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UB students bring prominence to message of diversity in design through the classic billboard

Andrew Mamarella, an architecture student, created the winning billboard design. “I wanted people to think about the fact that anyone can become a designer, and that no matter where we come from or what the color of our skin is, we all have the potential to impact the world." The billboard is visable along Route 33 in downtown Buffalo and will remain through the end of June. Photo by Alexander Becker

By Brenna Zanghi

Published June 13, 2017

University at Buffalo students have taken their skills to the sky to raise awareness of the power of design through a classic format of advertising: the billboard.

More than 400 students in the “American Diversity and Design” course at UB participated in a billboard design competition this past spring to represent design as a social act accessible to all populations – particularly those traditionally underrepresented in design.

Led by Beth Tauke, associate professor of architecture, the popular American Diversity and Design course enrolls students across the disciplines to explore social issues – and the history and diversity of cultural experiences – through the lens of design.

Tauke, who has taught the course since 2002, says the billboard competition underscores advertising as a powerful force that reflects and shapes values, priorities and actions. “We’re considering the ways in which physical and media environments affect various populations in the U.S. and, in turn, how such populations affect our environments.”

In designing the competition, she found an eager partner in Lamar Advertising, which offered to plaster the winning design on a series of strategically located billboards in Buffalo. Terry Fenske, graphic design administrator for Lamar’s Buffalo office, says the company saw the opportunity to provide students with a real-life example of the power of advertising. Why the billboard? Says Fenske: “You can’t turn a billboard off.”

All 445 students submitted a design. Tauke, her teaching assistants and students in the course determined the finalists, and the top three winners were chosen by representatives from Lamar Advertising.

The winning design was that of Andrew Mamarella, a freshman architecture student, whose message speaks to one of the most underrepresented communities in design: youth.

Says Mamarella: “I wanted people to think about the fact that anyone can become a designer, and that no matter where we come from or what the color of our skin is, we all have the potential to impact the world.”

Tauke says the winning design effectively addresses the key tenets of the course. “First, children are the future of design, and nurturing their creativity is one of the most important things that we can do. Second, currently, children are one of the most underrepresented or overlooked groups in the design of our built environments. Third, we need more designers from underrepresented groups—they need to be at the table. The more diverse the designers, the more design will meet the needs of diverse populations.” 

Both the second place (Robert Sullivan) and third place winners (Cindy Turong) also take on the theme of next-generation designers and design as a form of agency for social change.

Viewable from Route 33, the winning billboard stands on Cherry Street on the northeastern edge of downtown Buffalo. The billboard will remain through the end of June. His message also was projected from three digital units across the city for one week at the end of May.