Youngstown Design Works: Working with the Valley to Gain Business Growth

By Alyssa Pawluk


 RJ Thompson, Director of Youngstown Design Works, works with a wholesale food distributor, De Niro Cheese, about rebranding their website.  Photos by Alyssa Pawluk/The Jambar.
RJ Thompson, Director of Youngstown Design Works, works with a wholesale food distributor, De Niro Cheese, about rebranding their website. Photos by Alyssa Pawluk/The Jambar.

From small businesses to students with innovative ideas, the Oak Hill Collaborative — a neighborhood revitalization agency on the south side of Youngstown — showcased opportunities at Youngstown Design Works’ pop-up shop event “in-House” last week.

Youngstown Design Works, a student run design agency from Youngstown State University, was started last spring by graphic design majors to provide creative solutions for Mahoning Valley region non-profit organizations, small businesses and startup companies.

YDW provided print services, brochures, publications, business cards, logos, websites, animations and base level application designs at the event.

RJ Thompson, director of Youngstown Design Works and assistant professor of graphic and interactive design at YSU, envisioned a graphic service that could both meet the needs of Mahoning Valley businesses while providing students with practical experience working on real world projects, such as those generated at the in-House event.

“We’re set up here at the Oak Hill Collaborative as a means of giving the community access to high quality design, but a bit more on their level. We have a lot of community groups, startup businesses, small businesses and non-profits that have a need and a demand for high quality work, but don’t exactly have the access to design that they need. So by making ourselves available to the community, we’re able to create and cultivate new relationships that ideally endure for years on end,” Thompson said. “It’s all about access.”

Patrick Kerrigan, executive director of the Oak Hill Collaborative, said that they provided Youngstown Design Works with a place to work for the week, just one of the services Oak Hill Collaborative serves in supporting new businesses.

“One of the things that we do is act as a small business incubator. There can be no real revitalization, especially in a socioeconomically depressed area unless you have a component that involves jobs and economic opportunity,” Kerrigan said. “We try to help new and startup businesses with legal advice, accounting advice, business planning, give them space and equipment for free or cheap, and thanks to Youngstown Design Works, we are now able to provide them with graphic art services, which are just as important to a lot of new companies.”

Clientele that participated in the event ranged from YSU seniors to small companies in Youngstown. Jessie Tuscano and Brian Alls, YSU students, run an additive manufacturing company, Bravura 3-D, through the Youngstown Business Incubator and came to the in-House event for a logo redesign.

“We basically develop technology for 3-D printing to make it easier for the masses. We’re a portfolio company and we have an office in the YBI, where we kind of do research and development,” Alls said. “We want to alter our logo so that we can continue with development.”

Rebecca Nelis, secretary of Poland Village Business Association, owns a mental health counseling facility in Poland, Pathways of Ohio Counseling, and came to the event to have Youngstown Design Works advertise for an event that the Poland Village Business Association puts on called Celebrate Santa.

“Basically, I’m looking for my business to attract new clients … how we get our name out there, because we are very small compared to Turning Point, Meridian Community Care and all those places. So how do we draw people to come and see us as opposed to places like that?” Nelis said. “The mission of Poland Village Business Association is to promote the businesses that are within the village of Poland. There’s really a lot there, people go shopping in Boardman, but nobody ever thinks to come shopping in Poland.”

What is YDW?

Youngstown Design Works became a permanent class at YSU at the beginning of the semester and is open to graphic design students.

“To get into the class, the students have to conduct a portfolio review and an interview with myself and a small panel of outside business people. If they get through that, they are permitted to be in the class, at which point, my students would be communicating with clients through email, over the phone, meeting them at their offices, doing work for the clients, getting them the professional experience they need before they graduate. Ideally speaking, the experiences that they get from this program will enable them to one day start their own business, or their own free-lance practice after they graduate,” Thompson said.

Ann Bridge, a mechanical engineering student at YSU, held a presentation on 3-D printing at the event on Wednesday for Thompson’s graphic design class.

“We talked about the different types of additive manufacturing, how they get that applied to designers as well as different aspects of the research and design that would be useful for them to know when they go out into the work force,” Bridge said.

Michelle Nagel, a graphic and interactive design major and a member of the Youngstown Design Work’s class, participated in the event to build her resume for future employers.

“I came here mostly to gain experience doing something that you won’t find inside the classroom, and I find that this was a very good opportunity to also be able to put pieces in your portfolio that aren’t completely class projects,” Nagel said. “When you show your employers your portfolio, it’s actually real world things instead of just made up class projects. It makes it more authentic.”

Thompson said that Youngstown Design Works’ in-House program gives their clients the opportunity to grow.

“We want to help these folks succeed so we don’t really care what their business organization is, or the size of it. What we’re here to do is provide this tremendous asset to companies that value design and value its position within their company,” he said. “Certainly, it helps that they believe in our students enough to invest in the quality of the work that they are capable of creating and using for years on end.”

The in-House program, which happens once each semester, began with 54 meeting opportunities for clients to schedule with Youngstown Design Works, and all of the spots were filled by Friday, along with an extra six to 10 walk-ins.

Next semester, the in-House plans to meet at the CASTLO Industrial Park in Campbell and Struthers. Youngstown Design Works rebranded the logo for the industrial park and is in the process of redesigning the park’s website as well.

“They wanted us to come out there, and I’m really looking forward to the prospect of having our in-House event at an industrial park, and I’m hoping that a lot of industrial and construction companies will come to that because we haven’t had either of those types of companies come to us yet for work, and I’m really excited for that,” Thompson said.

Rebranding the YBI

Thompson said his proudest project is the redesign and rebrand of the Youngstown Business Incubator.

“That was a project I was personally involved in, and the YBI crew has been fantastic to work with. They have put a significant amount of faith in us to accomplish their design goals, and they’ve been tremendous collaborators ever since. We redesigned their logo, made some slight modifications to that, redesigned their website and the banner that’s on the side of their building right now. The new one that goes up is the one that we designed,” he said.

Kerrigan said that he was pleased with the turnout of the event, and that he enjoyed working with Youngstown Design Works.

“I’m blessed that they decided to get involved with us. They came to me and said that’s what they were going to do, and they were checking out sites. They wanted to be in the community, more of a grassroots thing rather than downtown, or even at YSU. Our space is really pretty ideal for this. We don’t have a heavy traffic of people. Our mission and their mission fit perfectly,” Kerrigan said.

He added that he always enjoys working with YSU students and that collaboration allowed the students and he an opportunity to learn something new from each other.

“I’m overjoyed. I really enjoy, and always have, working with young people. They have a lot more energy and creativity and it’s exciting. I feel like I’m an old dog teaching some young pups some things that I’ve learned, and I learn a lot from the kids,” Kerrigan said. “It’s a really good compliment to each other. They are doing certain things and I can help them, they can help me and our participants quite a bit.”

There were 27 logo projects, six WordPress website projects, three tri-fold projects, three ad campaign projects and two website analyses from the in-House.

Thompson said that although the event ended Friday, businesses and start-ups are still welcome to contact Youngstown Design Works at any time.