Lantic Inc. project sparks discussion of spec work vs real-world experience among 2nd year students at George Brown College

Case Study by Nicole Dimson RGD, Artemis Design Inc., Part-time Professor at George Brown College (GBC)

Lantic Inc. approached George Brown College with a proposal to engage the students in the redesign of its individual sugar envelopes.


It was decided that this project would best fit within the 2nd year course, Ideas & Images. This course focuses on cross-disciplinary research, encouraging individual creative expression in response to a design brief and stimulating students' thinking on contemporary and visual culture. At this stage in their education, projects like this offer a great opportunity for students to have real-world experiences within the industry by allowing students to interpret a real client's needs and think critically and creatively in preparation for thesis work in third year. 


Lantic Inc.'s Marketing Manager made a presentation to the students about the history of the company: the only Canadian-owned sugar company in Canada for the past 125 years. She also provided an overview of all the sugar products they produce and told the students what they were looking for in the new design for the sugar envelopes. Their requirements included:

  • Make the packet bilingual
  • Allow for the logos to be interchangeable, as the company is known as Rogers west of Ontario and Lantic east of Ontario 
  • Use Lantic Inc.’s slogan “Sweet by Nature” and the company’s hummingbird image
  • Convey “all natural” appeal and the company’s Canadian heritage
  • Use 2-5 colours 

Students worked individually and were given three weeks to create a design to be put forward for consideration by the client, with the top three designs receiving a bursary from Lantic.


I evaluated the projects based on the specs provided by Lantic. If all of the criteria were met, the project was presented to the client who then chose the top 15 designs. They then brought the designs to Lantic's entire marketing department, where the top three were chosen. 


Students were given the existing die-line which had to be strictly adhered to, along with the URL information and company name in a specific typeface and placement. Adobe Illustrator was the program predominantly used, due to the ink restrictions.


Before the project was presented to the students, tThere had been a lot of talk about spec work due to the #MyTimeHasValue campaign that RGD's Student Committee launched in response to the federal government’s “Canada 150” logo competition. Students objected to the project for its similarity to the types of competitions that exploit students by asking for free design work. Some students also objected to the nature of the product and its negative health effects. 


Based on the student reaction, I changed the project to address their concerns. I made it clear that it was a graded assignment rather than an opportunity to win the bursary. I clarified that students would be able to choose whether or not their work would be submitted to Lantic Inc. for consideration. Students also had the opportunity to choose how they responded to the project: They could address the client’s needs, or they could use the opportunity to explore alternative messages about sugar. After all, “Ideas and Images” is a course where students explore the cultural significance of design and its impacts on society.  


In order to protect the students' intellectual property, we proposed that if Lantic Inc. saw the potential to use any of the artwork on sugar packets, the company would negotiate with the student(s) after the course was finished and pay the student(s) at fair market value. To ensure that no files were handed over without student consent, I made up a master comprehensive layout to which students would apply their designs, and provided the clients with hard copies. Lantic Inc. was very understanding and agreed with all of these requirements.


In the end, approximately 60 students (just over half) decided to show their work to Lantic Inc. The company awarded four bursaries at our Year-end Show Awards Ceremony and the selected works were put on display in the school. Lantic Inc. is now working with one of the students to produce her series of envelopes depicting Canadian wildlife as well as to create some additional icons.


Overall it was a very successful project. It allowed us to have many discussions in class about ethics and design. The students were able to experience what it was like to work with a client directly and understand how important it is to hear what the client is asking firsthand. They also learned about ink coverage, how to work with printer die-lines and how the printing process works for sugar envelopes.

“I like the idea of being able to design things that have real-world application and think beyond what we would normally like to do. I felt the project was a good way for us to practice lateral thinking.” Angelo Roldan


“I thought the project was inspiring and motivating. The project overview and specifications were detailed and consistent with what we have learned in the course thus far. I enjoyed scaling & simplifying detail to meet the necessary requirements, and overall felt the project to be creative and relevant.” Lisa Kain

Educator Takeaways

  1. When clients approach schools about hosting 'student competitions', it’s important to explain the difference between a competition and an educational project, the perils of spec work and the value of design. When collaborating with industry partners, it’s also important to ensure the students are not taken advantage of. Negotiate with the partner and make changes to the brief so that the students feel good about the work they are producing. It’s important to satisfy the client’s requests but essential to respect the students' learning needs and intellectual property.
  2. Sit down with the client beforehand to make sure that there is no hidden agenda. Ask why they have come to your particular school, if they plan on using the students’ work and how. Ensure that they will be involved in the design process through presentations, reviews, evaluations, etc., so that both the students and client learn from the project. Ensure also that the students will retain copyright to their work.
  3. Review the design brief carefully and don’t be afraid to make changes you feel are necessary to meet standard practices in graphic design.


Student Takeaways

  1. Discover how versatile a graphic design solution can be for a project like this one.
  2. Develop a self-directed approach in choosing and reflecting on a final design solution to submit to a client.
  3. Research and understand the ramifications of developing creative icons.
  4. Explore how to resolve critical and moral issues when faced with genuine concerns about the project you have been assigned.


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