Graphic design and digital art are the two hottest trends in art teaching, especially with high school students. Obviously, one of the first lessons to teaching graphic design must be introducing students to graphics software – such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator – and equipment, such as cameras and scanners.
However, once students have a handle on these, where does an art teacher go from there? What art lessons can be taught that are meaningful, relevant and motivating, help students master software, and teach about the professional field of graphic design? Here are 20 design projects, suitable for high school students who have a basic knowledge of graphics software and hardware:
1. Found-Object ABC (or Number) Photography
Students use digital cameras to search out (scavenger-hunt style) the ABC’s or numbers in found-objects – for instance, the support bars on the side of a swing-set could appear to be a letter ‘A’. Students use Photoshop to enhance each photo, emphasizing the letter or number they are showcasing. Finished photos may be printed or turned into a digital collage.
2. Hometown Photography
I took my Graphic Design students on an excursion into our city park and downtown area. Students used digital cameras to highlight points of interest, and focused on unique perspectives and angles. Students then used Photoshop to enhance each photo, adding visual effects and filters. Finished prints were framed and displayed in the town’s local art gallery.
3. Manipulated Self-Portraits
Students love to take photos of themselves – instruct them to take unique digital photos of themselves, exhibiting unique angles and backgrounds. Photoshop is then used to enhance each photo with effects and filters.
4. Juxtaposing Self into Famous Artwork
Students search the Internet for a well-known artwork that contains figures. Next, they take digital photos of themselves in a pose complementing the artwork. Students must use filters, tools and blending options to juxtapose themselves seamlessly into the artwork.
5. Juxtaposing Self Into Historic Photograph
Discuss the movie ‘Forrest Gump’ and how digital artists juxtaposed Tom Hanks’ character seamlessly into historic video footage. Students search the Internet for well-known historic photographs, then take digital photos of themselves in a pose complementing the photograph. Students must use filters, tools and blending options to juxtapose themselves seamlessly into the photograph, so it appears as if they were there in person. Black and white photos work very well for this.
6. Social Issue Montages
Students decide upon an issue they have a strong opinion on, or a viewpoint they want to express. Students must express this viewpoint using multiple layers of text, graphics, effects and blending tools to design a digital artwork in a propaganda-style. Students may search the internet, take photos, scan artwork or create original material for images.
7. Me & My Clone(s): Interactive Portrait
Students decide on a location and action in which to photograph themselves in various positions. A student’s teammate photographs the student while they pose in ways in which the resulting figures will be interacting when placed together in a montage. Students then manipulate their photos to have their clones ‘interacting’ in one location. I have had some students do this as if they are posing with themselves in a pyramid, others where they are tripping themselves in the hallway, or jumping over themselves playing leapfrog.
8. Magazine Cover Airbrushing
Students research the controversial topic of model airbrushing (and view good and bad examples of this practice). Students then watch tutorials – there are plenty of appropriate and informative Photoshop tutorials on perfecting skin tone, changing hair color, adding makeup, etc. – on YouTube. Students take ‘cover photos’ with themselves as models, and airbrush their photos to be cover-ready. Next, they add magazine titles, headlines and other features to design a magazine cover.
9. School Logo Design
Most schools have logos, and most of them are also outdated and old-fashioned. Students must first consider the needs and image of their school (it would be a good idea to invite the principal in as a guest speaker), and design a new logo for the school. If you work carefully and professionally, you may even be able to convince the board to utilize your students’ graphic designs.
10. Greeting Card Design
Students choose a holiday, life event or other occasion for greeting cards, which must be researched (www.hallmark.com and www.americangreetings.com are good companies to use for research). After learning about styles and current trends, students design a series of greeting cards – including original logos and graphics.
11. Food Styling Design
Students research food styling, then use digital cameras to take appetizing and artistic photos of their lunch (at school) or another meal (at home). Students then design advertisements, cereal boxes, product labels, menus, or magazine covers with their photos.
12. Yearbook or Book Cover Design
Students may work with the school’s Yearbook staff to custom-create the school’s next yearbook cover. If not feasible, students may design the cover for their autobiography, or re-design a new cover for an existing book.
13. ‘Movie About My Life’ Poster Design
Students love to imagine themselves in the movies. They will decide upon a title for their movie, the actors in it, and a basic plot – and use the Internet, cameras, and Photoshop to design the promotional movie poster, including credits, graphics, a release date, plot summary, critic review and a slogan.
14. Corporate Identity Design
Students first research corporate design, view plenty of examples and learn the basics of graphic design in logos (color selection/meaning and typography). Students then create their own companies, and design a corporate logo, letterhead, and business cards.
15. School Event Planning Design
Students may be given actual school events to design custom graphics for – school dances, fundraisers, Art shows, athletic events, music concerts, awards, etc – which will make their designs relevant to their school environment. If students are seniors, however, they might design graphics for their upcoming graduation or open houses. Students will be assigned to design event tickets, programs, brochures, and advertisements for the event that all show cohesive design and graphic unity between each item.
16. School/Organization Advertising Design
Have your school’s Business Manager or Development Director speak to students about school publicity and advertising, and real ads that they must place in newspapers – such as enrollment notices, Open House ads or athletic schedules. Students consider school image and needs, and create a potential newspaper advertisement, promoting the school. If possible, arrange to have one of the student ads used in the actual newspaper.
17. Record Company/CD Cover Design
Students create a record company and a band of their own, then use Photoshop to design their first CD cover. Students should take into account the style of their band’s music, as well as consumer expectations, and consider these ideas in the graphics. Designs should include the band’s name, album title, company logo, and a listing of the tracks, as well as graphics.
18. Real Estate Advertisement Design
Students research the real-estate market in their area (use websites of local real estate brokers). Students select a property they find, and design a housing-magazine advertisement for the property, displaying the housing graphics, including descriptions, listing agents, prices, contact information, and more. It would be fantastic to have a real-estate agent come in and present to the class about how they market their listings. If it can be arranged, real-estate agents may select student promotional designs to use to market their listings.
19. Video Game Design
High school students love video games. Each student should imagine a brand-new video game of their own, and design a screenshot of the game – showing the characters and game graphics – as well as a promotional poster, advertisement or game box design.
20. Television Graphics Design
Invite a graphic designer from a local news station to present to the class about television graphics, the software they use, and job specifications. Students imagine a brand-new TV channel, design the logo for the evening news program, and design custom graphics for the weather forecast, ‘Breaking News’ stories, and more.
Keep in mind that to successfully teach these graphic design art lessons, art teachers must have access to computers for each student, digital cameras, color printers, graphics software (such as Photoshop or Illustrator), the Internet, a scanner, and flash drives or network folders for students to save their work.
Kids love technology. And the idea of combining computers with art is extremely motivating to students who are bombarded with graphics every day of their lives. It is up to the art teacher to harness that interest and guide them to learn about the real world profession of graphic design. Using any of these art lessons will be a fantastic jumping-off point for teaching students about this trendy, important and relevant career.