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Getting Graphic: Invasive Species vs. Student Designers

Habitattitude logo

It's a fish-eat-fish world. It's a world where venomous lionfish, an invasive species along the Eastern seaboard, inhale large prey. It's a world where northern snakeheads, native to Asia, annihilate unwary fish in North American rivers and ponds. The invasions don't stop with fish. Members from every kingdom in the taxonomic hierarchy are winding up far from their countries of origin with increasing frequency and at a scale that is costing the U.S. an estimated $138
billion, annually1.

Ten graphic design students at the College of St. Scholastica and their instructor, Matt Olin, leant time and talent to combating the expensive problem last semester. "When you find a project that aligns with the real world, it's an amazing opportunity," said Olin.

Olin was preparing a lesson on branding when his colleague John Steffl from St. Scholastica passed on word about a Minnesota Sea Grant project to create brand augmentations for potential use in two national campaigns designed to remind people to do their part in preventing the spread of invasive species.

Olin, who holds an MFA in Graphic Design from the University of Minnesota, jumped at the opportunity. Within a month, Olin's classes created 27 derivative logos and 12 fresh taglines for Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!TM and HabitattitudeTM.

Focus groups convened by the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network will weigh in on the logos and taglines later this year. Brand candidates that pass focus group muster" will then be forwarded to campaign advisory committees for their consideration.

"My students loved the project and we'll all be excited to hear feedback from the focus group," said Olin.

Collegiate Journey

The Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! campaign works with boaters and water recreationalists to ensure that best practices for cleaning, draining and drying boats and equipment are understood. The Habitattitude campaign educates aquarium owners and water gardeners about not releasing their plants and animals into the environment.

Olin challenged his students to hone Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! branding for five audiences: canoeists/kayakers, sailors, divers, sea plane pilots, and waterfowl hunters. For Habitattitude, there were four target audiences: water gardeners, people working with live study specimens, bird keepers, and rodent owners.

The students read, researched, sketched, and created designs. They critiqued each other's work and finished their branding assignment in snappy fashion. Hayley Moede, one of the participating students, felt that maintaining the look and feel of the original campaign logos was the most important aspect of the design challenge. "We started with the original design of each brand, and we created more logos from there," she said.

Joe Watt, who focused on tagline development, said, "We researched the campaigns' history and what audience group each logo would target. Then, we used our research to make taglines for both campaigns."

The students, who had only occasionally seen the campaigns on billboards or boat landings prior to landing the project, grew to understand the campaign messages on a personal level. And by the end, the lesson acted as an elegant hybrid of product development, outreach and education.

Then and Now

The Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! logo was created in 2002 to be striking and self-explanatory. The stop sign-inspired logo has since been seen over a billion times throughout the U.S. due to the work of over 1,000 partners.

With Habitattitude's association with the pet retail industry, the campaign's logo needed to simultaneously encourage people to keep aquariums and water gardens but discourage releases of pets and plants into lakes and rivers. In 2004, Habitattitude's "world-fish in a bowl" word mark and logo was adopted.

Doug Jensen, Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator at Minnesota Sea Grant, was at the genesis of each campaign. "For both, the common goals were to raise awareness about invasive species and build local capacity to prevent their spread," he said. Jensen was happy when the news came in that St. Scholastica's graphic design classes were willing to work on campaign augmentations. "Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funders liked the idea that we explore and assess other logos that target related audience groups for potential use in these campaigns."

His response to the students' logos?

"The results are fantastic," said Jensen. "The graphic design students and Matt Olin did an exceptional job of capturing the essence of the campaigns and creating innovative augmentations."

"The main questions are: 'Do they resonate?' And if they do, 'Does the public feel it will change their behavior?'" Jensen said. "We'll find out."

Meanwhile, the students wait to see how the process plays out, with a hope of what may be. "I think it would be really cool," says student Whitley Mike, "to see something out in the public and be able to say, 'I made that.'"

The Habitattitude and Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! campaigns help people become part of the solution in stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species. For more information, visit www.habitattitude.net and www.protectyourwaters.net.

1Pimentel, D.; Zuniga, R. and Morrison, D. 2005. Update on the environmental and economic costs associated with alien-invasive species in the United States. Ecological Economics 52 (3): 273288. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2004.10.002.

By Russell Habermann
May 2013

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