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People-Centered is Pivotal for Visual Communication Design

November 17, 2015 / By Pamela Napier & Eric Benson

As part of the AIGA 2015 Design Conference,“revival,” the Design Educators Conference was held on Thursday, October 8th, 2015, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Our breakout session took the form of a one-hour charette entitled: “Creating Pedagogy for Participatory, People-Centered Design: Integrating a people-centered approach into visual communication design curriculum.” (A long title for a short charette!)

Our goal for this workshop was to gather, both practicing designers and educators to work together in small teams in order to generate ideas to better integrate a people-centered approach into contemporary visual communication design curriculum. Historically, people-centered design has not been a huge component of visual communication design education and professional practice. Design curriculum has instead been structured so the student works with the instructor through a mentor/mentee relationship, or as a service provider to an external client. Conversely, people-centered design enables and empowers all people to design. And when we say ‘people’ we mean users, customers, stakeholders–the actual people involved in the initial problem or challenge. This ‘bottom-up’ approach is inclusive and participatory, and helps people communicate their experiences, in order to frame root—or core—problems, and collaboratively create meaningful impact through solutions developed by the very people who will use or implement them.

The field of industrial design (and recently interaction/user experience design) has embraced people-centered design for decades. Their processes function best when this people-centered approach is fundamental to a project.

So, based on our field’s slower adoption of this approach, we first introduced the 25 participants to new models, processes, and frameworks for understanding People-Centered Design (which requires a combination of Mindset, Design Process and Methods), and how this approach has been integrated into two different visual communication courses taught by us at our respective universities. (You can view our presentation here.)

After this presentation, we led participants through a series of collaborative, generative activities using Sharpies, Post-Its, music, and provided worksheets to develop new ideas to transition three sample projects from a more traditional approach and curriculum, to one that used a more people-centered strategy.

At the conclusion of the charette, we promised everyone a document that compiled the outcomes of the workshop, as well as further fleshed out course examples, and additional resources for participants to consider how to integrate this aproach into their own courses and curriculum. To encourage more discussion and experimentation, we are also providing the results through the AIGA Design Educator’s Community blog for their readers to digest and share.

You can view the results here.

Eric Benson is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and co-founder of Re-nourish, LTD; and Pamela Napier is an Assistant Professor of Visual Communication Design at Indiana University, Herron School of Art and Design, and co-founder of Collabo Creative, LLC.

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