Design Students Leave a Mark

A leader in product safety certification, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has been putting its permanent “UL” mark on electronics since 1894. When choosing designers for their new learning space in Durham, UL University turned to a leader in the design field, NC State University, to put its permanent mark on the space.

Four NC State College of Design students, including one current and one past DELTA Creative and Multimedia Production Services interns, recently finished designing UL University’s new learning space in Durham, unveiled at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 15.

Established in 1894, UL has since been a leader across the globe for product safety certification. UL University serves companies seeking training and certification for their staff dealing with electronics.

Four students; Melissa Church, Steven Valenziano, Toni Chester, and Lidia Churakova; were hired in March

Steven Valenziano creates models of previously-tested UL products.
Steven Valenziano creates models of previously-tested UL products.

to take over every aspect of the design project. The students designed bright, colorful, high-definition graphics of UL’s products for virtually every wall of the space, covering classrooms, meeting spaces, the building’s entrance, dining space, and more.

The students pulled design ideas from what UL executives hoped future UL students and clients would take away from the learning space. According to DELTA Senior Multimedia Specialist and Art Director Amanda Robertson, who is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the College of Design, UL wanted their wealth of experience and company longevity to come across in the design, along with their connection to the present and the future.

The student design team solved these at-odds ideas by incorporating modern wall graphics and designs with historical images and information, as well as recent and historical photos and models of UL-certified products.

Students designed high-definition graphics for virtually every wall of the learning space.
Students designed high-definition graphics for virtually every wall of the learning space.

“These were all challenging problems, yet the solutions the students came up with addressed each of them,” Robertson said. “For example, the graphic waves near the entryway invited visitors into the space and directed them to the right, toward the elevators. They then saw them again in the reception area. This was likely interpreted as merely aesthetic by a visitor, but was strategic in solving one of their design problems.”

UL University found the four students for the project through Robertson and her husband, Tony Robertson, the North American Manager for Sales for UL University. This opportunity is an extension of a student internship program Robertson is involved with at DELTA.

Robertson, along with Associate Director of Creative and Multimedia Production Services Mike Cuales, created a DELTA student internship program in 2005, focusing on providing students with real-world learning opportunities not possible in the classroom.

“This internship is a learning opportunity within the university working on real courses with real clients that are going to be used; not something assigned in their design courses. So when they leave here and take another job, they know what a real job is,” Robertson said.

In addition to the DELTA internship program, DELTA does everything possible to facilitate learning opportunities for students, whether on-campus or off: designing graphics and animations for an upcoming NCSU course, designing websites for faculty members hosting an upcoming conference, or designing a company like UL University’s new learning space.

Whereas in the classroom, students are only tasked with creating a design, in real situations with budgets and deadlines, students must take over every aspect of the design process.

“It proved to be a tremendous learning opportunity, Church said. Throughout the project, I needed to

Melissa Church took a trip to Chicago to search through historical images for this beautiful photo, which she then blew up and used as dining room wallpaper.
Melissa Church took a trip to Chicago to search through photographs for this historic UL image, which she then blew up and used as wallpaper for the building's dining space.

balance creative freedom with branding guidelines and tight deadlines, and that experience taught me the importance of collaboration, planning and communication — all of which will remain key attributes in my design ethic as my career progresses,” she said.

Valenziano found that his experience as a DELTA intern encouraged him during the UL design process.

“Working with Mike and Amanda at DELTA, I was able to jump right in, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them.  I did things that I never considered in my studios, such as sourcing materials, getting quotes, doing cost analyses, and creating materials finishing samples,” Valenziano said. “My experience with Mike and Amanda was an essential building block in my education as a designer and as a person.”

Robertson said that gaining real-world experience is what internships like this are all about.

“Melissa had to fly to Chicago and meet with the UL folks up there and learn about the history of UL,” Robertson said. “Steven Valenziano’s experience as a DELTA intern, where he had to learn how to cut and manipulate different materials, helped him really understand some of the challenges in construction and manufacturing. The team even met with and outsourced some work to local companies.”

Robertson is encouraged by the vast amount of quality work done by the students, and feels that this success story lays a foundation for future students to work with UL, as well as other companies in the area, in the future.

UL University executives agreed, and have already hired the four students to plan and design another phase of the building, elaborating on the extensive work already completed.