While students and staff make small talk and shrug off their winter wear, Robert Abbott greets new and familiar faces with the same unbridled enthusiasm. As rustles subdue, the Red Frame Lab is momentarily transfixed as a black and white image of two rugged cowboys wrestling a smoldering poker towards a frantic horse fills the screen. The room reacts accordingly, and Robert Abbott emits a knowing grin.

Through a five part series on graphic design, Abbott and the staff behind the Red Frame programming are on a mission to equip students across curricula with a visual skill set adequate for today’s quickly advancing world. As put by Abbott himself, “…the original intent of the series was to provide students with a primer on a range of important visual design topics. While so much of student efforts are involved in communication, including writing and presentations, there isn’t as much guidance for how to visually present this communication. In short, to make better stuff.”

Though Robert Abbott has led several other design-oriented sessions this year, he explains this new initiative as being uniquely positioned to “…explore a range of foundational graphic design topics, from typography to information design to branding. Without an understanding of basic design principles, we default to templates of various tools, rather than carefully shaping it with intent.  I hope this series will help students see their work, and their opportunities to more effectively shape their end product, differently.” After all, as explained by Kaitlyn Specht in a November 2017 article of the Denisonian, “Design-thinking is a form of working through problems that, starting with empathy, focuses on understanding the problem through multiple perspectives and then using that mentality for larger, more concrete application.”

As such, February 13th was the start of an effort poised to give students access to a new and prevalent line of thinking. ‘Branding that Sticks’, the first in the series, exemplified the importance of this thoroughly. Over the course of an hour, Abbott covered a brief but illustrative history of the commercial concept of brand, as well as the process and purpose behind personal branding.

The group was encouraged to consider their own aptitudes and objectives, and how these might be reconfigured visually to achieve maximum impact and effect. Though he included a peek into the advertising world for those unfamiliar with the industry, Abbott spent the most time emphasizing how establishing a personal brand is possible, powerful and potentially game changing when it comes to making an impression in nearly any career.

According to a profile on the Denison website, highlighting the current Entrepreneurs in Residence, Robert Abbott is a “…communication designer, digital experience strategist and entrepreneur.” His accomplishments range far and wide, from work with John Deere, to Panasonic, to the Smithsonian. Though his prestige is undeniable, anyone who’s attended a session with him would likely agree his value to Denisonians lies in his charisma and personality. Easily able to strike up a conversation, Abbott was hardly phased by the varied crowd at this initial session. In fact, the room full of students, staff, and administrators alike serves to illustrate his central point- design is for anyone willing to turn intention into creative direction.

Upcoming sessions of the ‘Making Stuff Look Better’ series include ‘Fixer Upper: Information Design/Architecture’ on February 27th, Avoiding Death by Powerpoint on March 6th, and ‘Typography’ on April 3rd. All workshops are held from 4:00 to 5:00pm in the Red Frame Lab. Stop by and see what a design rundown could do for you.