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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What is the Difference between Public Interest Design and Design Activism?

Design at Noon Poster V.1.jpg
Poster for the Design @ Noon session, designed by Eugene Park

"Design @ Noon" are a series of discussions, three over the course of this spring of 2015, that are meant to create a dialogue based on themes that emerge from the strategic plans of units within the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. Their overall goal is helping make the whole of the College of Design greater than the sum of its parts. Each session focuses on a different topic that was identified as key in the existing strategic planning activities. While attendance is open to all, some interested faculty, students, and outside partners are identified ahead of time and invited to the table.

The first Design @ Noon session, held on February 27th, 2015, facilitated by Associate Dean of Research, Renee Cheng, examined the question, "What is the difference between public interest design and design activism?" Over 30 attendees that included students, staff and faculty from across the College and beyond were present to discuss this topic. Breaking into groups of 3-4 people to discuss their involvement with public interest design (PID) they discussed a series of three questions related to PID and design activism in detail.

The three questions were:

  • What is PID and design activism? What are the differences?

  • What I/we really need is ______ to make our work even better

  • Wouldn't it be great if the community knew ______ about the College of Design?

Discussion at the PID/Design Activism Design @ Noon session

These three questions elicited a wide range of discussion as a large group. Some of the topics discussed included: Who is exactly is meant by "public," and what is in their interest?; Should all design be considered "in the public interest"?; a possible distinction between PID and design activism being where design activism relates to change and provoking, while PID relates to serving; the need and desire to connect with other groups throughout the University, and to make the work more visible and accessible to the general public; ways to ensure the public and community groups are fully included, and that they are aware of the resources the College of Design can provide.

At the end of this discussion, a consensus was reached for two outcomes/next steps. They are: to explore starting a Design Issue Area Network at the University Office for Public Engagement, to bring the community-focused work within the College to a broader University level; and to find a venue for communicating within the College and University at large before reaching out to community partners regarding projects.

The next Design at Noon event is on the connection between thinking and making, Wednesday April 22, Rapson Hall Room 225. Hope to see you there!

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