Orange Beach design class offers real-world opportunities for graphics work

Melanie LeCroy
Lifestyle Editor
melanie@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 1/18/23

ORANGE BEACH — The bell rings in the halls of Orange Beach High School, and students file into Michael McCrady's digital design class.Each student sits down behind their iMac computer and waits …

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Orange Beach design class offers real-world opportunities for graphics work

Posted

ORANGE BEACH — The bell rings in the halls of Orange Beach High School, and students file into Michael McCrady's digital design class.

Each student sits down behind their iMac computer and waits for instruction. McCrady tells them to open Google Classroom to see the parameters for their next assignment.

The students' assignment is to create a logo for a local small business. This project's parameters are to create a logo incorporating electrical, woodworking, plumbing and the color blue.

From across the room, a student tells McCrady he doesn't know what images to use. Like in a real work scenario, the parameters can be defined or vague.
McCrady said he gets a few requests a week from small businesses and local organizations. Those requests become assignments and contests.

"I turn requests from businesses and organizations into live work assignments. Then I tell whoever is coming in that they need to give the winner something. It is usually a gas gift card or something like that," McCrady said. "We just did the poster for the Orange Beach Garden Club's Game Day they have coming up. We are still waiting to hear who the winner of that is. They were overwhelmed with the number of posters they had to judge."

McCrady also teaches digital publication and CTE (career tech education) lab in Design, which operates the Isurus Graphics.

The design lab classroom is set up just like any professional print shop; students operate it as a full-scale, self-sustaining graphics business with McCrady's help and supervision.

McCrady's students have designed logos for businesses, organizations and events and installed projects around the school and outside organizations. Their combined skill under McCrady's instruction surprises their customers.

"What is happening is people don't realize what we do and what we can do. It is very interesting," McCrady said. "Even though you tell people they can't fathom what we can do until they see it, until they either walk in here or see the end product, they don't really get it."

SO, WHAT CAN THEY DO?

Logos, posters and graphics.

Everything they design can be transferred to the print lab where they can print posters and graphics.

They designed and printed a full wall wrap for the back of the classroom. They also have created, printed and applied the graphics seen throughout the school. This year, students built two Greenpower race cars, the Mako Shark car and the Batmobile for the school's Shark Bait Racing team.

"We built the bodies on the car and the graphics that go on the cars. They had to engineer and come up with how to build the bodies. Then make all the graphics to fit on the body. It was a cool project," McCrady said.

McCrady is happy to see the program grow so much in such a short time. During the 2021-2022 school year, he had three class periods. This year, has a full day of classes within the program. There were more students interested in his classes than there were spots. McCrady said they had to add an application process for interested students that included an essay on why they wanted to take the class.

"It is a good problem to have," McCrady said. "The students interested in working in marketing or graphic design got in first and then students curious about the program," McCrady said.

The skills students are learning and mastering can take them as far as they want in the real world. He has some students who are interested in pursuing graphic design as a career, but he finds it interesting how few realize they have skills they could monetize now.

"What the students don't understand is they have the ability now to do that stuff for businesses. They are slowly starting to understand, and a lot of them will get it once they leave," McCrady said.

Within some of the more general assignments, he has students work on their own projects. He has one student who has used his skills to create a business website for his IT business. There is also a group of three students (Phoenix Dial, Nathan Parker and Danial Flowers) working on their own apparel company called Pedz Apparel.

"Phoenix isn't even in my class. He is an office worker that comes here every day, and he is like spearheading the whole thing," McCrady said. "I have let them run with this whole thing because every project they do, the Twitter and all that stuff, is about their company. They have taken this opportunity to turn a basic marketing plan into fruition by using class time. It is hopefully something they turn into a money making deal."

Because of the live work students get, they have the chance to see their designs outside of the school walls.

Sophomore Seanna Howard is one of the students who wins a lot of the contests, according to McCrady. If you participated in the Kiwanis Club of Gulf Shores 12th-annual Polar Bear Dip on Jan. 1 and got a T-shirt, you have one of her designs.

Another project Howard won was the logo design for the Mako Academics Arts & Athletics Club February Masquerade Ball and Drawdown fundraiser.

When you speak to McCrady about his students, you can see the pride he has for their talent. You can also see it in his classrooms and the hallway outside the lab. Every winning design gets a place on a wall.

"It is amazing to watch from day one when the students are clueless," he said, "to now when I can sit back and give them little pointers of things to look at."

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