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Time for change: Design students spread social awareness using clocks as their medium

The Visual Communication Design capstone clocks, on display Wednesday, Nov. 1, address issues about health, the environment and more


Capstone clock projects of Visual Communication Design seniors at Novus Innovation Corridor on Monday, Oct. 30, 2023.

The Design School will display a collection of clocks on Wednesday, Nov. 1, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Though the 12-inch clocks all have ticking hands, their primary functions are not to tell time, but to communicate about various complex social issues. 

The clocks are part of the capstone project for undergraduates studying graphic design through the Design School's Visual Communication Design program. Students in the program, like senior Abigail Bowser, said Visual Communication Design can communicate "a bigger meaning" through designing visuals that are functional beyond their appearance.

At the beginning of the semester, students selected a social issue to study and focus their designs around, and the clocks were a part of their year-long project. Along with a 3D rendition, the clock project includes 2D designs of clocks and their packaging representing their selected social issue. Bowser's clock represents the psychological harm of conspiracy theories.

"It's very rewarding to have the skills now as a designer to be told to simply make a clock about a social issue, which is a very unusual thing to be doing as a designer, but be able to execute it very well," Bowser said.

"We all got total freedom to choose whatever social topic that we wanted," Isabela Glass, a senior studying  said. "We're finally getting the freedom as designers to show our own style and apply what we've learned."

Each clock communicates a specific element of a broader social issue. Glass’ capstone topic is school shootings and child-related gun violence. For her clock, she precisely portrayed the shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. 

"My clock tells the story of how long the shooting went on, like what time it started, what time the school was declared all clear, and how many people were injured, and how many lives were lost," Glass said. 

Delaney Gerasta, a senior studying graphic design, also used the passing-time element in her depiction of the underutilization of palliative care, a type of specialized medical care that aims to relieve the physical and psychological symptoms of serious illnesses. 

Her clock, which focuses on end-of-life care specifically, is engraved with flowers that wither and die as the time on the clock passes as a "symbol for the dying process." 

"The depth of the clock changes, but at different rates," Gerasta said about her clock's 3D properties. "The area where it doesn’t go as deep as fast represents that even though the individual who utilizes palliative (or hospice) care is still dying, their quality of life may still be a little bit better." 

Anna Belding, a senior studying graphic design, said students learn to "encounter information" and "figure out the best way to disseminate that to other people."

She did that in her clock design, which she said aims to communicate the “underreporting or the lack of reporting of police-caused deaths of American civilians.” However, the clock's design could only contain one word. She chose "systemic." 

The students purchased their materials for the project. They had access to their studio in the Novus Innovation Corridor, the Makerspace laser cutter and other ASU-offered tools. Other project materials include bullet casings, paper, wood and acrylic. 

"I've been laser cutting, painting, gluing and all of that other great stuff," said Isabelle Clem, a senior studying graphic design.   

Clem’s chosen social issue centers around disparities in access to public transportation. Her clock specifically focuses on the city of Atlanta.

"The clock is going to have a frosted glass spray on the top of the cover, and that is specifically identifying the populations that are both low income and communities of color, and those are the populations that aren’t being connected to public transportation," Clem said. 

After the clocks are exhibited on Wednesday, they will be auctioned off at the Visual Communication Design Poster Show on Nov. 9 to raise funds for the final senior design exhibition in the Spring.

Edited by Shane Brennan, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.

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