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Design students at Conestoga use their skills to give back to the community

Fourth year students competed to create a free marketing campaign for Autism Dog Services
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Supplied by Austism Dog Services.

In their last semester of the program, Bachelor of design students at Conestoga College put their skills to the test in a friendly competition to give back to the community. 

Each year, fourth-year design professor Michael Castledine connects students with an organization in the community that needs new branding. 

This year, they worked with Autism Dog Services (ADS), a non-profit that trains support dogs for children with autism. 

In a collaboration that allowed students to hone their design skills and get real life experience while giving back to the community, they created marketing campaigns for ADS to promote engagement and help them get more volunteers. 

“It was just a beautiful fit. We were happy to pick a non-profit to help with our design skills, building a campaign and helping them put together,” said Castledine. 

Typically Castledine would see if the organization they were working with could make a monetary donation for the students’ time. 

“But that wasn't really my focus this year, because I thought I'd like to give back in different ways,” he said. 

While it was their first time working with a non-profit in this way, he says they will likely continue to connect with non-profits in the future. 

Castledine runs it as a design competition, putting them into groups to compete. This year, there were four teams, each with their own theme and approach to the marketing campaign. 

“It just pumps them up a bit. They're competing against each other, and they want to win for that final design,” he said. 

When the teams presented their campaigns, Castledine said ADS Executive Director Vicky Spadoni was so overwhelmed and excited by what the students came up with, that she couldn’t just choose one winner. Instead, she chose to go forward with the campaigns team one and two created. 

“We were very honoured and happy that Vicky and her ADS team liked our work enough to use it as a campaign in the future,” said Taylor Jackson, fourth year BA of Design student and member of team one. “It felt fulfilling in a way that our hard work would be put to good use.”

One of the biggest hurdles [ADS] has is getting volunteers; mostly puppy sitters and puppy raisers. The demand for puppies is huge, but it takes a lot of energy to get someone to put up their hand and say, ‘yeah, I will look after a puppy for a little bit or, you know, a year and train it and go through that process,’” he said.

So when trying to determine how they could help with a marketing campaign, they figured raising awareness about the organization and volunteer opportunities would be the best plan of action. 

Castledine noted that people might not be aware of all the volunteer opportunities. For instance, ADS needs puppy sitters, but you don’t have to volunteer full-time. 

“If you wanted to take a puppy for a weekend, because the puppy sitter, who does it full-time, needs to go away for a weekend or whatever, you can do that,” he said. 

To address this, their campaigns focused on two different messaging strategies to increase volunteer recruitment, one of which was called “Raise them to be…” and featured animated and illustrated social media posts of the dogs as heroes, protectors, and knights in shining armour. 

The idea was that the campaign would prompt people “to become a puppy raiser or sitter and quite literally raise these dogs to grow up and do amazing things like protecting children and families with children that are on the autism spectrum,” Jackson said. 

“We wanted the fun and imaginative design to speak to families with young children and help them to feel inspired about volunteering. Our team also designed an updated campaign style guide to allow for easy creation of more posts in the future, updated social media strategy plans, and a volunteer handbook that the ADS team could use for consistency and efficiency when onboarding volunteers in the future,” Jackson said. 

Jackson said the whole experience provided incredibly valuable for students as they could gain experience working with a client before “going out into the world,” engaging in discussions with ADS to determine the work they did, and getting real-time feedback. 

“It was amazing to work for such a deserving organization and understand the importance of what they do and how volunteers, even volunteers like us that help them with design work, can help in the grand scheme of things,” Jackson said. 

You can learn more about ADS here

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