Feminist Designer

A book that explores emerging feminist practices in design

Alison Place
Assistant Professor
University of Arkansas

Additional contributors: Jennifer Armbrust, Dina Benbrahim, Madeline Avram Blount, Elizabeth Byrd, Benedetta Crippa, Alexandra Crosby, Laura Devendorf, Rachael Dietkus, Ashley K. Eberhart, Griselda Flesler, Aimi Hamraie, Gaby Hernández, Alexis Hope, Jeff Kasper, Ellen Kellogg, Aasawari Kulkarni, Eden Laurin, Una Lee, Andrew Mallinson, Claudia Marina, Victor G. Martinez, Lauren Lee McCarthy, Margaret Middleton, Maryam Mustafa, Becky Nasadowski, Maya Ober, Nina Paim, Elizabeth Pérez, Heather Snyder Quinn, Cami Rincón, Jenn Roberts, Velvet A. Johnson Ross, In-ah Shin, Marie Louise Juul Søndergaard, Ayako Takase, Attia Taylor, Rebecca Tegtmeyer, Aggie Toppins, Ilaria Vanni, Joana Varon, Manon Vergerio, Mandy Harris Williams, Sarah Williams.

Published in September of 2023 by MIT Press, Feminist Designer: On the Personal and the Political in Design is a book that explores emerging feminist practices in design. Place wrote this book, primarily, for her students, in whom she observed strong passion for addressing feminist issues through design with little understanding of the histories and power structures that undergird them. The writing and concepts in the book are intended to be accessible for a wide audience, not just an academic one. Her own writing makes up about one-third of the book, while the rest is comprised of contributions from other designers. Contributors were solicited through an open call for proposals or by direct invitation, with a significant effort made to assemble a diverse array of identities, background, disciplines and perspectives. Each contributor was paid an honorarium, funded by an advance from the publisher.

Book Blurb

Feminist Designer brings together a constellation of voices and perspectives to examine the intersection of design and feminist theory. For decades, the feminist refrain within design has hinged on the representation and inclusion of women in the field. This collection, however, is a call to move beyond this narrow application. Feminist design is not just about who does design—it is about how we do design and why. Feminist frameworks for design activism are now more relevant than ever, as they emphasize collaborative processes that aim to disrupt and dismantle power hierarchies while centering feminist ways of knowing and doing.

The first book in nearly three decades to address such practices in design, Feminist Designer contains essays, case studies, and dialogues by 43 contributors from 16 different countries. Place engages a wide variety of design disciplines, from graphic design to disability design to algorithmic design, and explores key feminist themes, such as power, knowledge, care, plurality, liberation, and community. Through diverse, sometimes conflicting, intersectional perspectives, this book contributes new design methods informed by a multiplicity of feminisms that confront design’s patriarchal origins while ushering in new pathways for making critical and meaningful change.

Book Design

In addition to writing the book, she also designed it, which was a feminist project in itself. The three typefaces used are Bastardo Grotesk (Giulia Boggio), Cofo Sans (Contrast Type Foundry), and Fraunces (Phaedra Charles)—all created by designers who identify as women, non-binary or trans. The typography on the cover makes a loud statement with the title and subtitle in large, bold type with a spot varnish, echoing an unwavering chant of feminist protest. The addition of emoji-style glyphs on each line speak to the snarky ambivalence felt by an emerging generation of feminists. The purple hues merge the historical purple of the 20th century suffragettes, with the effervescence of so-called Gen Z lavender. In the feminist spirit of citation, the name of every contributor in the book is featured on the cover in alphabetical order, giving credit where credit is due. The interior of the book is designed for accessible reading, plus ease of skimming; sections are short, with headlines, decks, and pull quotes like a magazine.

Outcomes

The book has received much positive recognition from the media, with excerpts published in Design Observer and Fast Company; several reviews in major outlets including the Boston Globe, Metropolis Magazine, and Madame Architect; and was named one of the best design books of 2023 by both Fast Company and the Architect’s Newspaper. Currently, there are seven journal reviews in progress expected to be published next year in top journals, including Design and Culture, Design Issues, and the Journal of Feminist Pedagogy. Place has been interviewed about the book on two podcasts, Scratching the Surface and The Deep Dive, and invited to speak at DePaul University in Chicago in 2024. Though it has only been four months since the book was published, she is excited to see the conversations about feminist design that have been initiated, and she look forward to expanding and amplifying those in the months to come.

Alison Place is a designer, educator and researcher who works at the intersection of feminism and design to create spaces for critical making and radical speculation. She is the author of Feminist Designer: On the Personal and the Political in Design published by MIT Press in 2023. She is an assistant professor of graphic design at the University of Arkansas School of Art, where she also serves as the director of the graphic design program. She has held several leadership roles in the design community, including two terms on the AIGA Design Educators Community National Steering Committee, and has earned multiple national awards for her scholarship and creative work. Previously, she worked for more than ten years as a creative director and designer for nonprofit and higher education institutions. She earned an M.F.A. in experience design from Miami University of Ohio, as well as degrees in graphic design and journalism from the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression, and Reflection 

An anthology centering a range of perspectives, spotlights teaching practices, research, stories, and conversations from a Black/African diasporic lens.

Anne H. Berry
Associate Professor
Cleveland State University

Jennifer Rittner
Visiting Assistant Professor 
Parsons School of Design

Kelly Walters
Assistant Professor of Communication Design 
Parsons School of Design

Lesley-Ann Noel, PhD
Assistant Professor
NC State University

Penina Laker 
Assistant Professor
Washington University in St. Louis

Kareem Collie
User Experience Design Lead
IBM

Excluded from traditional design history and educational canons that heavily favor European modernist influences, the work and experiences of Black designers have been systematically overlooked in the profession for decades. However, given the national focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the aftermath of the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, educators, practitioners, and students now have the opportunity—as well as the social and political momentum—to make long-term, systemic changes in design education, research, and practice, reclaiming the contributions of Black designers in the process.

The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression, and Reflection (BEID), an anthology centering a range of perspectives, spotlights teaching practices, research, stories, and conversations from a Black/African diasporic lens. Through the voices represented, this text exemplifies the inherently collaborative and multidisciplinary nature of design, providing access to ideas and topics for a variety of audiences, meeting people as they are and wherever they are in their knowledge about design. BEID is a reference for students in design, communication, and related areas of study, as well as a reference for diverse audiences, including but not limited to educators and academics from cultural studies, media studies, film, sociology, psychology, history, critical theory, and other social sciences.

Of particular note is the role of Sylvia Harris’ seminal 1998 essay “Searching for a Black Aesthetic in American Graphic Design” as a foundational piece for the text. In publishing this book, the editors have responded to her call to “contribute to [the existing] body of knowledge and support a generation of designers hungry to see their people and experience reflected in the mirror of our profession.” At least a portion of the wide range of work and research undertaken by Black designers has been codified in this text that we as design educators, practitioners, and former students wish we previously had in our collections and need for our own teaching, scholarship, and practice.

At the time the book was conceived and published, moreover, it was the first of its kind. The editorial team was inspired by a number of books on related topics, yet no other text captured both the diversity and breadth of Black contributions to design history and creative practice—past, present, and future—in one resource/anthology. Ultimately, The Black Experience in Design serves as both inspiration and a catalyst for the next generation of creative minds tasked with imagining, shaping, and designing our future. As author and critic Steven Heller noted, The Black Experience in Design is “A long time coming.”

The Writing/Publication Process

The publication of The Black Experience in Design began and ended in the midst of the 2019 Coronavirus pandemic. The entirety of the editorial team process and book production, consequently, was conducted via email and Zoom meetings across three time zones and with the aid of Slack and Miro applications.

The starting point for the project was a special issue journal focused on Black designers. However, as a result of editorial team conversations, discussions shifted away from a particular venue or format to focus more squarely on our collective goals, i.e., what we hoped to achieve through our efforts. Namely, reaching a diverse creative audience and covering a wide range of topics. A book provided the flexibility needed, and we subsequently developed a table of contents that spoke to the range of subjects we aimed to address.

BEID grew from approximately 50 contributors to 70, nearly doubling the size of the manuscript. Yet, the outcome reflects only a portion of the month of outreach undertaken, including interviews and rounds of feedback and editing. Importantly, we strived to build connections among contributors and editors during a period of cultural, social, and political upheaval; by meeting with contributors within our respective chapters and hosting writing sessions, we provided support and promoted a sense of community.

The Design Process

The initial illustration concept stemmed from the idea of Black designers being trapped within a box. No matter how hard we try to reshape or reform that box, it still remains present. The goal, subsequently, was to demonstrate this concept visually; the illustrations represent variations of reclaiming or breaking free from the aforementioned box. Each chapter has its own themes and related motifs that accompany introductions and individual essays within each chapter.

The typography of the book was thoroughly researched and considered to meet the needs of a massive, complex system. The moments of dialogue leave ample space to pause and reflect on the words and mimic the feeling of an actual conversation. The chapter introductions use a large, lean serif that dances around the illustrations. All components work together as a system to help the reader digest the information and enjoy the experience.

Impact + Outcomes

  • The retail store Target pre-ordered 8,000 copies.
  • The School of Visual Arts (NY, NY) donated $2,000 to help cover publication costs.
  • We launched a Kickstarter campaign that garnered nearly 300 backers and raised over $21,000, exceeding our $15k goal.
  • BEID has been acquired by colleagues at the following institutions and organizations: California College of the Arts, Cleveland State University, The College of New Jersey, CUNY College of Technology, Drexel University, East Tennessee State University, Inneract Project, Kansas City Art Institute, Kent State University, Lesley University, Maryland Institute College of Art, National Museum of African American History and Culture, University of Notre Dame, North Carolina State University, Parsons School of Design, Penn State University, Pentagram, Princeton University, Rhode Island School of Design, San Francisco State University, Tennessee State University, University Arts London, University of Connecticut, University of Michigan, the University of Texas at Austin, Virginia Tech, Washington University in St. Louis, Yale University
  • Via Kickstarter, BEID has been shared in the following countries internationally: Australia, Canada, Germany, Greece, Great Britain, Kenya, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.
  • As of mid-October 2022, BEID has sold approximately 5,000 copies.
  • An audiobook version of The Black Experience in Design is currently in production.

Biography

Anne H. Berry is a writer, designer, and design educator at Cleveland State University. Her published writing includes “The Virtual Design Classroom” for Communication Arts magazine and “The Black Designer’s Identity” for the inaugural issue of the Recognize anthology featuring commentary from Indigenous people and people of color. She is also co-creator of the award-winning project Ongoing Matter: Democracy, Design, and the Mueller Report and managing editor of The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression, and Reflection.

Jennifer Rittner is a writer and educator currently serving as Visiting Assistant Professor at Parsons School of Design. She has been published in the New York Times, DMI: Journal, and AIGA Eye on Design; and in 2021 served as guest editor for a special issue on design & policing for Design Museum magazine. A daughter of women, Jennifer centers the voices of her near ancestors Bernadette, Aurea, and Dianqui in her practices.

Kelly Walters is a designer, educator and founder of the multidisciplinary design studio Bright Polka Dot. Her ongoing design research interrogates the complexities of identity formation, systems of value, and the shared vernacular in and around Black visual culture. She is the author of Black, Brown + Latinx Design Educators: Conversations on Design and Race published by Princeton Architectural Press and a coeditor of The Black Experience in Design. Kelly is an Assistant Professor of Communication Design at Parsons School of Design at The New School in New York.

Dr. Lesley-Ann Noel focuses on equity, social justice, and the experiences of people who are often excluded from design education, research and practice. She promotes greater critical awareness among designers and design students by introducing critical theory concepts and vocabulary into the design studio e.g. through The Designer’s Critical Alphabet and the Positionality Wheel.

Penina Laker is a designer, researcher, and educator at Washington University in St. Louis. Her practice and research is centered around investigating and applying methodologies that utilize a human-centered approach to solving social problems, locally and internationally. She is currently broadening the scope and access of design education to young people in Uganda through her DesignEd workshops and My African Aesthetic, a podcast she cohosts.

Kareem Collie is a designer, strategist, and educator specializing in collaborative and human-centered design approaches to capture, reveal, and produce visual narratives and user experiences. He is the former Director of Design and Creativity at the Rick and Susan Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity at The Claremont Colleges and is now a Global Design Lead at IBM Consulting.

AIGA Design Educators Community SHIFT 2020 Virtual Summit

Service Award Runner-Up

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 content

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 organizers

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 outcome

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.

Design Incubation Communication Design Awards 2020 recipient

The Fusion of Art, Science and Technology

The integration of artistic expression into current technological design methods.

Min Kyong Pak
Assistant Professor
University of Southern Indiana

In our high-tech modern world, scientists and artists push the limits of fusion and innovation to create new avant-garde narratives, emerging formats, and technological platforms. Technology and medium are constantly evolving. The demand for better quality in new media, storytelling and medium continue to evolve. Examples of new media include artificial intelligence, augmented reality, data visualization, interactive media, human-computer interface, video games, and virtual reality. In order to create this new media, artists are required to use code, data, and algorithms.

Storytelling is not merely confined to spoken or written words. There are many ways by which a designer can tell a story. A designer can exploit cutting-edge advances in science and technology to tell a story with artistic influence. My interest is to integrate artistic expression into current technological design methods. This project will give a voice to ideas that touch and affect us on a daily basis, search for who we are, and relate to our environmental world around us. The result is to infuse art, technology, and culture in the context of a community or geographical location. The greatest work of art connects and engages with our senses, heart, soul, and mind.

We live in a complex world. The digital age provides us with many opportunities to rebuild and adapt to an ever-evolving continuum. Both art and science are forms of exploration. Designers explore innovative designs, and scientists find the answers. Both transform reality and innovation to push our expectations and imaginations. My vision is to bridge the gap between art and science to create the best 21st century design. I believe the fusion of art, science, and technology is transformative and revolutionary.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.2: CAA 2020 Conference Chicago on February 14, 2020.

The Sit&Tell Project

Service Award Winner

Jenn Stucker
Associate Professor
Bowling Green State University

The Sit&Tell Project was a multi-participatory community-based art project that connected communities through pulling up a chair and sharing stories of Strong Women of Toledo. The project collected 100 stories as told by Toledo citizens as storytellers on World Storytelling Day (WSD), March 20, 2016 under the global theme of Strong Women. Based on the Toledo Arts Commission’s 2015 Strategic Plan for Arts & Culture, eight (8) neighborhoods were cited to illuminate, thus were chosen to be the sites of the story collections. On WSD, teams were sent to the Collingwood Arts Center, Toledo Public Library, The National Museum of the Great Lakes, The Ohio Theater, the Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center and The Fredrick Douglass Community Center to collect the 100 stories through in-person interviews. These recorded stories were told by or were about women recognized by their families, communities or organizations as strong and influential. Following the collection, the stories were assigned to juried (jurors: Andrew Shea, Antionette Carroll, Keetra Dean Dixon) artists/designers to visualize 100 chairs. The donated chairs from MTS Seating went on display at rolling exhibitions in those neighborhoods throughout the summer of 2016 with each chair containing a specific URL numbering to direct viewers to the corresponding audio recording of the story.

A preview event for 150 guests on June 14, 2016 unveiled 30 chairs at AIGA Toledo’s Pre-conference Cocktail Reception + Welcome talk for AIGA’s Nuts+Bolts Conference, followed by the first neighborhood launch of ten (10) chairs at the National Museum of the Great Lakes, with positive local press. During the summer a chair a day for 100 days was posted on social media outlets. All 100 chairs were featured in a final closing exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art on September 24, 2016. In November, the chairs were sold through an online auction and the $7,500 raised was donated to the Toledo Arts Commission for art classes for young people in those neighborhoods.

The Sit&Tell Project participation included 180 storytellers and artists, eight community exhibition locations, 15 WSD listeners/volunteers, four BGSU Media and Communication undergraduates and an MC faculty member who collected WSD footage and audio, plus two BGSU Digital Arts graduate students and a DA faculty mentor who shot additional footage and edited the final video. Of the 100 designed chairs, the juried pool included 21 BGSU undergraduate graphic design students, eight BGSU School of Art faculty members, 32 BGSU alums, one chair by a graphic design class at Whitmer High School in Toledo and remaining chair designs by Toledo area artists. Exhibition venues expressed a deep gratitude for participating in the project and all stated they experienced an increase in their visitations.

www.sitandtell.com

SitTell overview

Jenn Stucker is an associate professor and division chair of Graphic Design at BGSU. She earned her BFA at BGSU and her MFA from Eastern Michigan University, both in graphic design. Jenn’s research interests include Design as Artist and Practitioner, Design as Scholarship of Engagement, and the Scholarship of Design Pedagogy. Her work has been published in several books on design and has received various award recognitions including, HOW Magazine’s 2013 and the 2017 International Design Awards for her community-based works, The You Are Here Toledo Project and the Sit&Tell Project. She is the co-founder/organizer of SWEAT (Summer Workshop for Experimentation and Thought,) a collaborative experience in experimental modes of making. She is also a founding board member of AIGA Toledo and has served in numerous leadership roles. Jenn has previously co-chaired two national AIGA Design Education conferences and has presented at several conferences across the country.

Recipient of recognition in the Design Incubation Communication Design Awards 2017.

Reveal, Empower, Propel: Design Education for a Tenacious Community

Herb Vincent Peterson
Associate Professor of Design: Coordinator of Graphic Design
Co-Founder of Marion Design Co.
Division of Art + Design
Indiana Wesleyan University

Wendy Puffer
Assistant Professor: Coordinator of Design for Social Impact
Co-Founder of Marion Design Co.
Division of Art + Design
Indiana Wesleyan University

No larger than 30,000 people and deeply bruised by a downtrodden economy rooted in racial tensions, the rustbelt town of Marion, Indiana begs to become triumphant once again. A community previously slated to become the thriving metropolis of the Mid-West, now promotes a residue of the past with blighted storefronts, broken homes, and vast and vacant warehouses. Here lies the real crossroads of America. Never before has there been such a need to see Design as a mechanism to reveal a true identity within a community and empower its people to propel forward into a new chapter of vibrant life.

How can design empower radical change? How can students learning design employ empathy to develop relational design practices and drive trust in a community plagued by deep trauma? What is the responsibility of University design programs connected to rust-belt and blighted American towns?

This is the story about a social design studio and the subsequent movements that change how we consider community activism and design education. The studio of faculty and undergraduates face wicked problems head on while gaining experience conducting ethnographic research with community members. The environment of unbridled growth of ideas, reflective of the academic model of the middle ages, encourages individuality and freedom of thought. Through an immersive experience where students learn to become design leaders, the social design studio of Marion Design Co. utilizes design thinking strategies engaging community toward authentic relationships, bringing much needed hope and innovation.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.3: Kent State University on Saturday, March 11, 2017.

INPLACE: Innovative Plan for Leveraging Arts Through Community Engagement

Robert J. Thompson 
Assistant Professor
Graphic & Interactive Design
Department of Art
College of Creative Arts & Communications
Youngstown State University

Terry Schwarz 
Director
Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative

Kent State University

In 2015, the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency that funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation awarded the Department of Art in the College of Creative Arts & Communication at Youngstown State University with a $100,000 “Our Town” grant to fund arts engagement, cultural planning and design projects. Their programs support creative place-making projects that help to transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core.

The grant authors, Asst. Professor of Graphic Design, Leslie Brothers, Executive Director of the McDonough Museum of Art, and Dominic Marchionda, City-University Planner with Youngstown State University successfully proposed the “INPLACE” project, otherwise known as “Innovative Plan for Leveraging Arts through Community Engagement.” INPLACE came together over the course of three years through a unique blend of artists, designers, community stakeholders and civic leadership. It focuses planning initiatives and resources in targeted locations within city-in-revival Youngstown, Ohio to draw on the compounding effect of well-coordinated action and creative output. It is directed toward community driven public art projects that combine storytelling with art and design to create memorable, permanent place-making experiences throughout the city. The NEA chose only 64 of nearly 250 applications from across the nation for funding. INPLACE offers unique opportunities for members of Youngstown’s creative community to play an integral role in this prestigious NEA Our Town grant.

This presentation seeks to present the process of discovery, working with various constituencies within the Youngstown community, mentoring teams into cultivating meaningful, high-quality projects, share project proposals, and provide updates on the INPLACE project, which ends in July 2017.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.3: Kent State University on Saturday, March 11, 2017.