The Winterhouse Fourth Symposium on Design Education and Social Change was held at Yale University, August 18-20, 2013. A group of leading thinkers and practitioners in design, management, architecture, and engineering gathered to address issues central to promoting design education and social innovation. While the vast majority of participants had attended at least one of the three previous (I, II, III) Winterhouse symposia, there were also individuals joining for the first time from institutions including the National Endowment for the Arts.
Building on the momentum from previous symposia, the participants were able to 1) share updates on their specific programs and initiatives, 2) define immediate and long-term goals for the group, and 3) collaborate on projects of shared interest. Themes that have been explored in the previous three symposia include:
• Defining social design
• Charting new academic social design programs and initiatives
• Forming partnerships between educational institutions, foundations and NGOs
• Establishing metrics for the efficacy of social design programs
• Navigating educational requirements and goals while contributing to social welfare
• Exploiting media platforms for disseminating information about social design
• Creating career pathways and opportunities within the field for students and academics
• Developing more infrastructure for social innovation
• Coordinating opportunities for meeting and collaboration
• New ideas and proposals for collective action
1. Creating an Agenda for Action
In a discussion about the goals of this year’s symposium, Cameron Tonkinwise, Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University School of Design noted, “We’ve all kind of grown up.” Whereas at earlier symposia, many members were piloting individual courses in social design, many are now leading entire programs dedicated to the field and these programs are growing. Indeed, social innovation has reached mainstream acceptance beyond academia to nonprofits, corporations, investors, and governments. Charlie Cannon, Associate Professor of Industrial Design at RISD and Chief Design Officer at EPIC Decade added, “In the private sector, we’re seeing an enormous amount of traction and desire for design thinking, whether it’s through appropriation by business schools or re-appropriation by designers.”
To frame the significance of the opportunity, Chris Kasabach, Director at The Watson Foundation asked, “What do we want to accomplish as a group? If we were at Winterhouse Symposium Eight, what would we be excited to have said happened because of our collective effort over the last four years.” Taking this long-term view, the theme from this year’s symposium was in many ways “mapping” — mapping the social design landscape, the skillsets of social designers, and the future of the symposium.
2. Mapping Social Design
Referencing existing maps and frameworks for inspiration, the group was interested in creating a map to better understand the social innovation landscape. Scott Boylston, Program Coordinator of Design for Sustainability at Savannah College of Art Design and President at Emergent Structures shared some frameworks on Systems Sensitive Design that he has used with his students. Others also referenced Richard Buchanan’s Doctrine of Placements and work by Ezio Manzini among others.
Designers have different forms of authorship at different scales of engagement. Ranging from expertise in a design process, being a collaborator in a team, or being a facilitator. Building on this, the group began to experiment with a 9-square grid with axes such “Scales of Engagement” and “Forms of Design Authorship”.
The group tried to place a wide variety of initiatives and organizations within the framework to test its utility and uncover insights. Examples included research-oriented organizations (Participle, DESIS, and Mayo Clinic), networks (AIGA, Pop!Tech, Unreasonable Institute), local interventions (Harlem Children's Zone), global interventions (Microclinic International, The Land Institute), and educational institutions and initiatives (MICA, Design For America, Project H and Studio H). Other attempts charted the evolution of ideas throughout a single organization or larger movement (Teach for America, Teach for All). As the framework became clearer, many of the participants tried to situate their own organizations within its parameters. For example Assistant Professor at Parsons The New School for Design, Lara Penin shared her work on Amplify (Amplifying Creative Communities), a project that identifies and documents sustainability initiatives and social innovations in New York City.
The group acknowledged that each location in the framework is a legitimate endpoint. That is, not all local interventions need to scale to global innovations. Mike Weikert, Director of the Social Design and the Center for Design Practice at the Maryland Institute College of Art, added that not all projects would start and end in the same place. Rather than locating an organization on a single point, it was also possible to look at the framework like a heat map, where an organization could inhabit different areas with different intensity. Lara Penin noted that while some designers may have a preference for “iterative improvement and replicability,” an intervention that is only intended for a circumscribed scope or location is valid legitimate under this framework. Tony Sheldon, Executive Director of the Program on Social Enterprise at the Yale School of Management added, “There is a tension between standardization and customization. How do you keep the innovation true to the community it is serving? In the world of microfinance, you take what was done in Bangladesh and you do it in Vietnam, but it doesn’t always apply.”
As next steps, Charlie Cannon and Chris Kasabach agreed to lead further refinement of the model. Lara Penin will later create case studies with the refined version of the model. William Drenttel will help disseminate the work to a larger audience.
In response to the question of the designer’s role in social innovation, David Mohney, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Architecture acaptiont University of Kentucky College of Design responded, “[Designers] bring a sense of holistic visual intelligence. They bring the capacity to evaluate and reevaluate what they see and apply that larger sense of vision and visualization in a way that most people can’t.” A larger discussion underscored the need for both topical expertise and process expertise. Charlie Cannon stressed the importance of “figuring out how to subjugate your topical expertise in the service of a larger facilitation.”
Looking at traditional curricula from dedicated design and art schools in comparison to design education within a research university, the group considered a spectrum of student archetypes from the “Creative Visionary” to the “Integrated Innovator.” Terry Irwin, Professor and Head of the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University added, “Ultimately, if we achieve our objectives, this is a transitional phase we’re in. Design in the future is always going to take into account social and environmental concerns."
The group identified 5 key skillsets: 1) communication arts (persuasion, influence, argument), 2) financial literacy and data analysis, 3) collaboration and negotiation, 4) ethics and cultural literacy, and 5) leadership. The challenge of adding skillsets to a design curriculum is that it may come at the expense of other curricular content. Another approach is to explore ways of integrating skillsets within existing courses.
Phil Hamlett, Graduate Director of the School of Graphic Design at the Academy of Art University, argued that design schools are already excelling at certain aspects of these skillsets such as “empathy, imagination, critical thinking and collaboration skills.” Liz Gerber, Assistant Professor at the Segal Design Institute, Northwestern University and co-founder of Design for America (DFA) shared some tools she has helped develop: Design for America’s Design Process Guide and a new online and interactive platform to learn about design called the Digital Loft.
Building on publishing ideas from previous symposia, the group primarily focused on two projects of interest. First, the group would like to continue to develop Winterhouse’s Design and the Social Sector: An Annotated Bibliography. This living document is published under a Creative Commons license and subject to periodic expansion from a variety of contributors. The group explored the benefits of re-categorizing the bibliography to allow articles to be cross-listed under multiple topics. Second, the group would also like to create a reader that curates significant texts on design and social innovation. The reader could take any of several formats ranging from anthologies to chapbooks. A table of contents was started spanning topics such as: Business, Culture, Economics, Entrepreneurship, History, Life Science, Philanthropy, Politics, Public Health, Pedagogy, Social Science, Sustainability, and Technology.
An editorial committee comprised of Cameron Tonkinwise, William Drenttel, Lee Davis, and Elizabeth Gerber will continue to curate essays, articles, and excerpts and share progress with the group.
5. Mission Statement
In a breakout session, a small group attempted to help define where future Winterhouse symposia should lead. To do so, they arrived at a potential mission statement: “To articulate the value of social design education.” As a larger group, the participants explored and unpacked these words to better understand their long-term implications. With the leadership of Cheryl Heller, Phil Hamlett, Mike Weikert, David Mohney, the group plans to refine and elaborate on a mission statement before the next symposium.
6. Future Meetings
The participants expressed the desire to convene for future meetings and agreed to a Winterhouse Institute plan to convene the Fifth Symposium in August 2014. Further, the group is considering another event in six months. The location and other details of both events will be decided at a later date. Natacha Poggio, Assistant Professor, Visual Communication Design at the Hartford Art School, University of Hartford, surveyed the group to chart out who will be going to the same conferences throughout the year.
7. Credits and Sponsors
This symposium was curated by William Drenttel. It was sponsored by Winterhouse Institute with support from Sappi Fine Paper and the Design Observer Group. Additional support was kindly provided by the Yale School of Management Program on Social Enterprise, the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design. The Winterhouse Fourth Symposium on Design and Social Innovation is the continuation of a larger Winterhouse initiative around design and social innovation funded by the Rockefeller Foundation during 2009-2011. Previous symposia have taken place in Aspen (Colorado), Bellagio (Italy), Falls Village (Connecticut), and New Haven (Connecticut).
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