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Roll of the Dice

Graphic design class project presents the stark reality of global education.


As complex and complicated as life is, in some ways, our lives come down to simple chance. This is especially true for many of the children on the planet when it comes to education. A new art exhibit at Ohio Northern University’s Freed Center for the Performing Arts marries elegant design with sobering statistics to convey the plight of millions who seek knowledge and far too seldom receive it.

Muted primary colors and dice motif bring together the
disparate themes of survival, poverty, education and probability.

What began as a class project for the students enrolled in DSGN 4201 Advanced Visual Communication Design is now a powerful interactive exhibit running through April 12 in the Stambaugh Studio Theatre Gallery. “The Right To Education” asks us to confront the impact that poverty has on education.

“There is a vicious circle where poverty causes a lack of education, but a lack of education also causes poverty. Some say it’s the other way around. But we started there and kept researching to see what the problems are with education around the world,” says Kavan Reames, a senior advertising design major from Zanesville, Ohio.

The group of seven students identified four nations with the greatest disparity of access to education — South Africa, India, Brazil and China — and used them to anchor a narrative about the probability of receiving an education that is used throughout the four stations of the exhibit. Each station includes a composite profile of a fictional child derived from statistics from each of the countries and a dice game that lets you try to navigate the child from early survival, to primary education, secondary education and, finally, higher education or a career.

“Once we realized the whole chance element to education, we started thinking about games or interactive elements for the project and came up with the dice game,” says Reames. “That ended up influencing the design of the exhibit.”

The influence is apparent, with the dot motif carried out throughout, providing visual continuity and defining the order in which one should experience the exhibit. However, the design sensibilities go far beyond dice.

“We wanted a color palette that reflected an educational sense, so we started with primary colors. We also wanted to bring in this sense of poverty and early survival, so we muted the primary colors to more earth tones,” says Kevin Drain, a senior graphic design major from Urbana, Ohio. “More than anything, we just wanted a consistent palette that would work together as a unit and signify the different stations you would move through.”

"I don’t think a lot of 
undergraduates get 
to do an installation 
like this."

The group also had to make decisions on how to present the information at each station. In the end, they chose a graphical approach with strong, readable fonts and simple, clean lines that would make the overall exhibit easy to experience in around 15 minutes or so.

"We normally associate experience design with branding because of the characteristics of the user's experience or interaction with a brand. However, with this project, students had to understand and incorporate experience design theory into a exhibit that engaged users," says associate professor and chair of the Department of Art & Design Brit Rowe.

Doing an installation piece was new for the design students. For inspiration, they looked to IBM’s THINK exhibit in New York City and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

“We looked at how people moved through the space, what kind of artifacts they used and what people could take away,” says Drain.

Knowing what they should do and actually doing it proved more challenging than they thought. Things that looked like they would work on paper didn’t work in the gallery because there weren’t sufficient mounting points to hang pieces from the ceiling or the airflow from the ventilation system interfered with the artwork. It was a valuable lesson to learn, and the students were able to adapt their exhibit to the space.

“This project was a really good experience, and I feel like we were privileged to get to do it. I don’t think a lot of undergraduates get to do an installation like this. A lot of time, you work on individual stuff or smaller advertising projects or whatnot. This was pretty cool,” says Reames.

It is impossible not to be impressed with the thoughtfulness of design and execution of “The Right To Education” exhibit. Just as it is impossible not to be humbled by the juxtaposition of its theme and the success of its student creators.

“The Right To Education” runs through April 12 in the Stambaugh Gallery in the Freed Center for the Performing Arts. Admission to the Stambaugh Gallery is free and open to the public daily from noon to 5 p.m. The Stambaugh Gallery also is open prior to Freed Center events. The exhibit was created by Jerry Beard, Kevin Drain, Wesley Goldsmith, Olivia Linsey, Matthew Madsen, Victoria Moga and Kevan Reames.