Design for Social Change
Collaborating with students from Detroit Community Schools
Nick is an Associate Professor at A&D and a public performer whose work is rooted in the social lives of public places.
Last fall, I taught the first of what I hope is a regular class and partnership between the School of Art & Design, the Center for Entrepreneurship, and a community school in the Brightmoor neighborhood in Detroit. The class uses the principles of human centered design to develop art and design projects that will impact the community in a positive way.
Let me try to give a concrete example to illustrate the meaning of human centered design and why it is essential for a collaboration like this.
Think of an object you use habitually—a chair, shoes, a wallet. Each of these has a recognizable and designated function. I don’t know about you, but my wallet doesn’t always work for me, and so I stuff receipts, bits of paper, business cards and other ephemera in my more capacious pockets. The chairs, they’re OK, but I find myself, like right now, sitting on the floor.
Think then not of a chair but of asking someone what they do or need when they sit. Not of a wallet, but of how someone spends their day, what they need access to, when and how much of it.
This kind of problem solving is called human centered design. The human centered design approach recognizes that better design solutions come from asking more questions, and getting to know a person, a place, or a situation before developing an idea.
So when we began our class with Detroit Community Schools (DSC) last fall, we began by getting to know one another. Through conversations, interviews, field trips, working side by side and sharing life journeys, the students from A&D and the students from DCS began to understand one another not as archetypes or ideals, but as complex individuals with insights and aspirations, needs and assets.
The projects we concocted together – a mobile pizza oven, a line of solar-powered bicycle lights, a shoe design workshop – are essentially all prototypes; trial balloons that we launched, together, to see how they fly.
The class is over now, but the hope is to set up an ongoing design-build program with DCS as its hub, and the School of Art & Design as a partner. Along the way, we are contributing to a movement within our school to develop links with experiential education, the community and the classroom, to generate hands on projects that link public and civic action.
Here’s a glimpse into our collaboration with the Brightmoor community, as told by the A&D design teams:
Mobile Pizza Oven
Shoe Design Workshops
Solar-Powered Bike Lights