Planning a design workshop for teenagers

By in Blog 25th Jan, 2017 0 Comments

At the end of last year I was asked by the Ahead Partnership if I’d be interested in delivering a workshop at a local school. The workshop was to be part of an enterprise day aiming to connect students with local businesses. I didn’t know much about working as a freelancer when I was at school so thought it might be interesting to develop a workshop to give the students a taste of life as a freelance designer. The class were Year 10 so students were aged between 14 – 15 and each workshop lasted about an hour.

When I was putting the workshop together this excellent article about the importance of design by Dean Vipond was a big help.

I started off by introducing myself and showing a few examples of my work. We talked about the meaning of the word freelance and what an illustrator does. I mentioned how lots of different types of jobs can be freelance and how the internet has made it much easier for people to build their own business.

We talked about the importance of design and how design is everywhere, often without you even noticing it. I showed this image of two hotel signs and asked which one they thought would be a nicer hotel and more expensive to stay at.

Hotels signs

This led onto typography and how the look and feel of a simple word can instantly determine your impression of a business.

I then presented a slide full of emblems and talked about how some of the best logos don’t rely on text at all.

Famous logos

I asked the students to call out the names of each business. We talked about the word ‘brand’ and how it originates from business owners literally ‘branding’ their products (barrels, crates, cattle) with a burning metal symbol.

The next slide showed a few examples of logos that use illustration or negative space and have hidden meanings within them.

Interesting logos

The students enjoyed picking these out and showing others who couldn’t see them. These hidden easter eggs such as the arrow within the FedEx logo or the bear within the mountain in the Toblerone logo adds an extra level of memorable detail.

I then showed three different businesses that were about to open a store in a local shopping centre.

Business ideas

I asked the students to work in groups and design a logo for one of the businesses. I asked them to think of a name and just start writing down words and images associated with their business. I wanted them to be free and easy with their ideas and explained how if you’re pitching to a client you’ll often be expected to present several ideas. I also gave them limited time to try and put a bit of pressure on them and explained how in the working world you’ll probably be required to meet a strict deadline.

Next I showed a bunch of mascots and we talked about how a character will make a brand appear friendly and more memorable.


The students called out the different companies the mascot’s represented and we discussed how characters are particularly good for advertising and businesses that want to appeal to a family market. The students then designed mascots to accompany their logos.

The final slide showed a selection of slogans and I asked the students to call out the names of the businesses for each tagline.


We talked about how a slogan accompanies a company name and how a successful tagline can stick in the mind. The students then thought of slogans for their own business.

I then asked some of the students to stand up and present their ideas to the rest of the class. Some of the teenagers were very reluctant to do this and I talked about how giving presentations and talking in front of groups is a really handy skill to have.

I finished with a few ideas on what skills a freelancer needs and weighed up the pros and the cons. I explained how you have freedom to do what you want and you’re your own boss but you also need to be reliable and deliver on time. If this means working evenings and weekends then it needs to be done, otherwise the client might not ask to work with you again. I also talked about how the world of freelancing can be insecure and you don’t get paid when you’re sick or want to take a holiday. But it is possible to make a good living as a freelancer and the positives easily outweigh the negatives.

It made a nice change to spend a day with students and hopefully the workshop made some of them think about a future working as a freelancer. It was great to see the students come up with so many ideas and it was a good top-up for my own creative battery. Doing a challenging workshop like this took me out of my own daily routine, made me take a step back and think about where I want to go in my career.

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About The Author

Tom Woolley is a freelance illustrator based in Yorkshire. He specialises in illustrated maps, hand-lettering and children's books.