Graphic Design vs Science Fairs

Science Fair display board, circa 2003

My daughter, Sophia, is preparing to go away to college this year. She’ll be attending Chico State. In preparation for that move, we’re having her dismantle her room. Her bedroom looks like a scene from Hoarders. The order to “clean her room” just meant, “shove everything under you bed or in your closet”. Rarely was anything discarded. So in the process of cleaning her room (we mean it this time!), she came across an old Science Board from 6th grade. And I thought “what a perfect idea for a blog”.

3 first place ribbons and a second place

The only reson there's a second place ribbon in this line up is because a robot was involved.

Every parent will go through this excruciating torture. In a child’s 5th and 6th grade year they will typically have to do a Science Fair project or build a Mission. Sophia’s school, (Amy B. Seibert school), is a Science Fair school. Both my son, Bentley, and she attended school there. So I have “helped” with four Science Fair exhibits. And when I say “helped” I mean I did them and they “helped” me. Every parent will do this. They have to. A fifth grader has the attention span of a hummingbird. Their cognitive skills, not to mention motor skills are almost non-existent. So here’s where the parent’s “special skills” come in.

Robot vs anything, robot wins everytime.

Robot vs anything, robot wins everytime.

You would think a parent that is a doctor, or a biologist would have the clear advantage. Wrong! What I’ve learned about Science Fairs is that it’s all about presentation. And I…er… my kids have three blue ribbons and one red ribbon to prove it. That’s right, one year I… opps… I mean, my son, was bested by an Asian kid that built a robot. I mean, come on, a robot? Nothing trumps a robot.

And do you really think these competitions are judged by MIT graduates? Of course they aren’t. Once I found out the judges consisted of some pimply faced high school kids, I knew all it would take is some razzle-dazzle and shady science to win. I’m sure by the fourth exhibit of “Which Detergent Cleans Clothes The Best“, their eyes begin to glaze over. So you need an experiment the judges have never seen. After a night of Margaritas from Mexicali, I was popping some aspirin to relieve the pounding in my brain, and praying for immediate relief, when it hit me! Which pain reliever dissolves the fastest in your stomach?

First I… er… WE Googled how to simulate stomach acid. I think every 11 year old ought to be able to play with Hydrochloric acid, so after letting her mix up a batch of imitation stomach acid, we poured it into four jars and dropped various pain-reliever tablets (coated and uncoated) into the jars and timed how long they took to dissolve. Then it was back to a Sponge Bob marathon… it was going to take awhile. Sophia typed up the report, with very little coaching from me… other than the choice of fonts. I went with an Ultra Condensed Helvetica for the headlines and a American Typewriter for the body copy. I thought it gave the poster a very academic look. Some stock art of aspirin punched up the headers.(I intentionally misaligned the headers for realism, I mean, what 11 year old knows what “left justified” means?)) I was playing around with the design- you know, just tweaking and at some point she wandered off. We were under a deadline, (your children won’t tell you about this project until the day before it’s due), so I took matters into my own hands. I loaded the files to a thumb drive and dashed to the office. I output to my over-sized Epson ink jet printer. Spray-mounted the art to foam board, cut them out with an xacto knife (I really wished she could have done that part, Hydrochloric acid and xacto knives all in one day! Thrilling!), then used double sided tape to mount them. I thought popping the headers off the board really added the wow factor. Needless to say she won first place that year. No robot competition. She went on to compete at the all-city level, but was shut down by lots of robots and actual scientific experiments. I think she lost interest at that point anyway. Come to think of it, I think she lost interest after we dropped the tablets into our acid solution.

So, you may asking yourself, “what has this to do with design”? Oddly enough, my science boards skills came into play when I was asked to do several display boards for the Beautiful Bakersfield Awards. In 2010 San Joaquin Community Hospital’s Grossman Burn Center won the Health division. And another display we did for Home Instead Senior Care won for their Secret Santa Program (Awesome program by the way).

Did our graphic design skills help tip the scales? I’d like to think so. I know it did for my 11 year old daughter.

Grossman Burn Center display board

We designed this display board for the 2010 Beautiful Bakersfield Awards. They won. Coincidence?

We designed this display board for the 2010 Beautiful Bakersfield Awards.

We designed this display board for the 2010 Beautiful Bakersfield Awards. This is an awesome progam!

Another Beautiful Bakersfield award poster for San Joaquin Community Hospital.

Another Beautiful Bakersfield award poster for San Joaquin Community Hospital. I don't know if this program won an award, but I liked the way it turned out.

Norine Perisich - August 10, 2011 - 2:30 am

This was so ON…I am soooooooooooo glad those projects are over! I think my mother would really appreciate all your blogs..


Susan Wheelan

Rocio Garcia - August 18, 2011 - 11:04 pm

My son is in sixth grade this year. He has had to do two. I will make sure his board is so much better this year, given we start working on it weeks before it is due.

David F. Skoll - August 23, 2011 - 8:31 pm

Just Say No. I’ve never done my kids’ homework for them; my school days were over several decades ago.

Any teacher that demands a ridiculous, time-wasting, presentation-above-all-else project gets a letter from me refusing to allow my kid to do it.

Problem solved.

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *



There was an error submitting your comment. Please try again.