Prioritizing Design For Good In The College Experience

As designers, we recognize that our skills in creative thinking, visual communication, and problem solving can be used to potentially change the world. As an organization, AIGA made an official initiative in 2011 to highlight Design For Good because it is important to its members. As educators and mentors we must ask ourselves, how do we get students to want to spend time designing for a better world rather than just designing for business? One method to is to expose students to experiences that can build empathy.

How do we help our students develop a sense of empathy and a desire to use their creative skills to enact positive changes?

I am a Digital Media professor specializing in design an hour east of St. Louis at Greenville College. It is our institution’s mission to empower students for lives of character and service. In order to follow this mission, I am constantly asking myself how can I provide opportunities for global service into the discipline in a way that is meaningful and truly transforming for the student. Below are some approaches I have taken to encourage an empathic mindset and show the students how they can use their design skills to make a difference in the world.

  • Collaborate with non-profit organizations to meet their design needs in the classroom
  • Create assignments that ask students to use design thinking to solve a world problem
  • Ask students to raise awareness about an issue through digital media
  • Mentor students through an independent study on fundraising for a cause using design
  • Plan a trip to a location that utilizes the students’ talents and skills.

What can a Design For Good trip look like?

I discovered that one way to develop empathy and a desire to use one’s creative skills for good is to take the students outside of the classroom for an extended stay in another area of the city, country or world and require them to interact with the people they plan to help. I have done this twice over the past three years by taking two groups of college students from various disciplines on a three-week mission trip to Guatemala (2011) and Nicaragua (2014). Under the guidance of the non-profit organization, Students International (SI), I was able to find positions for each of the students that allowed them to use skills learned in their specific major in locations such as nursing homes, art clinics, schools, agricultural sites, construction/engineering sites, health clinics etc.

The design students who attended captured the volunteer work at each site through photography, video, and design. These media pieces served as memorabilia for the larger team, fundraising and branding tools to support Students International employees, and helped build awareness about the work the organization is doing in Central America.

For both trips, I collaborated with a professor from another discipline (physics and later history). Through this collaboration we were better able to encourage students from a variety of majors to work together to use digital media and design to capture a moment, highlight an event, or create a specific tool that would make a task easier for the people they were assisting.

Following the trip, the students who were on the media team showcased the design work they completed for the non-profit and presented several reflective artistic pieces they created in an on-campus gallery exhibition titled Masaya: Reflections from Nicaragua. By requiring the students to create pieces about their own experience, it forced them to put their personal transformation into words and images.

“After my experience in Guatemala I’ve realized that design can mean more than just making things pretty. There’s real value to it. And that knowledge has certainly helped to motivate me beyond my schooling and into my career. “ – Tyler Oesterreich

My greatest goal was to facilitate an immersive, challenging experience, where challenged students engage in the realities of the world, are exposed to issues of poverty, and find opportunities to use their media skills to help improve the lives of others.

Use the guideline below to construct your own Design For Good experience for your students.

How to organize a Design For Good off campus experience.

CONNECT: with a non-profit or mission group who works in a different culture.

DISCOVER: their greatest media needs (video, photography, design, branding, etc)

PARTNER: with a local specialist in the area. Encourage them to lead a tutorial, offer on site guidance, give tips on interacting with the local culture, or allow their space to be used for editing.

FACILITATE: transformation by hosting preparation meetings and reflection discussions post the immersion. These are an important part of the student’s learning as it encourages thinking about the people and the issues they encountered.

ENGAGE: with the people or environment of the area.

DISSECT: the problems, discuss solutions, and create something.

PROMOTE: the design solution by providing your students with the tools to share their new knowledge and opened heart with others. Spread awareness of the project(s) and ask for future support.

Educators and design mentors, how can you offer your students and mentees opportunities to use creative thinking and design to make a positive change in this world?

If you have already done a project with students or young adults, that is in line with AIGA’s Design For Good initiative please email me to share it.

Jessa Wilcoxen, AIGA St. Louis Mentorship Chair
Associate Professor of Digital Media, Greenville College Read more about the Guatemala trip or Nicaragua trip.

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By Jessa Wilcoxen, AIGA St. Louis Mentorship Chair
Published February 19, 2016
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