Design Crew Course: Human Context and Service Learning in Visual Communication

Mark DeYoung
Professor
Kalamazoo Valley CC

In Rick Poynor’s book on Jan Van toorn, the author lays out the designer’s philosophy for a more inclusive dialogic approach to design. Rather than authoritarian monologue, this re-envisioning of design respects the viewer, encourages collaboration and is dialogic, in pursuit of what German author Hans Magnus Enzensberger would call emancipatory media. This approach is gaining ground in design practice. Indeed, collaborative, iterative processes are increasingly employed in order to develop more complete solutions that are integrative in their approach, taking into account user, client, and community. Design scholars from Davis to Norman, McCoy to Heller, along with industry champions Martin and Brown continue to advocate for a people-focused approach to design through design thinking—coordinating cognitive collaboration with practical facility to solve problems.

Working in this direction, this paper reflects on the pedagogical and theoretical underpinnings of a media-independent, visual communications course, Design Crew. The Design Crew is a merit-based, advanced-level design course that provides students with the opportunity to work with real clients in the non-profit sector. The course engages students through an experiential learning method, integrating meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich and deepen the learning experience in design, encourage lifelong civic engagement and strengthen relationships that create community. Student designers use design thinking processes as they collaborate with their clients: researching and defining the problem; choosing appropriate media and prototyping solutions; developing final designs and evaluating the success of the solution. Successes and challenges of collborations and design projects are featured.