Public Making Friday, June 8th, 2018

Collaboration, Cooperation, Community: Outreach Through Research and Teaching

Kelly Salchow MacArthur, Associate Professor, Michigan State University 

Case studies explore graphic design through community outreach. Research led to a green map system. Teaching led to an interactive space for children.

For a graphic design educator, community involvement offers a way to contribute to society through design thinking and the tools of visual communication. The academic spectrum of research, teaching, and service/outreach is ideal for such collaboration. I have explored cooperative models to imbue civic interests and intentions into each of these, in ways that are personally, conscientiously, and professionally enriching. This paper will share two case studies—one in research (in partnership with an environmental non-profit organization), and the other in teaching (in partnership with a cultural institution).

The River Raisin Institute of Monroe, Michigan, collaborates with others to promote transformational learning and sustainable community. Through holistic approaches, it aims to improve environmental, social and economic health and well-being of the local and global earth community by focusing on sustainability. Discussions with this organization led to the development of the Resilient Monroe Green Map Initiative, which introduces green mapping—the practice of locating and plotting often overlooked green living, natural and cultural resources in an area—to the local community by focusing on fresh, local food resources. The integrated system presents a mapping kit of parts that strives to catalyze environmental awareness and engagement through educating and interacting with the people of Monroe. The Initiative invites the public to enhance the Green Map and become mapmakers themselves, as well as explore the area with attention to “green” elements.

The Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum, located in East Lansing, Michigan, is a public institution dedicated to education, experimentation, and study. Located on the Michigan State University campus, this contemporary, international museum reflects the enduring global reach of its land grant, research university. It aspires to connect with, and engage the community—including children—in active ways. An undergraduate 3D Design class was given the opportunity to re-envision the unique space dedicated to young museum visitors. Nineteen students collaborated through research, ideation, production, and installation to create the cohesive environmental system in the Learning Lounge.

Both case studies enfold elements of AIGA’s Designer of 2025 trends. The Resilient Monroe Green Map initiative demonstrates that core values matter, meeting “the highest standards of environmental responsibility and public transparency.” The Learning Lounge aspires to create a new form of sense making, through its “conversation-enabled environment,” and exploring “evolving relationships between people, activities, and information.” Each project focuses on creating an uncommon user experience—appropriate for the specific user(s), and the space/place it is a part of. Design thinking and collaboration are inherent elements of these processes. Holistically, these case studies demonstrate methods to connect one’s research and teaching to deeply-held cultural and environmental principles, adapt to variable opportunities and limitations, and impact a community through visual communication.


Research : Design and Environmentalism
. Community Partner: River Raisin Institute of Monroe, MI (non-profit)
. How and why did we connect?
. Evaluation of Community Need: green resource visibility for community + diverse engagement
. Development of project: Resilient Monroe Green Mapping Initiative
. Process
Designers: 1 faculty, 1 undergraduate research assistant
Audience: community of Monroe, MI (special focus on elementary students)
Partnerships: K-8 public schools, libraries, Earth Day event, Tourism Bureau, Health Dept,…
Funding resources: Sappi Ideas that Matter, Monroe County Environmental Fund
System development: Resilient Monroe Green Map Kit, and large scale interactive community map
. Complexities of the project: budget, timeline, plan B
. Review and Reflection

Teaching : Material and Volume in Graphic Design
. Community Partner: Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum
. How and why did we connect?
. Identification of Space: Learning Lounge, and Director of Education
. Process
Designers: 18 undergraduate, 1 graduate student
Audience: children and parents, focus on user experience
Space: Zaha Hadid building, opportunities and limitations
Materiality: accessible, durable, flexible
Timeline: scheduled feedback, academic calendar, vendors
Completion: refinement, production, installation
. Complexities of the project: synthesizing the moving parts from ideation to installation
. Review and Reflection

. User Experience: appropriate for specific user(s) and space/place
. Research / Teaching connection to cultural and environmental principles
. Adaptation to opportunity and limitation
. Community impact through visual communication