Unit 14: Overview and Assignment

How and to what extent can design change, or influence the world around us?

There have never been times like these: technology, politics, environmental challenges, and social unrest are colliding with remarkable force, shaking the earth and its inhabitants to the core. Can designers make a difference in this complicated world, and if so how? We often hear about design as a tool for change. This Unit asks you to question this premise, to look closely at the world around you, at both large and small-scale issues, and identify areas where design has made change.

According to William Drenttel, even the prosocial design has got its “darker side”: “It privileged the teacher, not the students; the client, not the user; the provider, not the person in need. It was too often design about design, design for the sake of design, designers preaching to one another about design’s capability to create impact.”

In this unit it’s time we stopped focusing on us-designers. Let’s not promote our own style and expression. Let’s not tell any story (more or less interesting to ordinary mortals). Let’s not experiment (formally). Let’s focus on the users and their needs instead. Can we imagine a project that would yield tangible positive results?

“The time to act as a community is now.”—Rosanne Somerson, President of RISD

The necessary minimum for positive grade is preparing the scenario-based design (including analysis/research, prototyping/designing, action/event, consequences/evaluation) and designing the key elements of a project (see schedule). The students should be encouraged, however, to implement the project and evaluate its efficacy (during last week or even after the fall session).

Issues to consider

– probably design cannot change the world. The question is what it can change and how.

– is it possible to start with a person and develop from there (rather than starting with an issue and “applying” the solution to the person)? Or maybe it is better to start with a global issue and consider how to work it out locally based on studying the user, researching the user, understanding their needs and behavior?

– how would you interpret the well-known slogan “Think globally act locally”?

– how can we change someone’s behavior or mind with design?

– how can we help someone who needs something with design?

– how can we identify and/or address a broken system?

– how can a designer use systems and typography when trying to say something useful (to an individual vs a community vs a whole country)

– how can designers use scale and language to make an actual change (ways: micro and macro).

Learning Objectives

– developing the critical outlook at the discipline of graphic design

– analysis of socially involved graphic designs (ideology/propaganda/activism)

– defining areas, where graphic design directly affects user’s awareness

– shaping attitudes of an activist-designer

Proposed schedule [to be discuss with teacher]

Wed. Nov 18

Introduction talk / presentation

Homework (Analysis & Development): Defining the area of design activity (what the project refers to, e.g. improving visual communication of public transport system, discrimination, freedom of speech in the academic units, helping the homeless, hate speech in politics, revitalization of town districts, activating the local community). Research (what requires improvement/intervention). Research into existing solutions. Developing three initial concept designs (sketches, descriptions), including a proper strategy and medium (Facebook, poster, intervention in the public space, video etc.). Print results (any format).

Mon. Nov 23

discussion / initial concepts review

Presentation of the homework (area of activity, project problem statement, three initial concept designs) in printed form (any format). Discussion. Review of the concepts; choosing one proposition.

Homework (Scenario-based Design): Preparing a presentation (keynote/pdf) of a scenario-based design on the selected initial concept. The scenario should include:

1. detailed project description

2. implementation strategy/action

3. project’s impact on the surroundings/environment (how the design should work)

4. assumed process, changes/results

5. suggested project efficacy evaluation method

Wed. Nov 25

No class held (Thanksgiving break)

Mon. Nov 30

discussion / scenario review

Presentation of the selected scenario. Discussion. Scenario review.

Homework (Prototyping): Preparing the preliminary design of the key elements/prototyping (individually defining the detailed scope of a project with the teacher). Form of presentation in correspondence with the project scenario.

Wed. Dec 2

discussion / project review

Presentation of the project. Discussion. Project review.

Open studios – possibility of review with other teachers.

Homework: Developing the final form of a project.

Mon. Dec 7

discussion / finishing touch

Discussion on the best means of project presentation on Wednesday, December 9th. The finishing touches.

Homework (Presentation): Preparing the Wednesday presentation.

Wed. Dec 9

Walk about / project presentation

Presentation of the design scenario along with the selected elements of the project.

Evaluation  [to be discuss with teacher]

Gravity of the problem and correct defining of the project goal; research into existing solutions; inventiveness; potential level of improvement of the selected area; clarity of project presentation.


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