Michael begins by revealing who their "client" is. Since they all are hoping for something sexy like Apple, Nike, or West Elm, instead, it's the almost century old, American retailer in search of a much needed, new retail face—the venerable (to all of us over 50 that is) JCPenney. He presents the assignment in exactly the same fashion as he would in his own design office — a verbal brief which will then have to be formalized (by the students) in written form. Placed randomly into four teams of four, the students face the next 14 weeks with some trepidation. To lighten things up, they select catchy and cheerful team names like Team IHOP (International House of Perficionados), Team Tractor, Team Moshi Moshi and Team 1902 — and the whirlwind experience begins.
Upon learning the full scope of the assignment, student David Scott said he felt excited and overwhelmed. Student Beau Monroe said, OMG, JCPenney, I didn't even know they existed (he's in his early 20's so we can forgive him).
So what's the assignment? It's not JCPenney's new logo. Instead, it's the creation of up to nine in-house brands designed to appeal to those yet to be convinced consumers in the once upon a time giant's fierce battle to regain market share. Each brand will have a persona, target market and lots of stuff—some staggering 40+ skus for each brand. Products like pet food, baby products, housewares, pots and pans, jamaican sauces and yes, sex toys will comprise some of lines.
You can just imagine the feeling. Each team is quaking, knowing that the stakes are high and that they all must perform as they are but two semesters away from graduation. For most it will be the crown jewel in her or his portfolio. What do they learn? Student, Liscelyn Grifal said late night snacks with team members helped to get them through the tears and rough spots of accountability and performance. Naomi Hoag said she learned to pursue methodology to accomplish complex tasks and how to get a group organized to meet deadlines (yes, teamwork which starts organically and refines itself along the way, can pay off) and oh, she also learned via Michael that "stoners stock shelves" and "kiss" (Keep it Simple Stupid).
The results you see are anything but simple or stupid—they reflect all the sensitivity that any nationallly recognized branding firm would produce. The brand matrix you see by David Scott shows the structure of his team's brands and helps demonstrate the project's scope. From the students' perspective, all the endless collaboration, compromise and collegiality has paid off in spades and as Beau Monroe so aptly put it, "four heads are better than one and the feeling of triumph over adversity is exhilarating." (As of this writing, I am happy to say that three of the above students have jobs and one is currently in negotiations).
Michael Osborne, their wonderfully avuncular instructor, aka Oz, says "my unparalleled satisfaction from all this is making an impact on a young designer ready to hit the working-taxpayer-real-world-reality, with craft and impact, in a way that betters the design industry."
I say, higher learning indeed.