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.

Design Practice Intervention: Experimental Approaches to Mapping Different Data

Rachele Riley
Assistant Professor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

As a graphic designer and researcher, I am focused on probing the visual language of maps and developing experimental strategies for representing geographical space, myth, and the dynamics of meaning. In this presentation, I will share two current design research projects in which different methodologies are used. Ranging from the poetic and language-based framework to precision in mapping and library/archival research, my interests lie in uncovering official and unofficial data, and in mapping ephemeralities at multiple scales. The first project I will present is The Evolution of Silence, which visualizes the information and location of over eight hundred nuclear detonations that occurred in Yucca Flat of the Nevada Test Site. The project embodies a shifting perception of conflict and control, and visualizes the environmental and mythic transformation of a contested landscape. The second is a series of projects called Different Data (a collaborative research project with Joshua Singer and Dan McCafferty) in which critical design methods are applied to the collection, manipulation, and interpretation of data of various environments. The Different Data project is executed in real-time as public working demonstrations and involves a high-degree of fluidity and in-the-moment discussion among ourselves, as collaborators—as we work to combine layers that are evolving, imaginary, emotional, and disorienting. Both projects intervene in the traditional understanding of graphic design. By working to situate the viewer in a reflective space, these projects provide open-ended experiences and ‘seamful’ (as opposed to ‘seamless’) constructions. My presentation will offer insight into these projects as examples of graphic design as a critical design practice.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 2.4: CAA Conference 2016, Washington, DC on Wednesday, February 3, 2016.