Sources and Methods Saturday, June 9th, 2018

Youth Design in Boston: A Summary of Objectives, Components and Outcomes from 2003-2017

Dan Vlahos, Assistant Professor, Merrimack College

An analysis of Youth Design, a Boston-based non-profit that engages urban youth through design.

Youth Design was founded in 2003 by the Boston-based designer Denise Korn. Youth Design’s mission is “to empower talented urban youth to pursue higher education and a promising career by engaging the professional design community to mentor, educate, train and employ the next generation.” The organization is run in partnership with the Boston chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) and Boston’s Private Industry Council (Greenstein 40). I first became involved with Youth Design in 2013 as a volunteer and later served as an instructor, teaching Design Fundamentals to first year students enrolled in Youth Design Academy, an immersive summer program and learning experience. Youth Design Academy prepares students for full-time placement within a design firm the following summer. As Youth Design nears its 15th year, a reflective analysis of the program is warranted. No such analysis has been undertaken in the history of the program. Given my long involvement and familiarity with the program I am commencing this analysis for submission to the 2018 AIGA Design Educator’s Conference. One of the four underlying themes set forth for the conference is community. The others are curriculum, form, and experiences. While my analysis of Youth Design will focus on the community component it will secondarily integrate on the other three components as well.

While Youth Design provides students with skill-based (design software) training and the formal development of art and design skills (also useful in developing a portfolio), I would be remiss in not also exploring and evaluating what we might call “soft-skills.” I plan explore these concepts through first- hand interviews with current and past Youth Design participants. In reviewing the AIGA Designer 2025 Trends I was struck how building a sensibility and sensitivity around community is emphasized in within several contexts (“AIGA Designer 2025”). In a section titled “New Forms of Sensemaking,” the authors signify a shift from “asymmetrical, one-directional relationships between users and information to communication strategies built on models of conversation, participation, and community.” In separate section dedicated to “Complexity,” the authors point out that college-level design students must develop the ability to address “design problems at various scales (at the level of components, products, systems, and communities).” As prospective design students, Youth Designers effectively start the conversation around these critical, “community-aware” conversations at an early stage. In particular I will focus upon the three [2025] objectives aforementioned: conversation, participation and community.

The community portion of the call for participation for the 2018 Design Educators Community conference asks, “How and why do designers make connections with the community?,” and “How are designers facilitating community collaborations?”. In reflecting upon the 15 year history of Youth Design, these questions will provide a clear framework for inquiry. How and why did Denise Korn found Youth Design? How does Youth Design make connections in the Boston design community? And lastly, but most perhaps most importantly, I will map the objectives and outcomes of actual Youth Design participants.

Works Cited

Greenstein, Colette. “Empowering the Next Generation: Youth Design Creates Transformative Experience for Teens.” Banner Biz, May. 2015, pp. 40-41.

“AIGA Designer 2025.” AIGA Design Educators Community, 22 August. 2017,


I. Founding of Youth Design
– Purpose and Objectives
– Funding
– Evolution
II. Program Components
– Youth Design Academy
– Workplace Jobs
– School Year Activities
III. Strategic Priorities
– Life Skills and Workforce Readiness
– Paid Summer Jobs
– Mentorship
– Design Education and Cultural Experiences
– College Preparedness and Financial Literacy
– Community
IV. Goals and Outcomes
– Design and Non-Design Competencies
– High-School Graduation
– Diversity in Design