Thoughtful Social Impact Through Scaffolded Design Methods and Well-Time Fieldwork

A spring 2018 design studio, case study—how to attain that balance of a good quality course and meaningful social design.

Cynthia Lawson
Associate Professor of Integrated Design
Parsons, The New School

Alik Mikaelian
MFA Transdisciplinary Design Candidate
DEED Lab Research Fellow
Parsons, The New School

Devanshi Sihare
Design Strategist

Megan Willy
MFA Transdisciplinary Design Candidate
Parsons, The New School

The past decade has seen an explosion of interest from the design academy in running projects and courses on design and social impact. The challenge remains, however, to have students get enough exposure on relevant competencies in the 15-week semester.

This presentation discusses a spring 2018 design studio as a case study in how to attain that balance of a good quality course and meaningful social design. Specific methods of both course development and delivery as well as conducting design research are discussed. The ultimate stakeholders of this course’s projects were in a different country and not easily accessible, adding a particular complexity.

The first part of the semester included exercises such as an Ecosystem Map and the Business Model Canvas. Students developed a Theory of Change placing special emphasis on the assumptions they were making about their stakeholders, which were clarified during the fieldwork research which took place in Guatemala over Spring Break.

The second part of the semester included expert interviews and guest visits, to support each project in becoming  as realistic as possible.

We argue that while the design process is often used as the central point of discussion for studios, there are, in fact, other variables such as the weekly structure, the timing of fieldwork, and the explicit scaffolding of learning, which can yield more effective social impact design. The key is getting enough exposure on relevant competencies dealing with social impact design into the 15 week semester.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 4.4: Parsons Integrated Design on Thursday, June 14, 2018.