Carolyn Rodgers (BFA 2016) describes the creative relationship that resulted from a unique design collaboration with a visually impaired high school student.
Entering agency internships as a wide-eyed BFA undergrad, I assumed working with clients on creative projects would be constantly exciting, challenging, and rewarding. However, I quickly learned the main role of a designer was to act as a solitary chameleon; quietly blending into surroundings, in my case, a desk behind a Mac. I was disillusioned with how rarely designers get the opportunity to create for clients they know well, or even at all.
Was this what I wanted to do the rest of my life? I would think at the desk that became an extension of my right arm.
I needed to discover a client-designer relationship that pushed me in ways I could never predict; a fresh perspective to give future clients my best work.
I took a break from sitting behind computers and began a personal project that combined my interests in typography, design, and reading. Rather than beginning with a familiar medium, I prioritized a new one: collaboration.
My first step to starting an interesting creative relationship was seeking a well-deserved, ultra-innovative partner. After seeking out many new connections, I finally found my collaborator, India. She is a high school student who met all of my requirements: she is an ambitious worker, smart thinker, and passionate artist. India is also visually impaired, meaning she does not see the world as most people do. We quickly started working together and, just as I had hoped, India immediately opened my mind to new ways of thinking.
I wanted to plan our time to make the most of our unique project that was already more fulfilling than any of my previous client work. On days before we would meet, I wrote questions, bought art supplies, and created prompts for activities that would fuel our work. One day when I was hurriedly presenting my prepared items, India asked, “hey Carolyn, can I tell you something about myself?”
“Absolutely!” I replied as I set aside my attention for something unexpected. In that moment, I realized I cannot control everything, risk must exist in a successful partnership.
The most valuable parts of our work together began in an impulsive conversation when India and I revealed our truest thoughts and made our most honest actions. This is when the magic happens, when you let your relationship be sincere because you trust something special will surface. In my mind, an agenda was like a comforting guarantee that a creation day with India would go well, but sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes we wouldn’t accomplish anything productive, but then India would tell me to shut my eyes and walk down the hall with her white cane, or we would talk about how differently we understood a color. These moments, when our different perspectives met, created the foundation of our project.
Agendas need to quickly move aside when the spark in a collaboration ignites. And these sparks are exactly what make collaborations meaningful. When India and I weren’t merely camouflage, when we were functioning creators bringing our experiences together, was when our work was most valuable.
Our final work included a series of books about India’s life experiences and another book I made about the value of our relationship. This will continue to be among the most interesting and challenging work I will ever do.
Was this what I wanted to do the rest of my life? I thought again after India and I presented our work at a gallery opening. Without a doubt, I will find ways to reveal the excellence in collaboration throughout my career. Through working on this project, I learned it would be ideal for me to have a job at an exciting agency while seeking creative relationships to inspire my thinking.