Learning about promotion early on will make students more independent and resourceful. It will also ensure they value, and are passionate about, what they are doing because they can frame it within professional and industry practice.
This article looks at some of the approaches to promotional materials which can be produced by students. It explores some of the advantages and disadvantages of business and post cards and how to manage the production of these as a lecturer. It also considers how these can be developed into further creative opportunities for students.
Part of the project?
Some institutions will expect students to promote themselves and their artwork as part of a project and others will expect this to be a separate activity. The article looks at the traditional business/postcard and explores this each in relation to the assessment process.
Any project could theoretically include an element of self-promotion as part of the outcome. The Pearson BTEC’s have many units that could potentially integrate a task that covers a learning objective and allows for the production of promotional material, whether it was for the students or for a final exhibition.
The GCE A-Level Art and Design: Graphic Communication criteria will also allow for the production or investigation of promotional material, it can still be incorporated into a GCE assignment as an overall task or accompanying a main theme as the creation of this kind of material will still require the same creative processes outlined in the assessment objectives.
What is absolutely critical is not to allow the creation of postcards and business cards at the expense of achieving the qualification, ideally it is better to integrate it as much as possible into the assessment process. Moreover, if students realise they aren’t going to be assessed on their promotional material, they may decide not to participate at all and this can be really frustrating.
By fully incorporating self-promotion as part of the project, the lecturer is demonstrating how integral the process is to the design cycle. For the student this reinforces an underpinning awareness and commitment to making sure that their work has an audience and their skills are applied professionally in the future.
What to put on postcards?
Because the postcards for a show have to be pre-printed in advance of the exhibition, it might mean that the final artwork isn’t even created yet. It is important that students don’t get confused about having to show the final work on the postcard. Anyone visiting the exhibition can take a photograph of the work on display. So being able to take away a postcard with a slightly different image enables the audience to get an insight into the student’s portfolio and overall style. The postcard could even include a part of the sketchbook or design process they took to get to the final outcome.
For their postcard, this student has simply scanned part of their sketchbook in that demonstrates the kinds of materials, techniques and processes they are interested in. Some course leaders and teams elect to include the student’s sketchbook in the show to let the audience take in the process and development. Other teams decide that the sketchbooks are too valuable and vulnerable to be left out during exhibition. In this case, having promotional material that shows the some examples of the development of the work is even more valuable.
The traditional method is to include information about the student such as email address, title of project or piece on the card and their name. But the kinds of information could really depend on the function.
For the purpose of promotion at the end of year show it is really positive for the students to indicate where they are progressing to after the course and what they will be studying.
For really taking advantage of the production of the card and to make it multi-purpose, the students could include parts of their CV on the reverse, such as the computer skills they have and their hobbies or interests, without personal or other potentially sensitive information such as dates of birth and addresses. This would work on a postcard, but be less suitable for a business card.
Many students will have digital portfolios these days and there should certainly be a link to that. To save typing a web address into a browser, it is also possible to put a simple QR code that can be scanned with an App on a smartphone.
One way of cutting down cost of promotional materials is to standardise the approach that the whole group will use. A standard solution is to go for the postcard option. Sometimes a show with a unified look enables the work to stand out more than if there are all sorts of different kinds of promotion taking place. By setting guidelines for a postcard, all students have to do is select an image that will represent their portfolio.
The examples below are taken from a show that required a unified approach to the postcard design. One of the advantages of this process is that students save time and can concentrate on production of the outcome as opposed to looking into printing costs and logistics of delivery:
These were simply printed within the institution by the lecturer once the students had all sent their designs in. A disadvantage of this process is that the lecturer has to spend time chasing up the artwork for the postcards and collate them altogether and organise the printing and cutting.
Note that each postcard has the same logo of the course in the corner. The advantage of having a title of the show on all of the students’ postcards is that they can then be used as invites for the exhibition. This saves time in having to design a separate private view invitation.
If all of the students are going to have promotional material included in the show, there is the possibility that the gallery could get cluttered and this could detract from the work itself. Yet if all of the students have the same format of publicity and promotional material, they can then find a way of presenting it in an organised and clear way that suits the whole cohort. This cohort opted to present all of their postcards together on a traditional postcard stand that might be found at the seaside or other tourist location.
Individual Designs – Business/post cards
This approach leaves a lot more of the design process open to students and depends on what the expectation is or what the institution will produce for them. Some institutions will automatically produce a catalogue or have in-house printing facilities and this might determine the kinds of promotional material the students will produce.
Where there is a clear expectation for the learners to take full responsibility for the design, printing and logistics of the promotional material, there are some real advantages. These come in the shape of positive life skills that can then be used in the future.
If a student has to consider the design, then research the cheapest option for printing. They will have to ensure that it arrives in time for the exhibition. Then they have to weigh up the different options available through printing, such as weight of card, glossy finish, whether it is double or single sided etc. Then there are options for getting cards at reduced or even free with advertising on them. All of this research and decision making will really help them when they come to trying to promote their own work in the future, especially as a freelance or sole trader.
This student wanted a high gloss finish and for the rear of the postcard to have a particular kind of font. This creative decision meant that she was able to match the font to the kind used in her sketchbook to have an overall holistic design within the portfolio.
If you are considering taking this approach, either because you want the students to develop more independence or your timetable won’t permit you to manage the promotional process, be aware that some learners may find it very distracting from their main projects. There will be learners in the class that will find the final outcome for a project already quite difficult so any extra creative decisions and research may put too much of a burden on the learner. Ideally, have a backup plan for less able learners or use a structured approach to helping them produce the material.
Taking business cards further
A fantastic aspect of student self-promotion, which combines well with exhibitions, is when the student starts to ask what a postcard or business card is? They start to apply the same kind of creative questioning that they have been used to for their artwork. Effectively, this means that their promotional material becomes an extension of their work or an artwork in itself.
This student was producing an interactive work for a digital installation. The project was an exploration of the afterlife and our relationship to DNA. The student felt that it would be interesting if the business card could reflect the scientific and experimental nature of the exhibition and as such they used medical test tubes combined with acetate for each card.
Another method is to have even closer links between the business card and the artwork being exhibited. This student has produced a video about consumption, the presentation includes a small installation to support the video work. Because of the small space on the bone, the business card simply covers an email address for anyone that wants to get in touch.
One of the most hands on productions of a business card was to support an installation about tea consumption and culture. The student wanted the audience to engage in the tactile aspect of tea preparation as well as the discussion that it might facilitate, which is why the business cards are ceramic and include handwriting. Not only was the product important, but also the “point of sale” from which they could be selected.
Why these processes really work is because they are memorable. The audience loves to be able to take something that feels like an artwork away with them. However, it can be very labour intensive and time consuming. I would recommend that anyone wanting to encourage students to produce something like this either uses it a stretch and challenge opportunity for more able learners or integrates the promotional material into the assignment and ensures that it is included as part of the assessment.
Project as promotion
The concept of self-promotion and enterprise can be completely integrated. This can be achieved if the expectation is for the outcome to be a stall that sells and promotes the artists themselves. The general concept of the end of year show is the same, but all students are expected to produce a point of sale and to engage in an enterprise venture.
This student opted to create a range of prints. They are exhibited and presented as a collection, but can be sold individually. It is important to consider how this kind of work is invigilated, who collects the money and whether the institution takes part of the income generated.
This project demonstrates that students can still engage with and positively thrive within a traditional fine art specialism, despite the expectation being a commercial one. It can also make the learners aware of what the market wants and requires or even to investigate whether there is a niche in the market for a new kind of product.
For this kind of a project, the students can work as a team or as individuals. However, if students work as a team it can be much more difficult to assess as it can be very difficult to determine who has done what in a group project. Yet this difficulty can be outweighed by some of the advantages of working as a group, such as the teamwork and leadership skills and the kinds of shared inspiration and commitment that can be generated.