From Design as Artifact to Design as Process: Applying an Open Model to Community Engagement in Social Design

Cat Normoyle
Assistant Professor
Memphis College of Art

In recent years, we have seen a significant shift in the field of design, from design as an artifact to design as a process. This shift challenges the designer to think strategically about the entire process, examining the design artifact as a single component within a much larger, more complex system of parts. This presentation introduces the designer as strategist and systems thinker in the context of social design projects, while the community takes on the role of participant and maker through an open model of community engagement. This central idea, inspired by the DIY (do-it-yourself) and open-source mentality of residents creates a workforce of critical makers, especially useful in locale endeavors with limited budgets.

The open model includes the roles and responsibilities for all phases of work including research, strategy, development, engagement, implementation, and management of both designer and community member. Designers serve as strategists, systems thinkers, and activists for social change; community members serve as makers, which empowers them as they find ownership and authorship in the work they produce. Applied to multiple community development projects in Memphis, TN, the model will highlight these case studies, examining how processes, methods, and outcomes were applied in local contexts.

In all the examples provided, the design is process, while the artifact is an artistic intervention in the community. Although each artifact is different in its creation, duration, audience and experience, the process is consistent and methods similar. The results share commonalities such as how to engage the community, recruit stakeholders, and distribute information and scale projects. Challenges face the designer, the most evident being the ability to relinquish control of aesthetics of the final artifacts. Findings reveal key insights and implications that may be applied in global contexts. Conclusions expand on ways to implement this model in different types of communities, integrating it into standard practices.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.2: Parsons Integrated Design on Thursday, Feb 16, 2017.