Placemaking Studio: Design Thinking/Design Justice

By: John Monberg, PhD - Member of the CCED's Faculty Board of Advisors

How can universities support the spaces for representation, communication, and deliberation communities require to develop meaningful visions for their future?

This question is vital, but abstract.

Some of concrete answers include a Date-Your-City application, a series of carefully crafted posters, and an instagram account with a visual identity that expresses what is distinctive about a neighborhood.

These student projects emerged from the Placemaking Studio: Design Thinking/Design Justice project run by faculty members Dr. John Monberg, Writing Rhetoric and American Cultures and Experience Architecture, Dr. David Sheridan in the Residential College of Arts and Humanities, and Dr. Julian Chambliss from the Department of English. We developed a Spartan Studio course using the experiential, student centered approaches that are hallmarks of the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology. We benefited from support from The Hub, especially by the work of Dr. Eleanor Louson.

This project asked students from the WRA 410 Advanced Web Authoring and the RCAH 112 Writing, Research and Technologies courses to explore the intersection of design thinking and placemaking. This focus allowed students to investigate a wide range of topics, including community dialogue, place-based ethics, the way the skills of the arts and humanities are applied in real-world settings, design thinking, iterative design, and more.

We developed close relationships with our community partners, the Eastside neighborhood in Lansing and the Lansing Makers Network.

The mission of the Eastside project was to get voices engaged early, helping to establish a vision that takes the known voices and layers to thoughtful ideas to spark the conversation to form a well-crafted plan that balances uses, public spaces and density and apportions these on a broader visionary tract.

The mission of the Lansing Makers Network project was to assist in bringing diverse people, experiences, and ideas together in a safe environment; to meld technology, art, and culture in new and exciting ways; to share skills, tools, and inspiration.

Faculty worked hard to craft a detailed design thinking process, engage students with a deep understanding of the culture of the community partners they worked with, and align a network of connections with community partners, technical support from MSU, and sophisticated user research techniques.

The persona technique was especially powerful. In our Design Thinking/Design Justice approach, faculty assembled a complex resource of existing government reports, interviews, demographic data collected by marketers, and immigrant cookbooks. Students used this information to craft personas which represent important social groups in the community. Student projects were focused on achieving important goals for their personas, providing both a deep understanding of the goals, values, experiences and daily routines of their personas and a representation of the full range of social groups in the community.

In the future, we see a crucial role for humanities perspectives to amplify the technical work around autonomous vehicles and Smart City projects. As the cancellation of the Google Sidewalk project in Toronto shows, these projects cannot succeed unless community participants resolve issues of equity, privacy, and fit with daily routines and goals. We believe MSU can be at the forefront of developing the capacity required to accomplish these requirements for democratic citizenship in a diverse, global, information economy.

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