A Well-Designed Life

Eve Faulkes was my undergraduate Graphic Design professor. She’s also the one that invited me to teach, inflaming a passion that is still burning strong some eight years later. She is driven to do work that matters, and she invests herself fully—mind, body, heart, and soul. She has been a mentor and an inspiration. Eve is featured in the latest edition of West Virginia University Magazine, and I’m proud to give her a shout-out here.


One of the example designer-founded companies I had my students study this semester is Airbnb. It’s a great story. As cool and innovative as Airbnb is, it’s now doing something truly awesome. The company has a new service available through which New Yorker’s can offer their space for free to those stranded by Hurricane Sandy for free.

Over 100,000 people are still stranded by Hurricane Sandy. Airbnb has partnered with the City of New York to connect those in need with people who are able to provide free housing.

As of this writing, 513 Airbnb members have agreed to participate. Not only is this a fantastic way for the company to be socially responsible, but it’s a smart business move, resulting in a lot of publicity and likely a lot of new users of their service.

Designing for Change

There were a lot of outstanding talks at Designing for the Divide last weekend, but the speaker that really inspired me was Emily Pilloton, a designer that moved from San Francisco to Bertie County, North Carolina, at the behest of Dr. Chip Zullinger, the school superintendent. What started as a request to build an educational playground system evolved into a design-build high school curriculum.

You have to hear Emily’s story in her own words. Check out her article Get Local on Design Mind and her 2010 TED Talk. Those take you up to the beginning of Studio H; Emily told us the rest of the story Saturday morning. Dr. Z. was chased out of the county, and all of his projects, including Studio H, were on the chopping block. Rather than packing it in, Emily and her partner took their plans to the community college and pressed forward. The work they have accomplished with the remedial high school juniors is amazing. I never thought chicken coops could make me teary-eyed, but these are both sculptural works of art and testaments to design process and education. Make the time to look at the projects showcased at Studio H. This is truly great work.

Designing for the Divide

Whether we think of issues of governance, religion, race, the environment, economic development, education, or healthcare, the inability to communicate, cooperate or compromise erodes social capital and weakens the ability to draw on diverse skill sets to address common challenges.

This conference calls for ideas that help bridge social divides from the fields of communication design, service design, user experience design, behavioral and social psychology and partners in civic engagement. These will include projects, media innovations and citizen brigades among others. The conference will also schedule workshops and planning sessions to jump start some of those ideas.

I’m driving down to WVU early tomorrow morning to attend Designing for the Divide, a conference on community action across lines of difference. The conference chairs are my colleagues, the design faculty at WVU. The conference is the brain child of Eve Faulkes, the professor under which I received by bachelor’s degree.

There is an interesting array of speakers, ranging from Yossi Lemel, and internationally recognized, Israeli poster artist, to Emily Pilloton, founder of Project H and author of the book Design Revolution. There will be workshops dealing with industry and the environment, religion, health issues, the economy, and the politics that surround them. It should be an interesting two days.

My students created large-format posters dealing with some of the issues as their most recent project, and I intend to share a couple of them with you next week.

It all brings to mind this passage from Richard Saul Wurman’s book, Information Architects:

There is a tsunami of data that is crashing onto the beaches of the civilized world. This is a tidal wave of unrelated, growing data formed in bits and bytes, coming in an unorganized, uncontrolled, incoherent cacophony of foam. It’s filled with flotsam and jetsam. It’s filled with the sticks and bones and shells of inanimate and animate life. None of it is easily related, none of it comes with any organizational methodology.

As it washes up on our beaches, we see people in suits and ties skipping along the shoreline, men and women in fine shirts and blouses dressed for business. We see graphic designers and government officials, all getting their shoes wet and slowly submerging in the dense trough of stuff.

These same people read the newspaper, thinking they understand the issues of the day, whether it’s the Savings and Loan crisis, the health-care crisis, Bosnia-Hercegovina, or taxes, or insurance. They nod their heads, knee-jerking to key words in headlines, but unable to tell anybody else, including themselves, the essence of any issue.

Design Ignites Change

The final project of my course last semester challenged the students to identify a social issue in their community and address it through the design of a product or service. One of the two project teams selected bullying as their issue. They interviewed middle school students and counselors as part of their research, learning about how bullying is currently handled in the schools.

Bullying is a misunderstood issue that negatively affects the behavior of most students, leading to poor performance and decreased self-esteem. We want to empower students to report, mediate or avert bullying in middle schools. Traditional anti-bullying programs are structured so that students must make a physical trip to a main office to report to an adult about bullying. Discovering that bullying often goes unreported because students are hesitant to make that trip or share their experiences with adults, we offer in our project a discreet means of reporting and a virtual peer support system for students who may be victims of bullying.

They designed and prototyped a web-based social network focused on peer-support, confidence building, and unintrusive monitoring by the counselor. The project schedule was only a few weeks, so the final deliverable was a presentation of their concept, but the team did go so far as to get feedback from the same faculty they had interviewed at the beginning. The response was favorable, and they had good suggestions for improving it.

My students decided to enter the project in the Design Ignites Change Idea Awards.

In each award cycle one award of $1,000 and up to two at $500 each will be given to innovative project ideas that have the ability to ignite positive social change. Projects will also be highlighted on the Design Ignites Change website and promoted through the program’s PR efforts.

You can read more about their project, named Be!, on the Design Ignites Change website.

Design Issues

There’s one week left in the masters-level class I’ve been teaching. It is mainly a seminar-style course with a few complimentary projects. The semester was organized into seven units. These are the readings that my students were required to write responses to and then discuss in class. This is a good survey of the current state of design theory.

Defining Design
Beautiful Diversion - NextD Journal
Are Designers The Enemy Of Design? - BusinessWeek
In which design is subjected to Lakovian analysis - greenonions.com
Defining Design - jamin.org

Design Leadership
Design Vision
Managing is Designing? Exploring the Reinvention of Management - NextD
Design Vs. Design Thinking. - BusinessWeek
Leadership Is THE Strategic Issue - AIGA

The Design Landscape
What is graphic design? - AIGA
What is Industrial Design? - IDSA
What is IA? - IAI
Definition of IxD - IxDA
Designing for Interaction - Dan Saffer (pages 2-8 and 20-22)
Ladder of Fire: Unpacking Advocacies - NextD
IA Summit 09 - Plenary - Jesse James Garrett
What is Design? (Yes, all 10 definitions!) - Demystifying Usability
Why Does Interaction Design Matter? Let’s Look At The Evolving Subway Experience - FastCompany
10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design - Mashable
What is service design? - Design Council
Engine Service Design
Richard Buchanan Keynote – Emergence 2007 « Design for Service
An Evolving Map of Design Practice and Design Research - Dubberly

Design Methods
The students researched specific methods individually and presented them to the class, rather than having assigned readings, but I did provide the following resources as starting points.
Stories - Boxes and Arrows
NASA - Process: User Centered Design Methods
Use our methods - Stanford d.school 
Design methods - Design Council

Design & Business
AIGA Center for Practice Management - Trademark Basics for Graphic Designers
AIGA | Aquent Survey of Design Salaries
Intellectual Property: What does “Work for Hire” mean for designers? - AIGA
Why Does My Firm Own Everything I Do? Intellectual Property & You - Core77
The State of our Contracts - AIGA
American Firms Now Embrace Design, But They’re Aging Fast. What’s Next? - Co. Design
The Cost of Frustration - UIE
No Accounting For Design? - Fast Company
Dos and Don’ts for Designers Dealing with Business - Core77
On Being T-Shaped - Core77
Ten Ways to Measure Design’s Success - BusinessWeek

Social & Organizational Change
Hourschool: Learn from your network, one hour at a time. - AC4D
AIGA | Design for Good
Redesigning America’s Future
Introduction: Design and Organizational Change - Richard Buchanan
Marc Rettig - How to Change Complicated Stuff - IxDA Library
RED Paper 02: Transformation Design
The Designers Accord
Navigating a Sea Change - Lauralee Alben

Design Ethics
AIGA | Ethics and Social Responsibility 
AIGA | Logo Warehouses, Crowdsourcing, and a Lack of Understanding 
AIGA | What’s the harm in crowdsourcing? 
AIGA | AIGA position on spec work 
AIGA | Design Business and Ethics 
AIGA | AIGA urges the Obama 2012 campaign to reconsider its jobs poster contest 
What is AIGA’s position on spec work? And how are ethical standards determined?
AIGA Standards of professional practice
Ethics in the Design Field - Webdesigner Depot
The Politics of Desire and Looting - Design Observer
"This is what I have learned" by Milton Glaser
First Things First 2000
First Things First 1964
In Search of Ethics in Graphic Design — AIGA

Design Education
Design Research and Education: A Failure of Imagination? - Core77 
Why Design Education Must Change - Core77 
Teaching Social Innovation - Austin Center for Design
What this Country Needs is a Good Five-Year Design Program - AIGA

Design for Social Innovation

As the potential of design continues to realize itself in new domains and wicked problems, schools are developing new programs to prepare students for work in the field’s wild west. I recently received a letter from Marc Rettig, principal of Fit Associates, introducing me to a new masters program in Design for Social Innovation at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Marc is helping to launch the program, which in his own words, “embodies everything I’ve been learning about and starting to practice over the last few years, and more.” If you are unaware of Marc’s work, I implore you to check out his presentation, Making an Impact, given at the IIT Design Research Conference in 2009, or How to Do a Better Job of Changing the World, from UX Workshop. Marc has done some fantastic work in his career, and is a thought leader on design’s role in social change.

The MFA in Design for Social Innovation will prepare students to apply the principles and ethics of social innovation as filters for understanding and as a discipline for engaging with and improving the world through design. Graduates of the program will be more than graphic designers, filmmakers, advertising creative directors or interactive systems designers. They will be all these, mastering all the skills and knowledge of how to apply them to have a positive impact on business, society and their own lives.

The program is filling out its first class of 25 visual thinkers and creative talents. They’re wanting designers, graduates in other disciplines, and professionals who are looking for a career with a purpose. Applications are due by late January. For more information, read the Fast Company article and visit the program’s website.

Core77 Design Awards

Given my vacation at the end of July and other interesting happenings, like the release of Lion, I almost missed the Core77 Design Awards, the winners of which were announced in a series of broadcasts from July 12th through the 22nd. There were fifteen categories, many of which were typical, but there were a few unique ones as well. DIY/Hack/Mod had some intriguing entries, and I love the idea of the Never Saw the Light of Day category. I was glad to see Design for Social Impact as a category; the Amendment IV t-shirt is ingenious.

Kudos to Core77 for the website in which they present the work. I’ve complained in the past about the lack of information presented by the IDEA awards. Core77 gives a thorough account of each project with large visuals, comments from the jury, the entrant’s answers to a standard set of questions about the project, video of the designers talking about and demonstrating the designs, and links to further information. This is thorough documentation—a true service to the community. Take some time and check it out.

Build Up the Design School!

I’m not following DK Holland’s train of thought in her recent Communication Arts column titled Blow Up the Design School! Her introductory paragraph immediately put me on the defensive:

Don’t go to school to become a graphic designer: a year’s tuition ($30,000) is just too close to a year’s salary ($40,000) and there are too few good design jobs available anyhow. Ironically, at no time has the world so urgently needed good designers than right now.

From what I’ve heard, there is a huge demand for designers right now, preferably those with experience. If you want one of those positions, as someone new to the field, you’d best be showing up with at least a four year degree and an internship under your belt. I know where I was in my knowledge and skill before I started learning Graphic Design as an undergrad, and I know where the students I’m teaching now are. Believe me, you don’t have any business trying to get a job as a designer without training. That doesn’t mean there won’t be people that are successful doing just that, but I believe it’s harder now than ever before to just jump into a design field without formal education. There is frankly too much ground to be covered in a traditional Graphic Design program to get students to the point at which they can take on social change, which turns out to be the actual focus of DK’s article.

Once I realized she wasn’t backing up her initial ultimatum, I found the article of great interest. After spending several paragraphs laying out some of the differences between the late ’60s and today, she gets to the real meat of her article. She cites Parsons, SCAD, and MICA as example institutions that are teaching their students to design solutions for important social issues. The SCAD project in particular is an impressive piece of work. When the owner of a carry-out cafe approached the school looking for help in creating outdoor seating, students identified four key problems with the restaurant’s strip mall location. They developed an innovative solution that not only benefited their client, but the entire community. It reminds me of the work being done at Austin Center for Design.

This is really powerful stuff, and for me, it completely refutes DK’s initial statement. I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes with this in the second part, to appear in the May/June issue.