ClockTower Studio

By James Robert Watson, PhD

The story
ClockTower Studio, the student-staffed graphic design studio at UCO, was created as part of the curriculum overhaul in the Graphic Design program in 1987-88. I had been hired to revamp the program. The studio met two needs. It provided a resource for clients in central Oklahoma who had been calling (and would continue to call) seeking students to work on projects. We either had to turn them down or integrate the project into one of the studio courses - tough to do since those courses had pretty tight schedules and projects. The other need met was to provide a work experience for students - to get portfolio pieces that would actually be printed, to work with clients, to meet deadlines and budgets, and to present projects in a corporate environment. As part of my research into graphic design programs in the area, I had visited similar studios at the University of North Texas (Fineline Graphics) and at the University of Kansas (The Arts). Each of these were student-staffed and managed. I patterned ClockTower after those two. Students 'interview' to be accepted into the studio. There are no academic assignments, only practical work experience working for clients in central Oklahoma. Students often say that working in ClockTower provided them with the most valuable experience of their college career. The students work in teams whereby the results benefit from shared knowledge and creativity. Great work is produced as evidenced by numerous awards and citations.

The name
The proposed name in 1987 was CSU Studio (Central State University). This was changed since faculty felt there might be some confusion with the fine arts studios. It was changed to CSU Graphics. When CSU became the University of Central Oklahoma, CSU Graphics became UCO Studio. This time, studio worked since it rhymed with UCO and had a better flow to it. From the beginning, I challenged the students in the group to come up with a better name and create an identity. Most groups blew it off since they were so busy with projects or they were just lazy or they were afraid to propose a new name. One of the best groups suggested 4am Graphics since that was how late they often stayed. After a few years of no student submissions, I finally named it and designed the logo. The name meets two objectives. It ties to the university by recognizing the icon of the campus - Old North and yet does not specifically state that this is a college group. It could be a professional studio.

The studio space
ClockTower met first the first 4 or 5 years in room 102, a typical studio classroom. All computer production was done in the computer lab in the Liberal Arts Building. Students did more design work on paper back then and used the computer only to produce the work. Late nights were often spent in either building. Room 103 in the Art & Design Building was used for only one class that met only twice a week, a total of about 6 hours per week. The students in that semester's ClockTower group are the ones who noticed the underused room and suggested it become the permanent home of the studio. They liked the fact that one whole wall, floor to ceiling, was glass; that it was up a short flight of stairs from the rest of the building; had an entrance next to the door; and was seemingly available. One of the students, Grant Roth was a great illustrator and rendered the proposed new studio. The instructor who was teaching the one class in the room saw the rendering on my desk and asked if he was about to lose the room. He agreed that it didn't make much sense to use it just for one class. So, the next semester, only ClockTower Studio was scheduled in the room. We furnished it with surplus tables and chairs, moved a computer in from the computer lab and we were in business. We had some furniture custom built and bought new drafting desk and new chairs. Soon, new computers and printers were added. Since it doubled as a work space and as client meeting space, there was a wood-paneled divider to hide the computer workstation and drafting areas. Meetings were held at a large square custom table. The color scheme was walnut wood stain, deep green formica table, counter, and work surfaces. With the red brick wall, the studio had a serious professional look to it.

In 2003, after the Department of Design was created, new offices and a conference room were built at the other end of the hall. Since clients no longer needed to meet in the studio space, it could be redesigned to be less serious. The new design of the studio also reflects the growing trend to flexible spaces, especially for team projects. The students in the spring 2004 group recommended that one whole wall be covered in marker board for use in brainstorming. Great idea. The red brick was painted white, one wall remained yellow (yellow wave lengths encourage creativity and productivity), the room was carpeted, and all new track lights were installed. The furniture is neutral grey or beige with accents of vivid primary colors.

Objectives of the remodeling
• Flexibility, ability to rearrange all furniture in the room.
• Entire wall of marker board for brainstorming, sketches, notes, and to-do lists.
• Colorful, bright, light.
• Open and feeling of spaciousness.

Inauguration of the Studio: 1987
Original interior design: 1989-90
Remodelation: 2004
Watson retired from UCO and Director of ClockTower Studio: May 2008

     20 years
     50 semesters
   156 students
   320 clients