Unpacking Power and Values Saturday, June 9th, 2018

Privilege, power and community design

Rachel Beth Egenhoefer, Associate Professor, University of San Francisco

Panelists share diverse perspectives on teaching students to identify and design in alignment with their core values through unpacking privilege and power.

This panel discussion addresses how to ‘make curriculum’ in order to ‘make community.’ Panelists will open a dialogue with the audience about how they work with design students to unpack privilege and power, examine personal and community values, and design systems for engagement and empowerment. Panelists will discuss a variety of approaches to broaching challenging topics with students and communities, participating in collaborative design with marginalized groups, and exploring systemic power structures. This panel also presents pedagogical approaches that could enable future designers to create meaningful experiences for others.

Panelists use innovative learning spaces and integrate self-awareness and critical making into the curriculum in a variety of ways, including global cross-cultural collaborations, integrating mindfulness practices into design curriculum, using human-centered design approaches with community partners, leveraging notions of “rights and responsibilities”, creating community narratives, and more. These projects, introduced at the undergraduate level, help students develop critical thinking and making by first cultivating students’ understanding of self, implicit biases, privilege and place.

Students become better equipped to understand how to design with and for core values through learning to identify their own values and how to embody them. Rather than acting as implementers for others’ ideas, today’s designers must understand their own place in the design ecosystem, which includes the essential need for reflection. One important takeaway in this realm is that, while designers often want to create change, others must make their own decisions to change. In order to make self-actualizing decisions, people need time to reflect and act on their own terms with design partners.

Power and privilege often drive design thinking and making. Considering this from different global and curricular perspectives, panelists will discuss how educators can begin to unpack privilege and power in the design classroom. How do we avoid seeing marginalized groups as needing “charity” or “handouts” and view them as people with their own power who are experts in their own right? Difficult discussions to confront issues of race, economics, social standing, nationality, and context require further analysis with students. There is an opportunity for design classrooms to look at the notion of privilege as a curricular component; students need to come to terms with “privilege” before going into communities or addressing social issues through their work.

Equity, inclusion, empathy, and mindfulness are essential to understanding how designers engage with the communities in which their designs exist, and empower community members to have a voice. These important competencies enable designers to make connections with others and facilitate collaborations. Also inherent in these competencies is an expanded notion of design beyond aesthetic treatments. Understanding that everything has potential to communicate and be an interactive experience should drive design curriculum and help teach students to create conditions for engaging experiences. Critical making should be integrated into curricula in ways that move beyond traditional approaches to formal design problems, manifesting in systems, services, responses, experiences, and community design that empowers its participants.


Outline of Proposed Panelists

Rachel Beth Egenhoefer, University of San Francisco, panel chair
Professor Egenhoefer uses mindfulness based practices in her design classrooms to allow students to reflect on their place in the world as a designer. Giving time and space for reflection gets students out of auto-pilot and into a deeper space of learning and understanding. Other pedagogical approaches include understanding core values and how to live and design for core values.


Denielle Emans (& Basma Hamdy), Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar
Professor Emans shares her collaborative project – Wajha, an independent social initiative that uses design and branding knowledge to help local communities in the MENA Region that cannot afford design expenses. This initiative was brought together by two senior electives at VCUarts Qatar: “Design for Social Innovation” (taught by Denielle Emans) and “Arabic Type Design” (taught by Basma Hamdy). Al Shagab Street lies just outside of Qatar Foundation and is home to car washes, tailors and juice shops. Students and faculty adopted a human-centered approach to create dynamic brand identities that reflect the authenticity and atmosphere of each business. Students researched and documented the storefronts, capturing some of Doha’s unique facades, faces, street culture and essence of community. This process helped provide students with a closer look at the places we so often see, but never notice. They are, nevertheless, an integral part of the community and its history.


Diamond James, freelance writer and design provocateur
Diamond James’s work explores the intersection of race/space/class and design in American cities. A former Washington Post visual journalist, she is focused on the role different media play in promoting storytelling to create comfortable and authentic community engagement around public health, policy and societal challenges. She is interested to learn how people relate to different story forms — from texts and memes to photo booth portraiture — in order to communicate, and how designers might use what is timely and relevant as design research tools. Diamond is curious about how designers can better serve as allies and advocates by elevating often unheard voices to promote self-identity and catalyze civic participation especially among people of color and youth. Diamond shares examples of pedegicial approaches to these ideas as they were used in the Social Design Program at the Maryland Institute College of Art.


Mindy Magyar, Rochester Institute of Technology
Professor Magyar (Mi’kmaq) considers cultural inclusion and equity as an imperative for global citizenship in design. Her work addresses cultural representation, authorship, appropriation, and literacy, with a focus on Indigenous peoples and contexts. With her students, she explores the intended and unintended consequences of culturally related design decisions, considering both their positive and negative impact. She shares her experiences collaborating with the Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan State Historic Site to design and deliver intercultural learning experiences for RIT design students. Once a vibrant center for the Seneca people, Ganondagan is now a permanent interpretive site telling the over 2,000-year-old story of Seneca and Haudenosaunee contributions to art, culture and society, particularly the living traditions that express “universal ideals of peace, cooperation, and respect for each other and the natural world.”


Kelly M. Murdoch-Kitt, University of Michigan
Self-reflection and analysis is vital to developing a sense of one’s own core values. Professor Murdoch-Kitt shares how she integrates complexity, core values and accountability for design outcomes in her 2D foundations course at University of Michigan. In the midst of experimenting with materials, learning formal design principles, practicing relevant vocabulary and learning to attend to details, the class explores values through a series of assignments that increase in complexity. In addition to examining their own values, students engage in a project that asks them to study, analyze, and visually respond to a variety of high-profile artists and designers whose work focuses on various social issues, and how their values are imbued in the work. The term culminates with students reflecting on and responding to the University’s “Rights and Responsibilities” document, discussing racism in the local community, and considering ways to visually respond in a manner that engages viewers and encourages community participation.