Winning an Indigo Award is a career milestone for any graphic designer. The international competition features categories from computer animation to calligraphy, judges handpicked from industry-leading firms, and entrants from nearly 50 countries. Tech’s own Bobby Strickland just won two of them.
“You can have something in your head,” says Strickland, “And if you keep it there long enough, you'll see it in your experience.” It is an apt philosophy for a graphic designer, and especially so for his prize-winning design.
In the wake of an ethics scandal, Georgia Tech had convened a committee to plan Ethics Awareness Week events. Strickland volunteered to join, representing Professional Education.
“During the second meeting, I was writing the word ETHICS in my notes, and I suddenly saw TECH IS hiding in the spelling of the word," recalls Strickland. "I involuntarily screamed out, startling the rest of the committee and stopping the discussion cold.”
The word scramble motif has special significance for Strickland, who has cultivated a talent for linguistic puzzles since a young age.
“Growing up, my home environment was full of emotional chaos and anxiety. To calm my thoughts, I would play a mental game of word jumble, staring at words and making new words out of the same letters. I became very fast at spotting the hidden word within the word. I never thought this childhood coping strategy would one day result in an international design award.”
As every designer knows, it takes more than a good idea to make a good design. While Strickland had initially pictured his concept as a motion graphic, word came down that the design would have to work as a standalone print piece. It would also have to incorporate the tagline “Cultivating Character.”
So Strickland worked, iterating on the core "Tech is Ethics" concept and secured permission to develop the design. Early iterations drew inspiration from the X’s and arrows of football plays, the newspaper game Jumble, and played with multiple color schemes in an effort to highlight the anagram. Ultimately, the clean lines and high-tech metaphor of the circuit board won out. This is the version that Strickand pitched to the heads of subcommittees and, finally, the institute’s President.
“I must have been convincing,” says Strickland.
The design was printed on posters displayed at ethics pledge stations during Ethics Week. Each person who took the voluntary pledge was given a sticker that also showed the design. Proud to see a good idea executed in print, Strickland took home one of the stickers and put it beside his bed.
It isn’t the first time that Strickland answered a crisis with creativity. Following the death of a talented and prominent student leader in 2017, he found a way to bring a grieving campus together. As a Tech alumnus, Strickland wanted to do something to help heal the community that had been central to his life for decades. The resulting Make a Splash collaborative art project invited participants to dribble colorful paint drop onto multiple canvases. During Tech’s annual Family Weekend, over 200 individuals, including students and their extended families, participated at Strickland’s booth. He then finished and unified the piece by painting overlapping water ripples in transparent glazes.
“Together,” wrote Strickland in his artist’s statement, “We can send ripples of love and acceptance in the face of tragedy and loss.”
Before coming to work at Georgia Tech, Strickland spent years as a professional counselor. Appropriately enough, the final Make a Splash piece now hangs in the Georgia Tech Counseling Center. Strickland’s desire to help his community, to bring people together, also spurred him to engage with local church congregations, spreading understanding of the LGTBQ experience. All of the above contributed to Strickland receiving Tech’s 2019 Service to the Community Award.
It was a nervous waiting period for Strickland. “Every night and every morning, I would talk to the sticker beside my bed, and say out loud, ‘You are a good idea. You are going to win an international award, and you are going to take me to Spain.’”
The ritual went on each night for weeks, and Strickland says he developed a “a deep inner knowing that it would actually happen.” Sure enough, when the results finally came in, his name was there in the winner’s bracket: a pair of bronze awards in the categories of Logo Design and Promotional Materials. Strickland was one of only a handful of U.S. winners, and one of the few who were recognized for a print piece.
The words that Strickland spoke to his sticker proved prophetic. He and his partner Don attended the awards ceremony in May at the Museo Picasso in Malaga, Spain.
Reflecting on his creative process and his journey to the Indigo Awards, Strickland had these words of wisdom to offer. “Often I hear people say ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ Actually, the reverse is true. ‘I’ll see it when I believe it.’” That’s the power of positive thinking, a community spirit, and a strong design.