In the summer of 2020, design educators were exhausted. They had just finished a spring semester unlike any other, in which halfway through they were required to quickly transition their classes to a remote format due to a global pandemic. Many had lost access to childcare; many were home schooling their young children. As they looked ahead to the fall—another uncertain and tenuous semester as a global health crisis continued to unfold—the anxiety and lack of support they felt was palpable.
The AIGA Design Educators Community Steering Committee felt this firsthand. We knew something had to be done to support educators during such a challenging and uncertain time. Most design conferences had been cancelled or postponed, including the AIGA national conference. We decided to convene our first virtual conference to directly address the issues weighing heavily on educators. We called it the SHIFT 2020 Virtual Summit.
About the event
The events of 2020 required design educators to shift many things: priorities, expectations, formats, locations, modalities, and perspectives. The suddenness of these shifts also revealed many previously unseen or overlooked aspects of design education: weaknesses, biases, inequities, issues of accessibility—as well as opportunities for innovation and evolution. Questions lingered about what it means to be a design educator and what our role might look like in the future. The SHIFT Virtual Summit, Aug. 3-7, was a week-long online event that gathered the design education community to take stock of where we were, what we had learned, and what we wanted to do next. The summit focused on themes of Teaching, Research, and Community, with one day of the summit devoted to each theme. We wanted to create a space that allowed participants to pause, listen, reflect, and learn from each other. Through dialogue and discourse, we aimed to explore pluralistic answers to the following questions:
- How must our teaching shift?
- How must our research shift?
- How must our community shift?
The primary goal of the summit was to bring together as many different voices and perspectives as possible, especially those that have been historically underrepresented in conversations around design education. As such, we decided to forego the traditional call for proposals and peer review process, and instead opted for an intentional arrangement of curated content. We identified key issues and topics that were of interest to educators in the current moment, and hand-selected speakers and panelists who would provide diverse perspectives and expertise. Some of the topics addressed: inclusion in the classroom, virtual critiques, decolonial design, global community, design in k-12 education, design educators and mental health, inclusive graphic design history, tenure and promotion, sponsored research and studios, and more. View the full list of events on the DEC website: https://educators.aiga.org/shift-2020/
It was important to us that the participant experience was manageable and accessible for all, so we planned both synchronous and asynchronous content, and a schedule that accommodated multiple time zones. The events of the summit took many formats: pre-recorded panels, user-submitted videos, live panels, live virtual roundtables, and live virtual mixer sessions. All pre-recorded videos included closed captioning, and many live events included ASL interpreters. All sessions were recorded and can be viewed on the AIGA DEC Youtube page: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLQo7UMhLPFcb_Mbw4zCXks_BQcg337cZ7
Another fundamental aspect of the conference was to provide opportunities for connection amongst participants. Many virtual meetings and webinars tend to isolate participants and create disjointed experiences. We wanted to bring people together. Our main hub for the week was Slack. Channels were created for each of the three themes, teaching, research, community, as well as for introductions, social chatter and general announcements. Conversations about the panels and video content were carried out in Slack each day. Throughout the week, volunteers helped to moderate the conversations.
The summit was a 100% volunteer-run event, and free and open to all design educators. AIGA DEC Steering Committee members Alberto Rigau, Liese Zahabi and Ali Place co-chaired the event. It was developed in partnership with the AIGA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force. The summit would not have been possible without the DEC Steering Committee members, DEI Task Force members and numerous other educators who generously volunteered their time and effort to make the event a resounding success. We cannot thank them enough for their contributions.
To keep the summit free and open to all, we capitalized on the affordances of free digital tools and platforms, such as Slack and YouTube. The DEC received funding from AIGA National to upgrade the DEC Zoom account and to provide ASL interpretation at live sessions.
The SHIFT Virtual Summit was an incredible success that surpassed all our expectations. At the end of the week, 1,200 participants had registered and joined our Slack community (more than four times number of participants at the largest DEC conference to date). What surprised us even more was the global reach of the event—more than 25 countries were represented. Pre-recorded videos garnered hundreds of views. The live roundtable discussions were full of insightful and forward-thinking ideas. The Slack channels were buzzing with boisterous conversations that were thoughtful and caring. Threads popped up about crucial topics like supporting students who can’t afford laptop computers, how to teach community-oriented service learning courses remotely, and what it’s like to be a mother on the tenure track. Participants had a chance to share stories, seek advice and offer words of encouragement. It was a beautiful display of connection and community.
The outcomes of the SHIFT Virtual Summit will take the form of a Living Archive. Rather than a static collection of papers written by a handful of people, we wanted to capture ideas shared and discussed during the summit and make it accessible and editable by our attendees. The Living Archive includes resources shared, tips and tricks, ideas, links, quotes, discussions and debates, and more, culled from the Slack channels as well as the chat transcripts from live sessions. In addition, we announced a call for submissions for materials from and about the summit. We are seeking various types of submissions, including research-based papers, visual expressions, practical and hands-on submissions, and other kinds of writing which will be peer-reviewed and edited together in a publication that will also be part of the SHIFT Living Archive.
Alison Place is a design educator, researcher and practitioner. Her research examines the intersection of feminism and design as a space for radical speculation and critical making. She is currently writing a book that aims to define feminist design through key principles, methods, interviews and case studies. She is an assistant professor of graphic design at the University of Arkansas School of Art, and is currently serving as interim director of the graphic design program. She is also a member of the AIGA Design Educators Community National Steering Committee. Previously, she worked for more than ten years as a creative director and designer for higher education and nonprofit institutions. She earned an M.F.A. in experience design from Miami University of Ohio, and a B.S. in graphic design and journalism from the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.
Liese Zahabi is a graphic/interaction designer and Assistant Professor of Design at the University of New Hampshire. She received her Master of Graphic Design from North Carolina State University, and her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Eastern Michigan University. She has been working as a designer for twenty years, and teaches courses in graphic design, interaction design, motion design and animation, typography, game design, user experience and design research. Liese’s academic research focuses on search as a cognitive and cultural process, and how the design of metaphoric interfaces can change the experience of digital search tasks. Her creative design work is also metaphorical and explores how the nature of search manifests itself in visual patterns and sense-making, how the digital record influences memory and our understanding of history, and how language and image intersect within the context of the Internet.
Alberto Rigau is a graduate of the Masters in Graphic Design program at NC State University’s College of Design and a Poynter Institute Visual Journalism Fellow. He pursued undergraduate studies in cultural anthropology, graphic design and photography at Syracuse University. He runs Estudio Interlínea, a design studio that engages design and anthropology through the crafting and conceptualization of brands, exhibits, way-finding systems, publications, books, architectural collaborations of an interpretative nature. Alberto’s work has been recognized here and abroad. He currently lectures on design thinking methodologies and creativity as a tool to ignite meaningful cultural experiences.