Designfulness: Teaching Designers to Mindfully Create a Sustainable Future

Rachel Beth Egenhoefer
Chair, Department of Art + Architecture 
Program Director & Associate Professor, Design
University of San Francisco

In today’s culture technology is speeding up our lives, creating the perceived need for everything to be faster, newer, better, sleeker, now!  As we train the next wave of designers, they are faced with these challenges both as students, and in the professional world they will enter.

Simultaneously, the world is faced with the climate change crisis.  On global and local levels the impacts of environmental degradation are real and impacting our communities.  The need for designers to think and work sustainably has never been greater.

One of the greatest challenges in teaching sustainable design (either to students or consumers for that matter) is doing so within a culture that values speed.   So much of our daily habits and lifestyles rely on quick, convenient decisions that   ultimately lead to unsustainable patterns.

To truly tackle issues in sustainability we, as designers and consumers, need to slow down.  Slowing down allows us to understand the complicated impacts of spilt second decisions so that we can redesign a better solution.  Slowing down allows us to understand community and those around us.  Slowing down allows us to question how we live, and how we want to live.  Mindfulness based practices is one way to slow down and reflect on these questions.

Integrating mindfulness into design education better prepares students to be more conscious designers in the future.  As a result, not only are they conscious designers, they are also more conscious citizens.  As such, one might hope, that future generations can combat fast moving lifestyles and create a more sustainable future.

This Design Incubator talk shares ideas in integrating mindfulness into design education to empower future designers to conscious designers and citizens for a better world.

Thinking Like a Forest / Ecological Empathy

Jason Dilworth
Associate Professor
Visual Arts + New Media
SUNY at Fredonia

Since 2013 our organization has worked to respond and understand the forest as an idea generator for the designer. Through a process of exploration, reflection,and action we investigate through objects and questions. We seek to understand how complex forests systems work and sometimes fail. Through our investigations we find connections to the communities and work to build global partnerships while also creating a better understanding of our local bioregions, specifically the forests that live around us.

The presentation will introduce our research into the material and design culture of historic New York utopian communities and how their ideas contributed to, or countered, the ideological thinking that forever altered the region’s ecology and economies. Additionally we will also present our work and research on the reforestation efforts happening in East Iceland and explain the role that design is playing in building community and government support for the effort.

Visualizing Mental Models

Joshua Korenblat
Assistant Professor
Graphic Design

State University of New York at New Paltz

Visual communicators can work at the center of ideas by understanding mental models. A mental model is an abstract representation of reality that enables thinking, understanding, and knowledge sharing. In his book Visual Complexity, Mapping Patterns of Information, researcher Manuel Lima identifies two broad historical trends in mental models: earlier tree-based models of knowledge, illustrated in the literal form of trees, shift into today’s more abstract, network-based models of knowledge.

As summarized by Raph Koster in his influential book A Theory of Fun for Game Design, thinking is pattern-matching against experience. Patterns are stored in memory as chunks of information. Most of the time, the brain works with these abstract chunks—a type of autopilot—rather than processing incoming information in detail. Poetry breaks us from the autopilot mode through vivid descriptions and figurative verbal language. Like a poem, a visual mental model can break readers from their autopilot mode by allowing them to examine their assumptions in a material way. These diagrams rely upon an elegant visual alphabet. Mental models appear in user experience research as affinity maps and user journeys. Or they can show systems, a set of interdependent parts, below the threshold of events and action. Ultimately, the most vivid mental models allow the reader to see a belief or story.

After presenting historic mental models, I’ll show a simple design case study for how to make a mental model, adapted from systems theorist Derek Cabrera. I’ll then discuss when to represent the model in an abstract way, and when it might benefit the designer to represent the model in a more illustrative way. Designers who wish to create vivid, shareable artifacts of our world can use mental models as a tool to enhance communication, conversation, and action with their constituents.

Light Switch Graphically-Assisted Nudges

Niyati Mehta
Adjunct Lecturer
New York City College of Technology
Nassau Community College
Lehman College 

Aim

The aim of this nudge is to demonstrate how Visual Design combined with Behavioral Science can have a positive impact on user (kids’) behavior through the unknown creation of choice architecture. Parents told us that an often-encountered irritant was the necessity for them to remind their young children (aged 5-10) to switch off the light. We took this cue to develop a nudge to encourage children to use the light switch when leaving a room. The aim of this nudge is to reduce electricity consumption to save money, promote the practice of sustainability and to mitigate parental stress.

Description and Development

The graphically-assisted nudge developed is a cutout template that is printed on a home computer printer and then affixed to a light switch plate. Parents access the graphically-assisted nudges via the Nudging for Kids website (nudgingforkids.com). Step by step instructions are included in the downloadable pdf package.

In the ‘fish and bowl’ template, children understand that the fish is, “out of place” and they want to help it get back to where it belongs (the fish bowl). Two alternate templates were developed using ‘basketball’ and ‘bug’ motifs. The bug motif, uses the “cognitive learning effect” where the child remembers to switch off the light by associating it with the bug’s color or a name it has given the bug. The basketball template, with its requirement to pull down the string holding the basketball, uses a child’s desire to explore and understand by exercising her/his manual skills.

The nudges also take advantage of the, “IKEA Effect”–the tendency for people to place a disproportionately high value on objects that they have partially assembled themselves (regardless of the quality of the result).

Preliminary Small Sample Size Try-Out

In an initial proof-of-concept try-out, all three graphic nudges were installed in ten homes near Westchester, New York (USA) in December of 2016.

The preliminary results are promising, but the sample size is too small to draw conclusions.

A larger sample size test is in the planning stage.

Intercultural Design Collaborations in Sustainability

Working remotely as cross-cultural teams, students explore ways design can address sustainable behaviors and lifestyle choices around diverse topics such as food, water, environmental degradation, social justice and cultural preservation.

Kelly Murdoch-Kitt and Denielle Emans work together in an ongoing series of semester-long collaborations with their respective students to make meaningful connections between the concept of sustainability and people’s day-to-day lives. Working remotely as cross-cultural teams, students explore ways design can address sustainable behaviors and lifestyle choices around diverse topics such as food, water, environmental degradation, social justice and cultural preservation. The semester typically culminates in a public exhibition on each campus, enabling students to share their concepts and communications with their local communities. Additionally, the most recent student exhibition, “Co-creating sustainable futures: American and Middle Eastern visual design students explore behavior change” was presented at the 2015 Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference in Minneapolis, MN, USA.

gulftogreatlakes.org
restartexhibit.com

Kelly Murdoch-Kitt is Assistant Professor in the Graphic Design program at Rochester Institute of Technology’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. She teaches and works primarily in the areas of user experience and service design. Her recent collaborations exploring the socio-cultural benefits of cross-cultural design education and the benefits of integrating sustainability challenges into project-based design courses. Kelly and her collaborator, Denielle Emans, recently presented research at Spaces of Learning: AIGA Design Educators Conference and the 2015 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference and Expo, “Transforming Sustainability Education.” Recent journal publications include “Design Nexus: integrating cross-cultural learning experiences into graphic design education” in Studies in Material Thinking 11: Re/materialising Design Education Futures (co-authored with Prof. Denielle Emans, 2014) and “Sustainability at the forefront: educating students through complex challenges in visual communication and design” in Interdisciplinary Environmental Review (co-authored with Kelly Norris Martin & Denielle Emans, 2015).

Denielle Emans is an Assistant Professor in the Graphic Design Department at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, specializing in the area of experiential design in relation to the conceptualization, development, and execution of visual messages for social change and sustainability. As a designer, she has worked to create print, web, and motion design solutions for clients ranging from software specialists to international institutions. Denielle has published her research in a number of academic journals and presented at numerous conferences across the world. She holds a Master of Graphic Design from North Carolina State University’s College of Design and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Denielle is currently a Ph.D. Candidate within the Centre for Communication and Social Change at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

Villages in the City

Hui Xie
Visiting Scholar in St. John’s University
Associate Professor
Graphic Design

School of Art and Design
Shenzhen Polytechnic
XiLi Lake, Nanshan District
Shenzhen, Guangdong, China

“Men and women do not want to move back, but the mark of youth has been branded in their heart. This is not their hometown, but with a deep nostalgia as well.”

As a unique specimen of Chinese urbanization, the villages “DaChong” and “GangXia” in Shenzhen, China represent a bridge between rural and urban. With the huge gap between disadvantageous groups and mainstream society, the existence of villages in the city created a buffer zone between low-income workers and the high cost of living. Unfortunately, in recent years because of ongoing urban renewal development, the villages have been razed and are now flat ground. Victims of high speed economic development, the villages of Shenzhen are disappearing, and because of their absence the names “DaChong” and “GangXia” are becoming as meaningless and vague. The multimedia installation “Villages in the City” incorporates vernacular typography used for signage with phrases like “ I LOVE YOU” and “I MISS YOU” to explore what should we learn and remember from these places.

The names “DaChong” and “GangXia”and shapes used to create their Chinese characters are data carriers as are the handwritten advertisements found on the walls of buildings. They provide with a wealth of living information about daily life in the most densely inhabited district in Shenzhen. Documentary photography, neon and stainless steel characters are used to create compositions, which reveal traces of the environment where immigrant working class citizens used to live. Text and imagery of messages from people for looking for or advertising jobs, information about selling Chinese herbal medicines, and telephone numbers of movers are combined with house numbers, street names, and the price tags from street foods to produce site-specific installations which serve as constructive links to former residents while recreating memories of village nights. “Villages in the City” is a memorial for the loss of history and an exploration aspect of village life that should be remembered.

Zone1/ZoneA: Reflection/ Resilience

David Frisco, Adjunct Professor, CCE
Graduate Communications Design
School of Design
Pratt Institute

ZoneA/Zone1 took place during the Fall 2013 semester of a graduate-level design studio, at a design school in New York City.
Using the NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) Report as a departure point, our teams engaged with the five most affected communities in NYC through qualitative research in the form of cultural probes and interventions, addressing each area’s unique relationship to the city’s waterfront and impacting climate change, ultimately creating a set of proposals and in some cases, implementing solutions and toolkits serving to improve grass-root resiliency efforts in each community.

Our objective was to design a responsive communication strategy as well as individual or community-led activities that advanced resiliency efforts and foster behavior change, putting preparedness at the fore. The goal was to inspire and engage a community to take action.

We concentrated on the following 5 communities identified in the NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) Report: A Stronger, More Resilient New York

  • Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront
  • East and South Shores of Staten Island
  • South Queens
  • Southern Brooklyn
  • Southern Manhattan

Our initiative focused on qualitative research strategies to utilize design as a means for transformation. With an emphasis on a human-centered, holistic, and empathic approach, our teams applied Design Thinking methodologies to localized problems and issues in an attempt to transform the behaviors of individuals in desirable and sustainable ways, while creating meaningful experiences and interactions.

Emphasizing that people are participants rather than simply users, we studied human factors — cognitive, physical, emotional, linguistic, social and cultural behaviors. We explored numerous conceptual and procedural frameworks which guide the design process, in order to address the needs of people and organizations, and convert them into progressive, sustainable solutions.

Lay Me Down to Sleep: The Design of Coffins, Caskets, and Alternative Containers

Susan Merritt
Faculty Emeritus, Graphic Design
School of Art & Design
San Diego State University

Throughout our country’s history coffins, caskets, and more recently alternative containers have been invented or perfected by anonymous contributors working in the factories that manufacture them. These wood and metal boxes that have become the standard for American burial are being called into question due to changing attitudes towards death and the shift from indifference to action on the part of some contemporary designers.
This research tracks the journey of a corpse from site of death to burial, through the containers it may inhabit. First, I examine containers that are designed to contain, enclose, and preserve as much as possible the corpse, including historical examples gleaned from nineteenth century advertisements. Starting with body bags as a means of transporting cadavers from the place of death to the burial container in which the body will be either buried or cremated, next I consider the evolution from eight-sided English coffin to four-sided American casket; the desire to preserve the body and methods to achieve preservation; the introduction of gasket mechanisms for sealing bodies in metal caskets to protect them from the elements; standardization of design, materials, and casket dimensions, including oversized caskets for bodies that don’t fit the established standards.
The second part of my research considers an alternative route for the corpse, in which it is not preserved but rather encouraged to decay and decompose. This section encompasses Green 2 burial, the rise of Green cemeteries and memorial preserves, sustainable materials and biodegradable burial containers, shrouds, and unassembled casket kits. It also introduces the work of several young designers who are stretching the boundaries of death by reimagining burial practices and reconfiguring burial containers through the use of biodegradable materials and sustainable technologies.

Spark Collaborations: Design as Catalyst for Social Impact

Natacha Poggio
Assistant Professor, Visual Communication Design
Hartford Art School, University of Hartford

Designing for wellness has extended further beyond the creation of care products to the design of processes and experiences involving patients as learners and users. Visually compelling and meaningful systems of artifacts are part of the “wicked solutions” at the intersection between design and health.

The past decade has seen a radical revolution in the amount and variety of design products and systems addressing life-improving humanitarian issues and showcasing the transformational implementation of design as a change agent. Visual communication design education still struggles to transcend the conversation about effectively implementing and facilitating design curricula that could help trigger and sustain positive social and cultural change while balancing the need for portfolio-driven outcomes.

Approximately 3–11 million amputees worldwide are in need of a prosthesis, most are located in the poorest countries, where physical therapists are seldom available to teach patients how to use their artificial limbs. “Prosthetic Training Across Borders” (PTAB) is an ongoing transdisciplinary research initiative between Design and Physical Therapy departments at [University] and nonprofit humanitarian organization LIMBS International. Faculty leading teams of undergraduate and graduate students collaboratively co-created prosthetics training materials for above-knee amputee patients in developing countries.

Through the use of simple illustrations to overcome literacy limitations, these educational materials facilitate the communication process for local clinicians so they can effectively educate their patients about rehabilitation protocols and regain mobility. By following simple, concise instructions in posters, brochures, and manuals, amputees are able to perform various training activities and avoid inefficient gait patterns. After testing of prototypes in Peru, Ghana and Kenya, the materials are being translated for cultural adaptation to the 32 clinics in Latin America, India and Africa. PTAB initiative not only has transformed the lives of patients, but also shows a practical way in which the intersection between design and health matters.