“United we smile”: Students spread joy through graphic design

Nick Bonadies
Spectrum Editor

A band of VCU graphic designers handing out cookies, postcards and the secrets to a happy life made their first public appearance at Gallery5 this past Friday.

The Happiness Coalition, which distributed wares as part of Gallery5’s First Fridays Holiday Market, is staffed by a contingent of graphic design students “focused on making a smiley dent in the world,” according to an informational brochure that folds out into a poster of an adorable toddler.

“It’s the little things that brighten your day, make you happy,” said Emily Burgess, a junior and a Coalition member. “It doesn’t have to be this huge thing – it can be these cute little cards.”

Strikingly designed, screenprinted postcards are the Coalition’s chief output, along with other easily transmissible materials like business-style cards, stickers, pamphlets and (of course) baked goods.

“Why! Don’t you look smashing today!” reads one card in ebullient script by a print of Charlie Chaplin. “Show off your wonderful face,” reads another.

Each Coalition member, Burgess said, came up with their own designs to share with the group, which then decided on which to print by a simple vote.

The purpose of the cards, as explained by graphic design junior and Coalition mastermind Alex Fulton, is twofold: as compact, easily-giveable day brighteners in themselves and also as reminders to the recipient that they too can disseminate joy through simple gestures.

“They can sign it. They can mail it. They can add on to it,” Fulton said. “Once it’s in someone else’s hands, it’s their doing.”

Fulton said the idea of bringing paper happiness to strangers was hardly new to her, and that she once made a pastime of “send(ing) people anonymous cards in the mail, as creepy as that sounds.” She also cited the massively popular PostSecret blog – in which people around the world send in personal secrets on one side of a postcard to a single “curator” in Bethesda, Md. – as an inspiration.

“Instead of people sending in secrets, I thought what if instead of one guy receiving things … what if that one person were trying to reach out to the community?” she said.

The Happiness Coalition also distributes literature, artfully designed, on the “psychology of happiness,” which Burgess said each designer explored through research in preparation for the project. Information ranges from short factoids – “Did you know that even if you’re in a bad mood, you can instantly lift your spirits by simply smiling?” – to longer-form treatises like “10 Things You Can Do to Lead a Happier Life.”

This First Fridays was the Coalition’s first public outing, having only been formed earlier this semester. Fulton said that the group plans to participate in future First Fridays art walks and that she hopes in the future to look into non-profit status.

“We’re not trying to change people – that’s not what we’re about,” Fulton said. “We’re not trying to be like, ‘You have to be happy.’ We’re just being … If you feel like you need some sort of change in your life to make yourself happier, we can be that support.”




[sws_grey_box box]More information on the Happiness Coalition, as well as articles and printable graphics and designs, can be found at the group’s Tumblr page: www.happiness-coalition.tumblr.com. [/sws_grey_box]

Photos by Mel Kobran

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