Feature News: MIAD students do real-world work via Innovation Center

MIAD students developed designs for Fort Atkinson-based bottle and can printing company ink360.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:09 pm

ink360, a Fort Atkinson-based bottle and can printing company, needed mockup designs to demonstrate its 360-degree direct-to-bottle printing technology, and found a solution at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.

The company, which typically serves clients in the small batch distillery, winery, brewery, oil and soda industries, wanted to develop illustrations to show off its wraparound printing services to potential clients. Familiar with MIAD, the company reached out to the school, and the two organizations struck an arrangement in which eight students would produce illustrations for the company and get paid for their work.

Being in the arts, MIAD students often present their ideas to classmates and instructors. But this wasn’t simply an educational exercise. The stakes were the same as any other business arrangement.

“This was outside of their coursework,” said Drew Maxwell, executive director of the MIAD Innovation Center. “It’s treated as a professional job. They came here and, instead of working in a cafe for summer, they did what they came to MIAD to do and were getting paid. They could even be fired. It’s totally professional.”

Over the course of a summer, the students created about 60 branding mockups for ink360.

“It worked out really well,” said Ken Matthews, founder of ink360. “It was a nice marriage. Students were really receptive to our needs … They came back with creative ideas. They did an outstanding job.”

MIAD leaders want to see those types of symbiotic relationships – in which students gain experience and companies get their artistic and design needs met – grow as part of the school’s new Innovation Center.

The Innovation Center concept emerged as a solution to a pattern at the school. Every year, graduating students, having completed a large portfolio of projects over the course of their studies, would leave MIAD and abandon their original work in the process.

“I’m in my fourth year at MIAD and one of the things I really noticed about MIAD was how much intellectual property students were producing on a regular basis,” said Jeff Morin, president of MIAD. “And they really looked at it in a casual way. Students produce amazing projects for their senior thesis, but those students are graduating, starting their careers, moving on, and on some level they were just leaving it behind, without realizing the monetary and intellectual value.”

Leaders saw a need to help students see the value in their work, and even monetize it.

The Innovation Center, which formally launched in fall 2018, has become an incubator-like space where students can pursue their entrepreneurial ideas, try taking their products to market, and work with corporate and nonprofit clients to gain professional paid experience.

MIAD’s new push is a win-win for students and business leaders, who frequently reach out to the school seeking students’ services, Morin said.

“There were two reasons to start the center,” he said. “One was to provide a service to our students, to help them take things to market. The other reason was to respond to the market because there is a high level of need.”

For nonprofit or startup companies, MIAD’s services are a lower-cost option than they might find elsewhere, as MIAD provides services on a sliding scale. The Innovation Center is funded primarily via philanthropy.

The center is based out of a former classroom that was converted into a creative hub, located in the lower level of MIAD’s Historic Third Ward campus building. The space intentionally integrates various disciplines. At any given time, students could be working on developing a new garment of clothing, drawing an illustration or developing a virtual reality product.

“One thing that distinguishes us from other innovation centers is that, if someone came to us and wanted an architectural layout and product development and a logo and brand development and a video, our answer is, ‘yes,’ Morin said. “Because we pull from all our academic programs. We have interior architecture majors, product design majors, fine arts majors, communications and illustration majors. Anything from the front door of the business on – whether layout, design, signage, identity, product – they can come to one place.”

Casey Hoaglund created the illustrations for Milwaukee artist Trapper Schoepp’s recent music video.

Casey Hoaglund, a MIAD senior studying illustration, has taken on some significant professional projects as a student.

Through the Innovation Center, Hoaglund became connected with the Milwaukee Ballet, for which she designed a large 50th anniversary poster that will hang in the entryway of the company’s new Third Ward rehearsal facility when it opens in the fall. Hoaglund’s poster embeds augmented reality technology that animates the image when a viewer’s phone hovers over it.

After working on projects for several professional clients throughout her time at MIAD, Hoaglund said learning to express her ideas and talk about her artwork with real-life clients has been one of the most valuable lessons.

“My classes teach you how to present your ideas, but it’s to your peers and teachers,” she said. “We get to do that in a professional setting. And it’s not just a trial run; we’re actually working.”

Connor Sannito is working to bring his original toy designs to market.

As a freshman, Connor Sannito, a 19-year-old budding industrial designer, developed an original toy design that won a creative challenge competition that was open to all MIAD students.

Maxwell saw the potential in Sannito’s idea and encouraged him to take it to market.

Sannito, who spends many of his non-class hours in the Innovation Center, happened to be working on his project when Morin was leading a group of representatives from a major Wisconsin sports team on a tour of MIAD. Morin regularly hosts C-suite tours in an effort to “chip away at the hidden gem” quality of the school and interface with the community, Morin said.

On this particular day, the chance encounter led to a big opportunity for Maxwell.

“Once they saw what he was working on, they said they wanted first dibs,” Morin said.

Since then, Sannito has been working with Maxwell on developing about eight products to pitch the client, the name of which they did not disclose. The potential for taking his products to market looks “really promising” at this point, Sannito said.

Meanwhile, he said, having an audience with a major client has forced him to elevate his presentation skills.

“The first few pitches I did there was a lot of stuttering, a lot of shaky hands, it was a mess,” Sannito said. “As you can tell, that wouldn’t translate well to a real pitch to a company. The more I’ve worked on that with (Maxwell) and other faculty, it’s helped sharpen my skills and made me better at presenting my ideas, because that’s half the battle.”

“What they get from the Innovation Center is confidence,” Morin said.

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