Every student who majors in communications design in Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts takes a class that goes beyond skill building and enhances their connection to the Central New York community. “Design Management (CMD 352) is a course where the classroom ultimately becomes a working design studio with a real client to serve,” says Michele McCaffrey, assistant professor of communications design .
This spring, the students enrolled in CMD 352 took on an especially rewarding challenge. Their client was John Tumino, founder and director of In My Father’s Kitchen (IMFK) , a faith-based organization that provides nondenominational assistance to homeless people in Syracuse. The outreach Tumino and his wife, Leigh-Ann, deliver is direct—they go out on the streets and under bridges to build relationships with people who are not yet ready to work with community agencies or accept emergency shelter. The organization provides food and basic necessities, and partners with Dr. David Lehmann, an Upstate Medical University physician who provides medical care to those without a stable living situation.
Rebooting a Brand
The class conducted a comprehensive rebranding of Tumino’s pasta sauce, which is IMFK’s primary fundraising tool. The sauce is sold at Wegmans and Nichols grocery stores as well as in a variety of specialty shops. Along with a redesigned jar label, the class reworked the organization’s print materials, including stationery letterhead and business cards, designed a new capabilities brochure and revised the newsletter. They created a social media campaign that incorporated ads for channels like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as well as a social media calendar with posts targeted to different days of the month. Also included were special events branding materials like shirts and banners for a 5K run.
“My job as the professor is to guide the students, but not solve the client’s problem for them,” McCaffrey says. The first thing the class does is meet with the client to assess their needs. After an initial meeting, the class breaks off into teams made up of students with different skill sets. Some members of the team take on leadership roles while others report back to that leader. “I personally make sure that the teams are evenly divided by members and that the design strengths of the students are a good fit,” McCaffrey notes.
Henry Rose ’21, is a communications design major who served as a project manager for one of the teams. “After our initial meeting with Mr. Tumino, we gauged the different kinds of deliverables he wanted,” Rose says. “We divided the work into categories like print media designs, social media designs and packaging designs, and assigned roles so that two or more students could share the workload for each category. Everyone checked in routinely to be sure we were meeting deadlines and correctly following brand guidelines like color and type specifications.”
Rose and the other group managers organized the workload week-to-week and were the point of contact for Professor McCaffrey and Tumino when they had questions. “We all learned the value of frequent communication along the way,” Rose says.
I wanted to tap into their brain power in marketing our product and our organization. Our interaction was spectacular—they really bought into our mission and understood what we were all about. The design was great, and the class was spot-on with new concepts.—John Tumino
“Mr. Tumino was very easy to work with,” Rose points out. “He had a concrete list of designs he wanted to create but gave us plenty of room to present our own ideas too. This opened doors for his brand that he might not have considered or realized were possible.”
Tumino was grateful for the collective expertise he found in McCaffrey’s class. “I was excited to be working with a generation that might think differently,” he says. “I wanted to tap into their brain power in marketing our product and our organization. Our interaction was spectacular—they really bought into our mission and understood what we were all about. The design was great, and the class was spot-on with new concepts.”
The meetings that took place early in the semester were especially valuable because of what came later. When the coronavirus pandemic necessitated a transition to online classes in March, communication with Tumino and his partners switched to digital and email presentations. “They sent us the designs digitally and we loved the hashtag they came up with: #Thesaucethatsaves,” says Tumino. “They really captured my heart with the tagline “Buy sauce for the greater good.”
“I’m very proud of what we produced for IMFK, and this class is a testament to what effective teamwork and communication can accomplish,” says Rose. “My classmates and I developed team-building skills that will give us a leg up in the working world.”
McCaffrey points out that the services the class provides often benefit the entire community. “We have worked with other nonprofit organizations, including The Food Bank of Central New York, The Salvation Army and ProLiteracy,” she says. “Students learn to work with real clients to fulfill their needs as opposed to just designing what the student wants. They learn project management skills, time management skills and empathy for their teammates and client.”
Rose believes that he is gaining valuable experience that will be useful no matter where his future path takes him. “I hope to have a career in design, but I’m not sure exactly what kind of design will be my focus,” he says. “One of the most valuable aspects of being in the CMD program is that because of the instruction of my professors and the feedback of my peers, I know I’ll be well-versed in the many different design practices. I’m confident I’ll have what it takes to get the job done right—and have fun doing it—no matter where I end up.”