Teaching is Connor’s passion


Connor Mitchell, one of our talented art directors, spends his days branding our higher ed clients and working to advance the industry. Recently, he had the chance to see what it’s like on the other side of our work, when he taught a design course at Ohio State — which is also where he got his degree. We wanted to learn more about his work with the students at OSU and share his passion for inspiring the next generation of design professionals. 

How did you get into teaching, and what inspired you to step into that role?

I guess I fell into it naturally. I’ve been blessed to have had really great teachers throughout my education, even as far back as grade school. They were the type where you may not remember everything you learned in their classes, but you remember how they made you feel, and how they inspired you. So when my former professors reached out and asked if teaching a class would be something I was interested in, it was an easy yes. I just wanted to give back to my program and help make sure students come out prepared and passionate about the field of design — that “pay it forward” mentality. 

What’s your teaching style like?

I just tried to be like my favorite teachers — nice, but honest. Inspirational, but practical. Fun, but serious. The key is to know when to be each of those things, and as a first-time teacher, it was tricky to find the right balance. I wanted my students to know that they could trust me, that I knew what I was talking about, and that I had their best interests at heart. It takes a bit of time to build that rapport, but once we had it, it was very easy to just be open and honest with them about their work, my experiences, and what they need to do to be successful in this crazy profession. I think it helped that I was in their shoes not that long ago. If I could find success, they can too. 

What course did you teach?

I taught an introductory course on signs and symbols — essentially how to communicate effectively without written words. What makes for quick, clear communication? What causes confusion or could be left open to interpretation? How does the aesthetic influence perception and meaning? How does culture influence understanding? Things like that. It’s a good blend of art and science, and it was a fun challenge.

If you could design any course to teach, what would it be?

I would probably teach a course on branding. It’s what I do every day, it’s what I have the most knowledge and experience in, and it applies all the skills you should have as a visual designer. I’ve always loved branding and how it affects your perception of a company or product or service. To me, it feels like brand design as a whole is in a really fun place right now. There are so many different brands trying to compete for your attention in so many different ways. I feel really passionate about the ability of a good brand to connect with people on a deeper level, but it’s a real challenge to get there a lot of the time. I think that’s what Ologie is so good at —  and while they do pay me, they don’t pay me to have that opinion. It’s something I see every day. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your first semester? 

The better question is probably, “What wasn’t a challenge in your first semester?” Lesson planning, time management, lecturing, critiquing, grading, advising, and inspiring the students were all challenges. But it got easier over the course of the semester, and I feel a lot more confident heading into next semester. I was up front with the students about it being my first time, and I think they gave me some grace in that regard when it might have appeared at times like I didn’t know what I was doing. While it was just one course, it felt like a full-time job at times, especially on top of my full-time job at Ologie. 

Anything you’d like to change for the future? 

Nothing major, to be honest. I haven’t quite gotten back into lesson-planning mode for next semester just yet, but I have been writing down small things as they come up in my mind while I’m working on other things. I would love to figure out a way to try and incorporate some motion design, even in a rudimentary way. And then probably just updating the examples I shared throughout the semester. Especially within the context of branding, and how certain brands have crafted symbol systems in really clever, original, and effective ways. And probably a bit more support for helping them navigate the steps of the design process. I think I assumed they knew more than they actually did at the start of the semester, and I could have done more to help them understand the importance of research and understanding the problem before just diving into creating things. 

Now that you’re on the inside, is it true that professors have favorite students? 

I wouldn’t say that I had favorite students, but I think it’s fair to say that I found it easier to connect with the students who were invested in their own education. It was easy to tell who put a lot of time and effort into their work, and who didn’t. The temptation is to focus on those students who are doing it the right way, but it’s the students who aren’t who need you the most. As I said to them, this isn’t a profession where you can just do the bare minimum and expect to be successful. Especially right out of school, you’re competing with so many other people, and it’s usually based almost entirely on your portfolio. If you’re not taking it seriously now, you’re going to have a hard time finding a job, because it shows in your work. Everyone has different skill levels, so it was important to meet each student where they were, and just be honest with what I was seeing. I’d say most of them were receptive to that approach, which I appreciated. They were all great kids, and I think they can all find success if they work for it.  

Did you implement any tactics from former teachers or professors that you had as a student?

I think the main thing I tried to do was hold students to a “professional” standard, as did my professors. Not in terms of their skills and ability to execute, because that comes with time and practice. But more so in terms of mindset and doing the things you need to do every day to be a good designer: Holding yourself to a high standard, first and foremost. Paying attention to the little things. Challenging yourself to try things outside of your comfort zone to grow your skill set. Not taking the fast or easy route, when you know there’s a better way. Coming to class on time and prepared for the day. Making sure there’s solid research and reasoning behind your work. How to critique work, and how to provide honest but constructive feedback. How to present your work. I feel like all of those little things were emphasized by my professors, and they were very important to helping me step into the professional world ready to go.

Is there anyone you leaned on for advice? 

Of course! My former instructors, Paul Nini and Peter Kwok Chan, and my program coordinator, Yvette Shen. All three were huge in setting me up for success and providing support along the way. I definitely could not have done it without them. And while he didn’t provide me with any advice directly, I could always hear my professor Brian Stone’s voice in the back of my head, especially when it came to holding students accountable to those professional standards I just mentioned. 

What did you enjoy most about your experience back in the classroom?

I think the most rewarding part was just the opportunity to give back to my alma mater. I had such a positive, formative experience during my time there, and I’ve always tried to pay that forward in any way I can. Hopefully, my students learned something about the specific subject at hand, but also about what it takes to be a good designer in general, and what they’ll need to do to find success as a professional. If I was able to inspire them in some way, then I feel like I was successful. It truly was a joy to go to class, spend time with the students, and just talk design with them. I can’t wait to see what they all go on to do.