Community Design Matters: A New Model of Learning

By Susan Melsop.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Providing university students learning opportunities beyond the classroom walls and responding to the needs and lifestyle aspirations of a disenfranchised community were the motivations for the development of a service-learning course. Offered by the Department of Design at a major university in the United States, the interdisciplinary service-learning course served a non-profit organization in an outreach capacity.
In order to engage with the non-profit and design collaboratively with the program directors and urban teens served by the organization, university students were asked to create a series of ‘tool kits’ that would facilitate conversation and the design process. As a set of discrete words, objects and images, the ideas conveyed through the use of the artefacts in the tool kits had symbolic meaning and representational value. Their messages and use were intended to empower non-designers to communicate and express their intentions and aspirations. In this service-learning course, tool kits were a means of communicative action and facilitated the design process to create common goals, build trust and foster relationships.
Informed by the theoretical discourse of Jürgen Habermas, the pilot course aimed for communal participatory action and mutually beneficial, cooperatively attained goals. While university students studied the interrelated topics of social equity, economics, and environmental stewardship, the adaptive reuse of a historic structure provided a real world context for collaboratively designed projects. The highly situated context enabled university students to move beyond a theoretical framework and apply practical knowledge.
This paper explores the opportunities and challenges of partnering with a non-profit organization to engage in communicative action and collaborative design. It provides a new model of learning in a real world context and demonstrates the possibilities of social transformation through participatory co-design methods.

Keywords: Design Pedagogy, Collaborative Design, Community Engagement, Service-Learning, Social Sustainability, Participatory Action, Design Ethics

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 4, Issue 6, pp.41-56. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 10.164MB).

Susan Melsop

Assistant Professor of Design, Industrial, Interior, Visual Communications Design Department, College of the Arts and Humanities, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA

Susan Melsop is an assistant professor in the Department of Design at The Ohio State University. Prior to this appointment, she taught design studios and graduate seminars at the Knowlton School of Architecture at OSU. She holds a Master of Architecture from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Bachelor in Architecture from The Ohio State University. Though her formal training is in architecture, Susan’s work mediates between the scale of building, installations, furniture and sculpture. Her research interests include design pedagogy and reflective practices, sustainable building practices and environmental aesthetics. Early and influential studies include East Asian philosophy, Buddhism and the hermeneutics of sacred space.


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