Artist Brings White House Connection to Design Class


Gibby Waitzkin, a graphic artist who was  involved in creating a presidential logo for former U.S. Vice President Al Gore during his run for the presidency, recently spoke to RU graphic design students about her experience.

A Radford University graphic design class learned firsthand about the content, design and branding of political campaigns from someone who has been there.

Artist and graphic designer Gibby Waitzkin was involved in creating a presidential logo for former U.S. Vice President Al Gore during his run for the presidency in 2000. “He was very involved in the entire process,” she told students in Assistant Professor John O’Connor’s intermediate graphic design class.

O’Connor used Waitzkin’s experience with presidential logo development as his class theme for her visit this month.

“The students were given the 10 current GOP candidate logos and asked to fill out a grading sheet,” O’Connor said. “They scored the logos on several design criteria, with the scores then totaled. Gibby, with her experience, was asked to grade the logos as well.”

Ron Paul’s logo was the top pick of the class, he said, while Michele Bachmann’s won Waitzkin’s vote. However, overall she and the class agreed on the top three and top five logos.

Waitzkin, who founded the Washington, D.C., graphic design and communications firm Gibson Creative and now has her studio in Floyd, said her spirited conversations with the students were invigorating.

“I was very impressed by how engaged the students got in looking at this and taking apart a brand and talking about it,” she said. “You can have a great design, but if you’re not able to help the client understand it, take ownership and really brainstorm with you, then your work isn’t going to go very far.”

When O’Connor first asked her to speak to his class, Waitzkin said, his passion to instill a sense of community and activism in his students was a big selling point.

“One of the things that John is so good about is getting them involved in the political process in a different way,” she said. “Designers are very involved in the process even if we don’t think of ourselves in it necessarily. If you are branding a person, company, candidate or new product, all of the same skill sets these students are learning right now really apply.”

Waitzkin said she wants students to realize how exciting a career in graphic design can be, especially when incorporating a variety of disciplines. Her clients have been diverse, including the World Wildlife Fund, Voters for Choice and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

“The biggest growth we’re having in our country with jobs is in technology,” she said, emphasizing how having a diverse skill set with multiple influences throughout her career has made her a more productive, efficient designer.

She encouraged students to take a variety of courses and not limit themselves to one area.

“Because I had a design communication firm in Washington, I gave them a little bit of that history,” she said. “Students should try to take every kind of technology-related course they can, whether it’s 2D or 3D, Photoshop, all of those. They’re integrating product design with design and branding. It is a whole new frontier out there, and their major is really cutting-edge.”

Nov 17, 2011
Keith Hagarty