Thursday, January 14, 2010

The power of Design to inform, influence, pursuade and affect positive change

Please Recycle

Design functions to organize, clarify, persuade, add dimension and depth to an otherwise ubiquitous idea. Good design will simplify and facilitate our everyday life, enable us to accomplish our tasks more effectively, and help us to enjoy the details along the way.

For the past two years, FRANK has participated in a wonderful program sponsored by the Design Exchange, the Ontario Arts Council and TD Bank Financial called Designers in the Classroom. Designers from across the city are dispatched by the design exchange to lead a class in a curriculum based project that centres around design.

Each participating designer leads the students through the program with the assistance of the classroom teacher and the Design Exchange. During the program, students learn about form and function, as well as the general principles of design. Each designer provides a context by presenting examples in art and design history as well as contemporary art and design works, and leads their students through a project. Each project follows the design process and includes the development of a portfolio of preliminary sketches and drawings leading to a final prototype.

The culmination of this program is an exhibition of the student-produced work at the Design Exchange. This exhibition also highlights the designers through a profile and photo of the work currently being produced in their practice. The exhibition is a great opportunity for all of the students and their families to see the work on display.

For the second consecutive year, FRANK sent Richard Carmichael out to a local public school in the Toronto Area, to engage with the community and participate the program. This year Richard lectured at Orde Street Public School in Toronto. He partnered up with Ms. Karen Hughes and lectured to her Grade 2/3 class about the evidence of design all around us. How it permeates our lives on every level. How it impacts us. He talked about its power to inform, to inspire, to influence and to affect positive change in an embattled world. How anybody, no matter how small, has the ability to take on a challenge and make a meaningful difference.

An essential part of this curriculum is media literacy which involves understanding graphic design, what forms it might might take, the language we use and where they might encounter examples of it: (um, its everywhere!) TV, video games, movie posters, movies, videos, billboards, transit shelters, bus and subway ads, newspapers, magazines, brochures, pamphlets, packaging, point of purchase display items, the internet and all of its myriad of channels—YouTube, Flickr, Facebook etc.

In an early lesson we discussed the components of a good public awareness campaign. We talked about TV, Radio, Advertising, posters, direct mail, print campaigns, online ads etc. We then narrowed the focus down to one item in a campaign, like an ad or a poster and explored the potential of this as a medium for delivering a message or influencing people and/or behaviors. We studied some examples together and then had the kids review some other examples in groups and present their thoughts to the class. Discussing all of the elements. Visual Image, overall message, headline, subheads and body or descriptive copy, logos etc.

Then we introduced the topic of our natural environment. Asking the students about all of the things that make up the environment we live in and why all living things around us are important. We talked a little bit about the forests, the trees, the oceans, lakes and rivers and natural habitats for wildlife. Then moved on to discuss wildlife, urban life and how the two have evolved over time and are now often in conflict with each other.

We talked about how the ever expanding civilization of the human race comes at the expense of the natural environment. How it has come so far that the health and safety of our environment, natural habitats and living things are being threatened by our own progress. We discussed some examples of that like how logging in the forests takes habitat away from animals, and the pollution of our oceans, lakes and waterways threatens not only our water supply but the very existence of the species that depend on it for survival. How years and years of polluting the air with carbon emissions from factories and cars is causing global warming, the melting of the polar ice caps and threatening the survival of entire species, like the Polar bear etc, etc.

We asked them to think about and talk about that. What it means to them and why.

The mission here was to inspire a sense of awe and appreciation over our natural world. To foster a sense of ownership and stewardship over all of these things and a sense of control, of hope and of possibility that each of us has the power to make the changes that are necessary to reverse the damage that has been done by man over time. That it is our job to let the world know that these things are important and that we need to do something, to act now if we are going to make a meaningful difference. That we as individuals can do things no matter how small that will contribute collectively to create positive change.

Next Class, we spent some time on what we all know about air and water and animals in the environment and contemplate our individual interests together to help each child focus on a topic that is important to them. We assigned a project that was to culminate in the end with a inique personal mission for each child and a campaign poster created by every student in the room.

Each student was to choose their own cause to take ownership of and was to make a poster to help support that cause in their local community. We asked the kids to take this idea home and think about it and come to class next week with their own personal cause in mind. We asked them to seek out and find sources of information related to the causes they are interested in and bring them in to class for next week. We also contacted some environmental support organizations like GreenPeace and the Wilderness Committee to request support collateral to help arm the kids with words and images to use in their effort. We are very grateful to them for their support.

Then of course there is the visual aspect of it—gathering the images and putting it all together. We spent one class looking at what people brought in to show us and discuss, then presented and passed around additional samples of marketing collateral as provided from a wide variety of environmental activists (World Wildlife Foundation, Greenpeace, Environmental Defence, Wildnerness Comittee etc). The kids were very busy cutting out pictures, headlines, subheads, body copy, and logos etc to come up with a unique and original mashup poster of their own. This was the primary activity for two or three consecutive weeks of classes.

It has been an incredible experience, both for the teachers and the students. This year, Richard is reporting back to review how the process went and to show you some examples of the work that was produced as a result. You will see the amazing work of some very bright and talented kids from Ms. Hughes class at Orde Street, plus that of all the other talented designers and classrooms participating in the program on display at the Design Exchange, but we will give you a sneak peek here as well.

In the end, each child has produced their own poster, which has been photographed and printed, mounted and put on display for your enjoyment over there at the Design Exchange. What you will see here in the DX Poject Gallery is the product of eight weeks of work by these very bright and talented kids. The originals will be posted on display at their school as a reminder to their family, friends and community to admire and respect the world we live in, take ownership of it and take care of it for future generations.

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