Project 3: Making Change

Project Prompt: Redesign something related to values you care about passionately in an organization you interact with almost daily.

STEP ONE: Define the pet peeve.

What is your pet peeve with your department, school, or CMU?

My pet peeve in the School of Design is a lack of intermingling between different years and tracks. This includes the grad students, undergraduates, communications designers, environments designers, etc. Though the issue itself doesn’t focus on sustainability or gender theory, I believe the two come into play quite frequently due to this overall lack of communication. 

Why do you think the issue you raised is in contradiction with the stated values of the organization? 

I think the School of Design presents itself as an institution that fosters interaction and produces students/future employees that can design for interactions. However, the school does not have clear, delineated, or frequent means of communicating and sharing projects with other years. The School of Design also expects a deep level of understanding, within all areas of design (communications, products, environments, service, innovation), from all of its graduates. Therefore, it is important to communicate with people who have different experiences to share about each area and how all of them work together in the field of design. Many students, however, have great misconceptions about what certain tracks and areas entail, and I believe this misconception early on has a negative impact on their understanding down the road. For example, one of my classmates in E track told me that they had a conversation with a freshman designer about which tracks they were interested in pursuing next year. The freshman stated that they were very interested in environments but that they probably couldn’t pursue it because they don’t have any coding skills. This is really disheartening to me; one because they somehow reached this conclusion which never should have occurred in the first place, and two because if this issue wasn’t addressed then the student would have chosen a track that was probably less interesting to them. In another instance, I was pretty unaware of how easy it was to compost in studios; all it took was the initiative of the students and the support of the staff and the school. If we have this sustainable vision for the future and hope to instill this code of ethics within our designers, shouldn’t we be doing more to encourage this from everyone, not just the grad and PhD students? 

Who would you need to participate in the transformative scenario conversation to change things? 

I think that this problem needs involvement of people from all levels of the system. It can start with me and my peers taking action to bring this to the attention of the professors and faculty. Then I think that Design League could play a part in creating more events that encourage and foster communication. I also think that more collaborative work could be done between the graduate students and the undergrads; I find the work that they are doing incredibly fascinating but I don’t have enough outlets and sources to learn more about it or see how it relates to my own design practice. One of the biggest sources that this transformative initiative needs to come from are the people who portray the image of the School of Design, such as Terry and some of the other faculty. That being said, I think change can really only come from within, from the people who are actually communicating across years, and who can see the benefit in keeping these channels open.

STEP TWO: Map it. 

To help visualize the problem space and the related systems behind the issue, I created several maps that deal with stakeholders, subsets of issues, goals, incentives, and possible solutions to the current communication gaps.




Defining Problem Areas


Current Communication


Stakeholders and Spaces


Goals and Incentives

 STEP THREE: Scenario. 

Scenario exercise copy

 STEP FOUR: Brainstorm.

Here are some alternative solutions to the problem I’ve described:

  1. Provide ample opportunities for freshman and sophomores to see and ask questions about the work that upperclassmen are doing.
  2. Have teachers do frequent (maybe monthly) check-ins with the freshmen about which tracks they may want to pursue next year.
  3. Echo the talk that Melissa gives to prospective freshman students to the freshmen again later in the year, because the odds are they’ve probably forgotten about most of what she talked about (i.e. kinds of projects each track does in each year, opportunities to socialize with design students, etc.)
  4. Since Environments is such a new track, it’s going to continue evolving in the coming years and is going to mean different things to different people (students, teachers, graduate students, PhD students, outside disciplines, etc.) therefore it might be useful to have these people come in to studios and give advice on projects from their own perspective of what environments means.
  5. Have the “Design the Future” lectures give undergraduates time to hear about how the work and research these people have done relates to the work that they could potentially do in future design classes. This might help gauge interests and niches for future study. Encourage the speakers to stop by studio classes and talk about their work/hear about the work the students are doing and give feedback.
  6. Expand the mentorship program (design buddies) to include the masters and graduate students. This would be a more direct and less intimidating way to encourage more open communication among everyone in design.
  7. Create a Facebook page (or some other equivalent) that will be a place for anyone in the grad, masters, and undergraduate programs to post outside projects they would like to work on and are seeking collaboration from other kinds of students. This will help to get students away from only seeking advice and help from peers within their track.
  8. Create an “Overheard in the School of Design” page where people can share the misconceptions they’ve either experienced or have heard others talk about, and allow others to offer their alternative perspectives as a way to right these misconceptions.
  9. Have teachers explore ways for students to “customize” project briefings or prompts so that they can explore areas that may be influenced by a combination of different tracks. This may help students who wished they had signed up for another track rather than the two they chose at the beginning of sophomore year.
  10. Towards the end of a big freshman project, have students from the year above come in to studio class for a couple of minutes (maybe 20) and talk to them about their projects as well as their own approaches when they completed this project. It will help to build relationships and also motivate and reassure the students as they work through the most time-consuming and stressful parts of their project.

STEP FIVE: Present.

Final Presentation PDF

STEP SIX: Reflect.

Making Change was a great project to help transition us from finding the ethos of an organization to finding ethos within systems you operate in and suggest areas of future improvement. I really appreciated and enjoyed the breakdown of each of the steps, as I think they were manageable but still contributed greatly to the overall goal of the project. I really enjoyed the activity that we completed the day that Kate Hamilton lectured the class about Bourdieu. It was interesting to discuss the different components of the design school with two of my classmates, neither of whom are in my track or year. We each had distinct ideas on what the goals of the design school are, as well as what the hidden or implied messages might be. At the same time, we all agreed on the problem areas and what issues were important to us. I think the exercise helped us to hone in on individual issues that we each felt passionately about, while still being influenced by the other areas we discussed during the activity.

Making the issue map in step two of the project was a really useful exercise for me. Having different visualizations of the stakeholders and how they relate to the different spaces within School of Design as well as how they tie into the overall mission of the school was a very interesting process. I enjoyed making different kinds of maps in order to uncover relationships and patterns that I may not have seen or noticed previously. It was also really wonderful to be able to share the mapping tool I used with other students, as they found it to be a useful platform and process as well. One of the hardest parts of this project was coming up with a future scenario that satisfies or fixes the issues we had uncovered previously in our mapping and conversation. I don’t think my solution was by any means a perfect one, but I selected one of the solutions I came up with and decided to run with it. I think this experience of creating a future scenario helped me to realize that there isn’t one big thing we need to do to solve an issue, it is more a collection of smaller things that make a greater impact. I believe this is one of the salient points of John Thackara’s argument when discussing large social and environmental change.

There are a couple of things I would have done differently for this project. One would have been to practice my presentation more. I felt pretty confident overall with my research and my concept for how to fix my pet peeve issue, however I don’t think I delivered it in the most effective way possible. Another thing I would change would be to include references directly from the School of Design website. Juan did this in his presentation and I thought it was a very persuasive method of explaining the current mission of the school and how this stated mission does not correlate with current actions taken by the school. Finally, I would have also tied in the readings and concepts we’ve gained over the past couple of weeks, specifically the Bourdieu and Fry readings on habitus, sustainability, and social fields.

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