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Monday, October 6, 2014

Design Futures Forum Reflections

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Above: Design Futures Forum meeting at the Grow Dat Youth Farm in New Orleans

This past June, six students from the College of Design got the opportunity to travel, along with faculty member James Wheeler, to the second annual Design Futures Public Interest Design Student Leadership Forum. The gathering, this year held at Tulane University's School of Architecture in New Orleans, is an effort to bring together students and leaders in public interest design for discussion and exploration of design in the public interest. The event this past year included 10 workshops, 26 speakers, and 65 students from across the globe. Below are three short reflections on the experience, written by some of the Minnesota students who attended:

Faith Lindner

A particular dialogue stands out from Design Futures 2014 when Bryan Bell spoke about establishing a "greater good by collective action." He mentioned a quote by Hans Henrik Knoop: "As advanced humans our adaptation now more than ever seems to depend on our ability to understand and create truthfully, beautifully, and in a moral and ethical way." There is such wisdom and truth in these words; they have challenged me to think about my intentions, standards, and morals as a designer. Participation, accountability, and transparency also hold much weight within the design field, and even more, emphasizing direct access to the end users of the system one is working with. As Maurice Cox brought out, "Nothing about us without us is for us" and this has truly set a mindset for me.

Elena Brown
One of the most significant lessons that I learned during the week, was the importance of collaborative efforts. Throughout the week I was able to network with a vast amount of like minded and driven scholars, professionals, enthusiasts, advocates, teachers, etc. It was in these interactions, that I was most able to learn. I feel that the ability to collaborate is a critical component of leadership. Collaboration increases the capacity of your ideas, missions, and efforts. It is crucial to the creation of projects that have a lasting impact. This conference pushed me collaborate. Throughout the entire week, the conference allotted abundant time for fellowship amongst fellow DF participants. In this time, we developed lasting connections as we got to know each other, expressed our motives and goals, and showcased our talents. During my undergraduate academic career, I was often surrounded by students of a similar positionality which limited the dialogues that could occur. The participants of this conference were of diverse races, ages, professional fields, academic tracks, geographic locations, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. This led to very interesting discourse in and out of the classrooms. I REALLY enjoyed being able to work with the older, more experienced minds, a luxury that is less common in undergraduate academia. Graduate students have a way of pushing and contributing to class discussions in a way that most undergraduates fail to do. During this conference I was not only able to converse with numerous graduate students, but also with well-versed professionals, Ph.D. Students, and incredibly well-spoken and interesting public interest design enthusiasts. The dialogues that emerged from this interpositonality, was profound, inspiring, challenging, and very encouraging for people like me, who are fresh out of college, with no professional experience, and in a transitional period of life. I now have a solid contact list, to depend on when I need advice, references, or good conversations.

Evan Hildebrand
"I don't know." It was these three words that stood out most prominently at the end of the 2014 Design Futures Public Interest Design Student Leadership Forum in New Orleans; and this is a good thing. To explain: I was in Bryan Bell and Teresa Hwang's workshop "Good Deeds, Good Design, Good Work," exploring professional ethical standards for the field of public interest design. With a small group of students, our task was to have a discussion about ethics important for designers in the public interest. We ended up having a long, deep, open and incredibly honest conversation about race, inequality and the role of designers, a conversation that was brought back to the larger group and ended up in three words written by Bryan Bell in dry-erase marker: I don't know. They represent, for me, the first steps of public interest design - admitting you don't know what's best, and turning instead to listen to the community. They represent design with, not for. The open and honest conversation that led to "I don't know" is the same kind of discussion we should be having not just as students, not even just as public interest designers, but as designers period, to bring more of the empathetic focus of public interest design into a much broader sphere. So, after attending this forum, what exactly does the future of public interest design - and my own future in it - hold? I don't know, but I'm not afraid to admit it, and that seems like a pretty good place to start.

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