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Charting Charlotte’s graphic design evolution through student project

Charlotte's Evolution
Charlotte’s Evolution

In 2024, design researcher Christina Singer and her students undertook a transformative project documenting the evolution of graphic design in Charlotte. This initiative, which marked the sixth of its kind since Singer joined the Department of Art and Art History in 2021, resulted in a comprehensive digital book that illuminated Charlotte’s design landscape.

The digital book provided a visual anthology of the city’s evolution from various design elements including logos, postcards, and advertisements. These pieces reflected distinct periods in Charlotte’s history and were sourced from Atkins Library’s archives, contemporary websites, and the city’s vibrant streets. The project delivered a unique perspective that broke away from traditional historical narrative, utilizing visual cues to portray the city’s heritage.

The fledgling designers curated meaningful artifacts to add to the People’s Graphic Design Archive (PGDA), an online collection founded in 2020. The goal of the project was to make design history more accessible. As a result of their contribution, the PGDA received a surge in traffic.

Tracing Charlotte’s graphic design history through student initiative

This was due in large part to the added projects which showcased a blend of modern and traditional aesthetics that reflected the rich history of graphic design.

For artifact selection and analysis, the students received guidance from a senior archivist from Atkins Library’s Special Collections. This collaboration provided insight into different periods and societies represented in the collections.

Among the collaborators, Hannah Alvarado delved into the evolution of the Charlotte Bilingual Preschool’s logos, while Takenvia Jones selected artifacts that included work by a Black designer and a historic moment for the UNC Charlotte basketball team. These projects captured significant local events, offering a glimpse into both cultural evolution and sports history.

Singer affirmed the significant impact that designers have on shaping culture and societal aesthetics. She claimed that the project expanded students’ understanding of the impact of graphic design on society. As a testament to their work, nearly 200 design artifacts were added to the PGDA’s collection. These contributions serve as milestones in the journey of charting Charlotte’s progression in the realm of graphic design.

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