A few weeks ago (April 2-3, 2011) the AIGA Chicago Chapter held their first ever event which tasked designers to work side-by-side with with a client (Growing Home) to collaboratively solve their strategic needs. This sold-out two-day event embraced the idea of Co-Design. Co-Design (or Collaborative Design) argues that the best and most sustainable design solution will come from a participatory model that includes and values the people affected by the outcome of the project. This means that the not-for-profit Growing Home was integrally embedded in the discussions and a voice valued in the solution.
The first day of the Co-Design event was designed to help the participants escape their comfort zone and learn the importance of including their values within a collaborative design process. Bernard Canniffe, famous for his work on Project M and his Piece Studio, started off the day by asking the designers to "think wrong." He argued that the education they experienced in design school has taught them not to value people and is a flawed process that doesn't explore the full potential we all have as designers. To do this he ran the participants through exercises that made them rethink what the design process actually is and how outcomes need to be put aside from the beginning and instead focus on simply designing the correct solution. A poster isn't the answer. A poster can create awareness but it doesn't solve the root problem.
Bernard's workshops ended just before lunch allowing everyone to reflect over some killer sandwiches and cookies how they truly approached design, and most importantly "what was important?" After the Jedi Masters of Co-Design Pamela Napier and Lee Vanderkooi from IUPUI in Indianapolis, IN kept the momentum moving beyond the idea of "thinking wrong" to focusing on our own values as designers. Their active stepping stone workshop provided the necessary background for the designers to jump into the project full steam on day two.
After another quick "thinking wrong" workshop engineered by Bernard to get the collaborators moving, four IUPUI graduate students facilitated co-design brainstorming sessions with designers and members of the NPO Growing Home. The discussions were intense, imaginative, and filled with sticky notes and scribbles. The results of the last day discussions provided Growing Home, not with a new logo or a series of beautifully typeset and colorful posters, but instead a set of pragmatic options that put the organization on a more strategic path to reach their goals. This type of design-thinking is a more sustainable solution.
The Co-Design event was created in hopes of creating actionable and thoughtful steps for Growing Home to carry forward. In that light it was a success. A handful of the 30+ participants voiced their desire to continue working with Growing Home and implement the possible solutions. Many of which did involve the typical graphic design outcomes, that fit their skillets the best. Seemingly a good amount of the post-event feedback pointed towards getting to the brainstorming sooner than day two. However, without the co-design background, the solutions may not have been so solid. In a future iteration of this kind of event in Chicago or in other AIGA chapters, this issue should be addressed. But, most importantly, after attending this event, the designers have the experience now to get to making more sustainable and effective design solutions in their studios.
The event was put together with the combined brain power of Dawn Hancock (Firebelly Design), Eric Benson (Re-nourish), Pamela Napier (IUPUI), Lee Vanderkooi (IUPUI), and members of AIGA Chicago Brendan Shanley & Allison Strauss. Their efforts over a year and a half period helped make this event a great success, trailblazing a path for more to come in Chicago.