Soul of Athens is the Visual Communications capstone, or senior thesis, at Ohio University. It is the brainchild of two groups of VisCom students: photojournalism and multimedia digital design. These students collaborate on a project centering around the Athens, Ohio area every year. The project aims to mimic the transition from students into creative professionals, mimicking taking clients and tackling creative problem-solving with colleagues. During my final semester at OU, I worked with my classmates on creating the Soul of Athens 2022 website. 
Our group decided to focus on the natural resources from the Athens area: their uses, history, and creative applications. As a group, created a website with pages for five natural resources: natural land, coal, timber, clay, and farming.
We divided up into groups to create the website: visual designers, UX designers, and developers.  I opted to be the visual designer and creative director for the timber team.
As the biggest project yet for many of us, a new level of research and preparation was required for Soul of Athens. Not only did I have to gather inspiration for the visual aspects of the designs, but I also had to find data to create infographics about the timber industry in Southeast Ohio.
I did extensive research using online databases but finding usable data specific to one region of Ohio was proving to be more difficult than I had imagined. Thankfully, we had a professor at OU, Dr. Monsted, who met with some photojournalism students and gave them an interview to put on the website. In addition, he also gave them several research papers that he had written on the history of the timber industry in Southeast Ohio. Thanks to his writing, I now had data that I could use to make infographics on timber.
I also gathered design inspiration online and sought to create a design with natural elements. As part of the design and timber team, my responsibilities were two-fold. I also found myself making many executive decisions for the design team and taking the initiative on tasks.
Our process for Soul of Athens (SOA) 2022 began with a bit of a slow start. Although we were eager to start designing the website, we didn't have any content yet. The photojournalism students were responsible for creating content: taking photographs, doing interviews, and helping us to write the stories for the website. 
Much of the beginning stages were merely brainstorming and experimentation as the concepts and stories were not fully formed. As a first step in the process, I worked with the other designers on choosing fonts for the website and discussing ideas for color, layout, illustration, and future infographics to accompany our research.
 Using the fonts and colors we agreed upon, each of the designers created our own style guide or mood board for our respective natural element groups. My timber style guide encapsulates the crisp and natural aesthetic I wanted to convey in my designs. I wanted my work to be visually pleasing but also informative, achieving a careful balance between graphics and data.
Once the colors and fonts had been decided, I began sketching ideas for my timber infographics. The stories for the website were still in progress, so I had to remember that my infographics would have to complement the other content on the page. We went through several rounds of feedback during the SOA process as a group. Thanks to input from classmates, I was able to elevate my work by applying constructive criticism. The final infographics are below.
As the volunteer lead designer, I was one of the most proactive and thorough in the group. As an example, I took on the extra responsibility of designing the SOA 2022 site logo, which I then translated into graphics for the social media profile picture and the website icon. I enjoyed being able to do something more artistic and illustrative for the project, and since none of the others seemed interested I stuck to the adage "If you want something done, do it yourself!"
Soul of Athens was the largest project I have ever worked on, and with it came many lessons. I learned how to trust the process. It wasn't easy initially to see what the final product could be or how we could go there. Taking things a step at a time and communicating with my team when I needed help were crucial to my success. There were many times when we had to reroute an idea or scrap it altogether, and we slowly watched the website take shape over time.
SOA was a great way to practice teamwork and see what a professional creative occupation might be like after college. Most of us had been doing projects by ourselves in college, and working on an undertaking this large with this many people meant sometimes having to communicate honestly even when it was uncomfortable, or learning how to compromise when you think your way is best. 
I'm glad I was able to be a part of the OU VisCom legacy. Being surrounded by creative people daily was one of the joys of my life. I'm thankful for my time at Ohio University and the skills I honed, the experience I gained, and of course, the friends I made along the way.

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