FLEX 3 – Design Principles and Practices

FLEX is a self-directed CPD scheme run by MMU’s Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). In my current role at the university I’m going to taking part in FLEX by reflecting on my professional development here on the blog. If you’re interested in finding out more about my teaching practice, read on!

Design Principles and Practices Conference
Part 1
12th – 14th March 2015

Design Principles and Practices (DPP) is an annual, international conference, with themed strands including Design Education and Design in Society. I attended this year to deliver a workshop based on my research as a designer, and with the intention of expanding my knowledge of current and upcoming thinking in design pedagogy. The conference also presented an opportunity for me to gain confidence as in my abilities as a researcher, and network with other professionals in my field.

Across the three days I met academics, researchers and students from a range of disciplines, from all around the world, as well as attending over 20 talks on subjects from inclusive design to studio teaching.

conference notes
Some of the many pages of notes I scribbled during the conference

Two themes in particular stood out for me: the place of social justice in design teaching, which I’ll explore here, and the potential for off-campus teaching, which I’ll explore in a future post.

Social issues, and the place of design in reacting to and engaging with these issues, are central to my design practice, but not fully explored in the content of my teaching. The place of design in society is succinctly described by superstar designer Milton Glaser (De Villeneuve, 2015), ‘the starting point… is the Hippocratic Oath, do no harm… design has impact on society’, and at DPP Gregory (2015) and Nelson (2015) presented different ways of introducing this idea into design teaching, and the potential problems therein.

The approach used by Nelson introduces a theme of social cause, embedded as part of a project focused on the basics of Illustrator and InDesign, at an early stage, asking students to create a poster in response to an issue they feel strongly about. While this does introduce the ‘power of design’ at an early stage, I am concerned that the combination of learning to find one’s voice and learning software packages simultaneously could lead to students getting distracted from the message in favour of the medium.

Gregory’s approach is much more logistically difficult to enact, working directly with community members on a live brief for Habitat for Humanity. This gave students an insight into the many aspects of community-engaged work, whilst embedding a ‘reciprocal’ mindset; the community partner teaches the student, and vice versa. While this approach provides valuable ‘real world’ experience I felt that, as the project was not completed due to resistance from board members, the ultimate disappointment of the experience might dissuade students from pursuing similar work in the future.

I plan to begin to introduce these ideas in an upcoming workshop series, running during the 2015 General Election. The content of the workshop series has been informed by the social justice approach used by Nelson (2015), beginning with guided discussion of election processes, and issues affecting students. Exploring these ideas using media traditionally associated with protest graphics (collage, stencil, screenprint) will introduce these techniques, while emphasisng the relationship between media and message. Holding these sessions in the university environment limits the ‘real world’ impact, but I hope that it will build student confidence encouraging them to pursue further projects in society.

Words: 507

Things to do…

  • Further research strategies for introducing sensitive issues in teaching
  • Define ways to develop student understanding of election processes (begin with Election! exhibit at People’s History Museum)
  • Collect examples of protest graphics, both local and international

De Villeneuve, P. (2015). Studio Visit | Milton Glaser. [Online Video]. 27 March. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/video/t-magazine/100000003596167/milton-glaser-studio-visit.html. [Accessed: 08 April 2015].
Gregory, A., (2015). Service Learning and Social Justice in Architecture Education: Teaching Students to Design for the “Other”. At Design Principles and Practices. Chicago, IL, March.
Nelson, Prof. M., (2015). Seventeen Years of Social Cause in the Classroom. At Design Principles and Practices. Chicago, IL, March.

Further Reading
Ed. Heller, S. & Vienne, V, 2003. Citizen Designer. Allworth Press,U.S..
Shea, A., 2012. Designing for Social Change: Strategies for Community-based Graphic Design. Princeton Architectural Press.
Election! Exhibition, People’s History Museum


2 thoughts on “FLEX 3 – Design Principles and Practices

  1. Hi Kate,

    Lovely to see that the conference was so valuable for you and in so many different ways and I think you could use this experience for more than 1 FLEX activity. For example, the reference you make to Learning Spaces could be something to explore separately.

    You mention social making. It will be useful from the outset to define what you exactly mean and how this sits within the current literature. You have started becoming critical and problematise some of the literature you are referrring too and this is really useful and will help you develop your own voice and position yourself.

    Remember to be focused and make clear links to your practice and include specific examples. I would also suggest to add further details to your plan as this is what will show that you are committed to take an idea forward.

    You have made a good start with this post. Please take the above into consideration to finalise this post. Well done so far!


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