Public Making Friday, June 8th, 2018

Modeling Community-Based Design Collaborations

Gabriela Hernandez, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, University of Florida 

Community-based design learning allows students to have more direct access to stakeholders and end-users, resulting in stronger context-based design solutions.

It is critical for current design education to be sensitive of its immediate geographic, demographic, cultural, and economic surroundings, which enable the facilitation of local and more collaborative design experiences for students to practice the development of innovative, context-based solutions. Traditionally, great relevance has been given to design learning, making, and thinking in international contexts, including studies abroad, internships, or fellowships, but a lot less attention is given to local and regional design learning that allows design students and faculty to develop stronger and more accessible collaborations and to produce more immediate impact. Local design learning also allows students to gain a deeper understanding of and adapt to a community that is not always their own (e.g., students attending an university located far from their home town), to practice empathy, and to help identify needs that may require responsible design with a fresh perspective. For students who are native of the community where they learn and practice design, such pedagogic design experiences also help them to develop agency, becoming aware of the relevance of their work in a more personal level which may directly improve their quality of life (this is especially pertinent for design students from minorities and disadvantaged communities). In general, community-based and local professional design learning and practice allow students to witness the impact of collaborative design more directly within shorter time frames; it is less expensive and highly empowering if/when students gain direct access to stakeholders and end-users for longer periods of time. Faculty involved in the development and facilitation of design practice in the local scale still carry the responsibility to help students understand their community of practice sensibly, to become aware of possible bias, to understand multidisciplinarity, and to prioritize egalitarian and inclusive co-design with community entities, groups, or local governments.

In this paper, the author describes two learning models of local and community-based design practice. The first one was developed as an alternative (extracurricular) design learning experience at a Hispanic-serving institution within a fine arts program. This model, framed as a multidisciplinary, design research-based studio, offered the opportunity for a small group of selected beginner and intermediate design students to receive mentorship in order to further their social design learning through the development of local and regional design projects with non-profit organizations serving minority groups. The second model exemplifies learning techniques implemented in a classroom setting (curricular) at a research university within a 4-year graphic design program. This professional design practice class prioritizes the implementation of real-world design projects within the community in collaboration with entrepreneurs and the local government, with a strong professional focus concentrating on user-centered design in areas like information design, branding, and editorial design.

The accompanying presentation will compare and expand on these models’ findings using experiential narrative, testimonies, teaching methods, current and past projects, and future expectations, while describing the different environments and conditions in which both models were framed and implemented.