Designing Design Into Society

September 11th and 12th Commemorate 9/11 and Community Engagement

September 11th will forever represent a day of remembrance for Americans and most especially for New Yorkers, perceived as thick-skinned, stoic, resilient people.  However, while a nation is forever unified, the emotions, memories and experiences endured by New Yorkers directly related to the event, still remains fragile, sensitive and possibly unresolved for many. The 9/11 memorial anticipates visitors from across the country to join at the heart of the Big Apple, as a means of honoring the thousands of men, women and children that were killed due to terrorist attacks.

The design of the 9/11 memorial occupies approximately eight acres, where the former World Trade Center once towered above the tightly-woven cityscape. “Architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker created the Memorial design selected from a global design competition that included more than 5,200 entries from 63 nations” (911).

Any American will tell you exactly what they were doing, wearing, eating or thinking at the moment that the attacks occurred on September 11th, 2001–an event of grandiose scale and sadly, a painful reminder. The 9/11 memorial is a prominent example that design serves as a means of historical, cultural and emotional value. Design is a vehicle for uniting a common belief, interest or tribute and it occurs everywhere, everyday in communities large and small.

On September 11th, 2012, eight hundred and fourteen miles away from the World Trade Center Site, a different type of community design project emerged in the economically depressed area of Savannah, Georgia. Scott Boylston, Professor of Design for Sustainability at the Savannah College of Art and Design and founder of the Design Ethos conference, held a three-day workshop to address the needs of community-based business leaders and residents. The workshop, titled the DO-ference, addressed key points in relation to existing needs and civic involvement, including:

1. How to align design with an already existing city-sponsored revitalization project (the Waters Avenue Revitalization Project)
2. How to perform design that acts as a catalyst for positive change, and
3. How to refocus on the design process as a solution to open the door for dialog between practitioner and user

“The goals for the Waters Avenue Revitalization Project are to:

1. Improve the quality of life for all residents
2. Build community partnerships
3. Make Waters Avenue a destination for families, business and community life
4. Eliminate challenges that threaten neighborhood vitality
5. Establish new resources to support neighborhood development” (Boylston).

Teams of designers, civic leaders, business owners and design experts collaborated in six projects that was the focus of the DO-ference. Design professionals and students ranged in areas of: interior design, architecture, urban design, service design, graphic design, sustainable design, and historic preservation. The creative collaboration and differences of idea proposals offered a means to design for innovation and for facilitation. “Updates on each of the projects will be posted on the Design Ethos blog, but the ultimate goal of the DO-ference is to empower local assets to do the work they’ve always aspired to do. The conference is a means of the richest human interactions that result from this endeavor and continue to be experienced in the intimate spaces between residents along Waters Avenue” (Boylston).

Bolyston’s DO-ference is an excellent example of proactive, community-based, design thinking aimed to solve a local (and widespread) issue: poverty. Poverty accounts for nearly 46 million Americans and approximately 16.6 million other Americans are classified as below poverty or homeless (U.S. Census). I believe that in order for Boylston’s concept to become the status quo in graphic design, design educators, students and advocates need to actively lead design-thinking in collaboration. Where there is a crisis, there is a need to investigate and form a solution.


Works Cited

911 Memorial. Design Overview. 9/11 Memorial. Accessed: 17 Sept. 2012. Web.

Boylston, Scott. Designing Design into Society. Design Observer. 11 Sept. 2012. Accessed: 17 Sept. 2012. Web.

U.S. Census. Below Poverty Level. 2009. United States Census Bureau. Web. Accessed: 17 Sept. 2012.