Design and Possibility

After being awarded the Robert Taylor Professional Development Grant I knew I had to take action right away. I’ve been teaching for nearly 20 years and I’ve been presented with many “opportunities” for my students to create spec work but I’ve never been able to create a pedagogically sound project or a chance for students to create a significant portfolio piece from these “opportunities”. Many times the projects were ill-defined and the idea of doing spec work never appealed to me. Even when non-profits reached out to the school the resulting project lacked focus and the stakeholders frequently held differing views about the direction of the organization.

I also knew I wanted to interview Dawn Hancock of Firebellydesign.com. I’d heard her speak about Design for the Social Good in Minneapolis and had listened to her podcast with Debbie Millman on Design Matters. We met for coffee in Chicago and I came away super-charged with ideas. First and foremost was the understanding that organizations have to be ready. Tackling design challenges takes an investment of time, resources and organization; comprehensive solutions require communication–and for an organization to have a meaningful design experience we all must make time to sit at the table.

My next stop was the AIGA Design Conference in New Orleans. Design for Social Good was featured prominently in the pre-conference events as well as in the Affinity Sessions. From Occupy Wall Street to Ferguson to what was happening in New Orleans, the concept I walked away with was communication: listening to stakeholders and not imposing our ideas onto their problems, and researching design solutions based on the needs of the community.

I also took on a project with my students in Summer, 2015. We started the process of designing a handbook for the Denver Juvenile Court. What started as a 36-page document needed to be condensed, clarified and illuminated. We needed to create a document to engage and help parents as they try to help their children. The project stretched beyond the classroom: informational interviews, waiting for approval from judges, re-writes, budgets… all of the classic design challenges. I’m still finalizing that project but it’s well on it’s way to publication.

Some other projects didn’t pan out how I had hoped for while other opportunities surfaced: a face-to-face meeting with Libera Terra never materialized (though I’m still working on developing that connection); but harvesting olives through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) helped create some insight into struggles of small family farms.

Ultimately, I plan to develop a Center for Philanthropic Design for the purpose of specifically working with nonprofits while engaging students and design professionals. That part of the journey is still in the exploration stage.

Finally, this last year was a year of change for me. I met the love of my life and got married. At 50 I never thought I would have this opportunity again but when you are open to possibilities you never know what you will be presented with.

By AIGA Colorado
Published February 16, 2016
AIGA encourages thoughtful, responsible discourse. Please add comments judiciously, and refrain from maligning any individual, institution or body of work. Read our policy on commenting.