Session 10

How Design Won the Day: Design Students Using Creative Strategies to Solve Marketing Problems


In September of 2019, business school faculty from across the state of PA were approached to lead teams of students in a marketing competition. The challenge, direct from Governor Wolf’s office, was to create a campaign that celebrates Pennsylvania and our position as one of the 13 original colonies as the US celebrates its 250th birthday in 2026. The governor’s commission, America250PA, teamed up with the US postal service and Wilkes-Barre Connect and quickly filled the competition with over 200 marketing students from colleges and universities across PA. But one team, from Wilkes-Barre, PA, was composed of 6 multi-media design students, and this is the story of how they ultimately rose above the pack and how they used design to win the day.


To understand why a state-level competition win from a small private university is relevant, one must first subscribe to the idea that design education and creative problem solving

1.) can be taught and used as a method to the benefit of most, if not all professional disciplines and

2.) is not currently valued as core value in project initiation and planning.

Bottom line, designers are not getting a seat at the proverbial table. They are, of course, essential and are often intimately involved in multimedia campaign creation. But all too often, not involved until well AFTER marketers have had their way with the messaging. This confines designers, and makes them unable to employ methods that may lead to more soundly-researched creative. How does the work improve when the actual makers have the space and the voice to affect project specifications? The answer, in this case, is that they come up with a concept that connects with the audience in a way that the work of the 200 marketing students did not.


One significant part of design research is emotional intuition. That’s not to say, if you are born without it, that it cannot be cultivated. This is a myth about the idea of instincts. One very important aspect of design education is teaching students how to see, really see, the value in the elements of the world around them. To be able to identify the emotional real estate that communications hold in people’s minds and why.

When examining the state in which we live, Pennsylvania, students ultimately posed the question to themselves “why is PA special?” Which, of course, led to Google searches. And one random history fact later (did you know Pennsylvania was our first nations capital?), led our group to learn that Pennsylvania was first in nearly EVERYTHING! Computers, hospitals, coal for fuel, the firsts just kept coming!

So, would Pennsylvania continue to lead the charge, being the first state to celebrate 250 years of independence? Would its citizens dust off their scrapbooks and photo albums? Would they sit in front of hometown backdrops and tell their tales of Pennsylvania firsts to their nephew’s iPhone? Would the people from big neighborhoods in even bigger cities and rural folks from tiny towns separate by vast farmland realize that being dreamers and innovators is the very thing that unites us as Pennsylvanians?

And the Pennsylvania First and Foremost Campaign was born.

User-generated content housed in a tightly curated format engages folks young and old, from incredibly diverse backgrounds and allows them to connect emotionally over a common point of pride. It also allows for a relatively small staff and small budget to execute the campaign effectively. It also uses new media to engage both visitors and residents alike.