini notes that with the success of the calendar project, she “absolutely” would love to do it again or even expand it into other types of projects. It is a formula virtually any print service provider can replicate in their communities, simply by cultivating relationships with teachers and administrators and putting together specific projects for students to get involved with.
That said, the students themselves offered feedback about what worked and what didn’t from their perspectives, giving not only DS Graphics but any other printers looking to do something similar a bit of proverbial food for thought:
- More time is better. While deadlines are a fact of life for printers, students are used to having longer lead times for big projects. The more time you can allot to the entire process, the better, but don’t decide not to do it just because the deadlines might be shorter than ideal. DS Graphics has proven that it can be a rewarding experience even in just a few weeks.
- Have a theme. While it’s exciting for the students to have a lot of creative freedom to explore and experiment with, it can also be somewhat overwhelming. Offering an overarching theme for the project can give them direction from the start that they can then take and run with.
- Be free with the feedback. Part of the calendar process was students essentially “pitching” their ideas to DS Graphics, with Pellegrini giving detailed feedback. The students found a lot of value in that, noting it helped them understand design principles better, with one pointing out that feedback she received about not making the background too overly detailed so it would be easier on the eyes resonated with her.
“It was truly a humbling experience from both sides,” according to Carlson. “To watch the students interact, provide each other with constructive criticism, work together to pick out which months make sense, and collaborate their skills to bring more life to their images.”
“We view the calendar as a significant success,” Pellegrini says. “We successfully achieved our objectives, and the entire journey was truly remarkable. I take great pride in the outcome. This endeavor has proven to be a victory for us on multiple fronts. We not only engaged with the community but also shared our knowledge and expertise with a younger generation, resulting in the creation of a unique and one-of-a-kind calendar.”