Anatomy of a Workshop on Visual Pathmaking

Last weekend, long-time friend of the program, Jonny Goldstein of Envisualize, returned to DSI to lead a 2-day visualization workshop that explores the integrated practice of listening, drawing, and interacting as a way to visualize complex systems and processes in the context of design project work.

In keeping with the spirit of Jonny’s approach, Lixin Kang (1st-year graduate student) captured the richness and flow of the workshop in this beautiful storyboard sketch.

visual thinking workshop-first day

visual thinking workshop-second day

Anatomy of a Workshop on Visual Pathmaking

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 at 12:00 pm by Jeremy Beaudry.
DSI at BWxD14 (part III)

Reflection on BWxD14 by DSI graduate student Davis Hermann

This past weekend, I had an opportunity to attend a design conference called A Better World by Design (BWxD) in Providence, Rhode Island.  The conference was a 3-day, popular event run entirely by students at either Brown or RISD.  The event was quite large, with hundreds of attendees and dozens of speakers and workshops.  I was amazed by the scale of the event, especially given that the organizers are students.  The theme this year was Wayfinding – a great topic – but most of the conference events were geared towards the interests of the presenters rather than the overall theme.

I had a variety of responses to the speakers, but one huge bonus of watching so many presentations back to back is that I had a chance to see what was and wasn’t working in a very concentrated, comparable way.  Some speakers had beautiful slides, while others used slides that were purely utilitarian and content-driven.  One thing they all shared is that every presenter relied primarily on images and simple graphics rather than densely-worded slides or ones with complicated visual representations.  Rather, all the presenters were able to supplement simple slides with the necessary context to keep their narrative going.

Some presenters stayed very conceptual, while others dove deep into the specifics of the methods and actions used for individual projects.  This was another important aspect of the conference for me – seeing the gradient between narratives that stayed high level and those that reached a degree of granularity.  My favorite presentations generally slid all the way across that spectrum, but others, like a presentation about energy, human carrying capacity, and spirituality, never mentioned a single action or method.

Ultimately, the key to capturing my attention was building a basic structure of an argument to explain why you did what you did, how you did it, and what the impact was.  There is room for high-level thinking in this structure, but I think these are the fundamental touchpoints for anyone presenting project-based work, which almost everyone was.  The impact piece was where many presenters lost me.  Some presenters avoided the question of measuring impact altogether, while many more relied on subjective, descriptive language to characterize the impact of their work.  I’m realizing that one thing we do in our graduate program very well is insist on building impact measurement into the design process.

DSI at BWxD14 (part III)

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 at 10:45 am by Jeremy Beaudry.
DSI at BWxD14 (part II)

Reflection on BWxD14 by DSI Post-graduate Fellow Min Yeh

A part of the design process to explore what is happening in the design/social design world is to go out and talk to people. In this case, both designers and non-designers who utilize the design process to make change in the world. I am grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of Better World by Design, gaining insights and inspirations from diverse projects which have been done by other designers within their own specialties. What I experienced in the three-day event was a design marathon full of creativity and energy throughout. It was a well-planned, content-rich, and student-oriented conference that brought designers and students from different cities and backgrounds together.

The theme of 2014 “WAYFINDING” set up an inviting tone for participants from different fields, introducing us to a variety of ways to navigate the expanding spectrum of design for social impact. Since the presentations and workshops covered a dynamic range, from science to the arts, usage of technology to formation of a community, it helped me as a designer to re-define the concept map of how and where design can make impact in the world. Those landmarks included: education, social entrepreneurship, civic design, community engagement, global projects and the discussion surrounding them not only shaped the territory of the present tense of design, but also set the right questions to frame how design will work tomorrow: Why and how does design function in different projects? What are the collaboration opportunities across design and multi-discipline. When I reflected back to this web of design constructed through the conference, I began to have a new perspective on where I am now and where I might want to go in this design field.

DSI at BWxD14 (part II)

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 at 10:44 am by Jeremy Beaudry.
DSI at BWxD14

Reflection on BWxD14 by DSI Director Jeremy Beaudry

I had the great pleasure to attend for the second time A Better World By Design in Providence, RI, an annual gathering of students, educators, and professionals which is organized by students at Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. Many kudos go out to the student organizers and volunteers, who have consistently managed one of the most engaging and well-run design conferences I have been to — from the delicious meals and efficient waste management (diligent recycling and composting) to the roster of impressive presenters to the energizing social events. Accompanying me were 2nd year graduate student, Davis Hermann, and post-graduate fellow, Min Yeh, who share some of their reflections on the conference in subsequent posts (part II and part III).

We go to BWxD to meet with other like-minded students and practitioners who share our belief that designers have an important role to play in making meaningful change in the world, whether our own backyards or further afield in more remote locations with a host a partners and stakeholders. The conference presents an amazing opportunity to share the work we do at UArts and connect with potential partners and guests, possible employers for our students, and future DSI graduate students. With so many connections made and stories exchanged, I ended the weekend with an overwhelming sense of having found a real community of people (from within design but also other disciplines) who are passionate about the power of design help create the sustainable, just world we wish to see.

A few highlights for me personally:

>> Marc O’Brien, BWxD veteran and super-connector, kicked off the conference with a series of stories pointing to the power and importance of relationships in creating the foundation for how we do good work — together. Marc also facilitated a couple of really well-run design thinking workshops that demonstrated how smart people with a couple of hours and clear scaffold can generate a great deal of creative approaches to any number of problems.

>> Friday ended with a bang. The last speaker session paired talks by Sarah Williams, Director of the Civic Data Design Lab at MIT, and Michael Ben-Eli, founder of the Sustainability Laboratory. Sarah presented several detailed case studies of projects by the Civic Data Design Lab which demonstrate the use of dynamic data and spatial mapping to discovery deep patterns and insights within complex socio-spatial issues. Michael took us on an ambitious philosophical journey exploring the “cosmic function of design” and the many great challenges we face in the face of catastrophic, irreversible climate change. He argued for design as a force for sustainability which can and should account for interdependency, contain entropy, and enhance and maintain diversity. Paired together, these two talks expressed a wonderful synthesis of both the context of our most pressing challenges as well as the tools we might use to address them. I carried these thoughts with me as we found our way later Friday night to the BWxD BBQ & beer party, where we met lots of new friends and strained to hear about each others’ projects over the very loud and danceable music.

>> I met too many interesting people to recount here, yet the clear highlight for me of the conference was learning about so many designers, initiatives, programs and small- to mid-sized design firms who are really making a place for themselves in this emerging space of social design. Granted, we social designers have much to do to evaluate the impact we’re having, as well as to problematize our work and methods and mature as a field (if it could be called that). But the community is here and it is robust and the opportunities are exciting.

Read reflections by Davis Hermann (2nd Year graduate student) and Min Yeh (post-graduate fellow).

DSI at BWxD14
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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 at 10:42 am by Jeremy Beaudry.