ONU Design week poster

Following a summer where words and actions sparked a movement for social justice and equality, Ohio Northern University is continuing the conversation through the visual arts during ONU Design Week Sept.18-25. ONU Design Week aims to celebrate the power of design and diversity with six days of inclusive and engaging virtual events. This year’s event is a partnership between the School of Visual and Performing Arts within the Getty College of Arts & Sciences, and the Black Student Union.

As understatements go, saying that 2020 has been challenging is right up there with the best of them. Between COVID-19 and the horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery – and the subsequent social unrest – many are feeling the stress and strain of a society under pressure. For senior graphic design major Claire Orsagos, the summer had a profound impact on both how she views the world and also what she plans to do about it.

“It’s safe to say that this past spring/summer has taken a toll on everyone, not only with the pandemic, but with the unjust killings of innocent Black people as well. And that, as we know, is not just a 2020 thing,” she says. “I have been fortunate and privileged enough to turn away from these topics because it has never hit close to home for me. However, that changed for me after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. I don’t know them personally by any means, but I don’t have to know them to want justice for them.”

Orsagos is one of the creative minds behind Design Week. As an intern for Professor of Design Brit Rowe over the summer, she worked on various design-for-change projects, including Rowe’s community-based design project Grafik Pandemic, which focused on the opioid crisis in Hardin County. As the summer unfolded and the Black Lives Matter movement rose to prominence, fueled in part by bold graphic art displays such as a mural of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., and the words “Black Lives Matter” painted on city streets, Rowe decided to switch course and create a new project he calls Grafik Justice.

Grafik Justice uses digital projections to inspire the public through a visually dynamic communication method. According to Rowe, the projections were designed to provide support for ONU’s African American community, raise awareness of racism and connect to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“At the height of the protests this summer, I learned that Claire had written a series of poems about the BLM movement. These poems were her way of reflecting on what was happening,” says Rowe. “Graphic design is a wonderful form of expression, and I wanted to do something that would give us another way to express how we feel about the state of things.”

Grafik Justice was just one of the week’s events. Design Week included panel discussions on the influence of Black culture on design, a Black Student Union-hosted workshop with illustrator Aaron Scamihorn on using design to protest, and talks by designer Mike Nicolls (part of AIGA’s Midwest Design Week) and designer/educator/activist Terresa Moses. All the events were available virtually, and could also be seen at the Wilson Art Center, with the exception of Grafik Justice, which took place at the ONU English Chapel.

Orsagos almost didn’t get the chance to help with design week. She had been accepted for a few different summer internship opportunities that fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic. When Rowe found out, he created an opportunity for her.

“Brit was gracious enough to allow me to work with him on various design-for-change projects that he had wanted to do, and he allowed this to fulfill my internship requirement,” she says. “I honestly believe my internships falling through have been a bit of a blessing in disguise. Without that happening, I would not have been able to do this work with Brit or members of BSU. My hope for this event is that it raises awareness to what it is like to be a minority, specifically Black, in a community like Ada.”