Fashion Has Heart: Students Help American Heroes Share Their Stories with Design
Whatever the assignment – a product prototype, a logo, an ad campaign, an interior space, or a piece of furniture – KCAD student designers are constantly in search of visual narratives that resonate. Usually, their job is to give life to the inanimate, to inject aesthetic with emotion in a way that draws people in and creates a deep, lasting connection. But a group of Graphic Design and Industrial Design students recently took on a very different challenge: using design to capture the very human stories of wounded American veterans.
For the second year in a row, KCAD has partnered with the non-profit organization Fashion Has Heart to help give veterans a voice through creative expression. The organization’s HERO[series] Design Week initiative pairs West Michigan artists and designers with veterans from each service branch of the U.S. Armed Forces to create original shoe and clothing designs that are sold all over the world.
But the students weren’t simply given a photo of their hero and a design brief. They got to spend nearly the entire week interacting with the veterans face-to-face to get to the heart of their personalities, experiences, and perspectives.
Graphic Design students Nicole Fuller (right) and Lauren Berndt (center) get to know their hero, Aaron Hale, a U.S. Army veteran who lost his eyesight in the line of duty
“In class, we identify target consumers for products, but it’s not really about telling their story; it’s about trying to create something that people want to use,” said Industrial Design student Amanda Hargraves, who first heard of the opportunity in professor Alan Lugo’s Footwear Design class. “This project is all about capturing the emotion of a person’s life story in a design, so it’s a completely different experience.”
Throughout the week, the students were sponges, soaking up details to inform their final designs. Hargraves was paired with James Monroe, a veteran of the Korean War, which is also called the Forgotten War because so many Americans know little, if anything about it. As the pair interacted, Monroe spoke passionately about his desire to raise awareness of the tremendous sacrifice made by American forces during the conflict.
“It was really interesting hearing his story and all the different things he’s had to go through, as well as just getting to know him as a person,” Hargraves said. She decided that she needed to do her own digging into the Korean War in order to design a shoe that conveyed the true scope of its impact and to honor her commitment to Monroe. “All of us really want to do a good job for the heroes and help them tell their story. Every part of the process has to be very meaningful and well thought-out.”
Industrial Design student Amanda Hargraves immersed in research and concepting
Graphic Design students Nicole Fuller and Lauren Berndt worked with Aaron Hale, who served on an Army EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) bomb squad in Iraq and Afghanistan before an explosion robbed him of his eyesight. Since then, Hale has forged an incredible post-service life in which he climbs mountains, runs marathons, gives motivational talks, and is a loving husband and father of four. For him, the difference between a full life and an empty one is all a matter of perspective.
“I feel like if we hadn’t had the chance to meet Aaron personally, we would have felt sorry for him, but after meeting him and learning about all this amazing stuff he’s doing you really gain a deeper understanding and a deeper respect,” said Fuller.
Hale may have lost his eyesight, but he gained a truly inspirational perspective on life that Berndt (right) and Fuller hope to capture in their final design
At the end of the week, the students were buzzing with information and inspiration. The challenge now is to distill all of that into a concise, powerful design. The students will have about a month to work before presenting their heroes with a palette of design concepts to choose from. Once the decision is made, the final designs will be put into production and revealed at a special event during ArtPrize 2014.
“I think it’s trying to say a lot with a little,” said Berndt. “Aaron has this amazing story that’s so inspiring, and he’s got this crazy inspirational perspective on life. How do you show that with a graphic? That’s our biggest hurdle right now, to get others to see life as he does.”
Follow Fashion Has Heart on Facebook to keep tabs on the design process, and be sure to check out the unveiling of the final designs during ArtPrize 2014.
To learn more about Fashon Has Heart, go to fashionhasheart.org.