Experience Design! Featured Event | Reaching Across Cultures: International Design Initiatives

September 20, 2013 | DesignPhiladelphia, 2013 Festival

The University of the Arts presents Reaching Across Cultures: International Design Initiatives at the University of the Arts

Thursday, October 17 | 6:00 PM to 8:00PM
Terra Hall, University of the Arts 211 South Broad Street
Free and open to the public.

Students and faculty from the Industrial Design undergraduate and graduate programs at The University of the Arts traveled abroad this summer to initiate design projects in two very exciting and challenging locales in collaboration with local stakeholders there. Professor Mike McAllister and Professor Will McHale accompanied a group of undergraduate design students to Ndabibi, Kenya to continue an ongoing design collaboration with a local farmer and community leader, which expanded to address issues impacting the entire local community. Projects emerged that dealt with food preservation, understanding how rural Kenyans access and use water, problems with beginning female menstruation disrupting women's education, alternative cooking and fuel use, and sanitation and prevention of disease. Graduate students with Professor Jonas Milder and Professor Jeremy Beaudry from the Master of Industrial Design program traveled to Beirut, Lebanon to initiate a design research project investigating the translation of design methods and tools across cultures through the exploration of trust as experienced in the daily lives of Beirut citizens. Through co-design workshops, focused fieldwork, and rapid prototyping, the MID team worked with Lebanese students and designers to explore the shifting definition and application of design methods and tools in the Beirut context.

Reaching Across Cultures: International Design Initiatives, organized for DesignPhiladelphia 2013,  is an opportunity for the participating students and faculty to present a brief narrative of these experiences and, more importantly, to begin a discussion with others about the implications of practicing design in an international context. We’re hoping to have a broad and open discussion about what this work means for design and design education, and for the communities we seek to work with.

Expanding Design Practices as an Agent for Social Change
With the increasing complexity of social, technological, and ecological challenges, design practice has expanded its focus to become a significant agent of social transformation and innovation. Designers have at their disposal a number of tools and methods which give them a unique ability to partner with communities, organizations, and businesses to help initiate meaningful change. Professor Beaudry and others from the UArts program believe in the need to understand better how these design tools and methods translate across cultural, linguistic, and geographical lines. How do the underlying assumptions and values embedded within these practices sit within other cultural contexts? How might designers most appropriately enter into and engage other cultures? Professor Beaudry explains, "The University of the Arts has had the privilege of welcoming more and more international students into our institution over the last decade, and this is certainly the case in our design programs. We feel that these questions regarding the practice of design in different cultural and geographical contexts is absolutely relevant to our current student body and their future engagement with the design field. We want to impress upon people how difficult, how sensitive it is to enter into different parts of the world as designers, especially in the developing world, given the larger context of global and cultural politics. But even with all of these complex issues, we continue to hope that it is possible for designers working abroad to add value to what people around the world are already doing to change their situations, to learn together with others, and to support them in their desires and needs."

Connected to the Philadelphia Community
For the Industrial Design programs at UArts, Professor Beaudry says, "Philadelphia is a dynamic laboratory for students and faculty to work in, to explore the potential for design to contribute meaningfully to the lives of everyday people. Whether initiating projects in DIY manufacturing or urban food systems or organizational change, we strive to connect design education to real-world contexts and issues in the city so that students learn by doing while also seeing the impact of their design practice in the city they reside in. In keeping with the mission of UArts, we are preparing students to be strategic, creative leaders in the field of design that are connected to Philadelphia community." Prof. Beaudry tells me that The University of the Arts has been involved in a long process of strategic reorganization that has led to the creation of a new School of Design. He explains,"Design faculty at UArts are endeavoring to shape the future of design education with an increased emphasis on collaboration, cross-disciplinary activity, and student-led learning. We see design education as not only preparing students for entry into the professional world of design, but also equipping students with a broad set of critical thinking, creative, and collaborative skills that make it possible for them to anticipate and thrive in the unknowable, fast-changing world of the near future." Stayed tuned for more public projects and initiatives like these two international design projects which they believe will advance design education and design practice. For more information on The University of the Arts, School of Design see their website.

DesignPhiladelphia’s 9th Annual Festival, EXPERIENCEdesign! kicks off this year on the evening of October 9th with PopUp Place and festival events running from October 10 through 18. As a signature event of the Center for Architecture, DesignPhiladelphia showcases Philadelphia’s strong design and creative communities through more than 100 exhibitions, workshops, tours, lectures, open studios, and parties that celebrate design’s many dimensions, dynamics, and applications. To give you a sneak peek of things to come, we will be featuring 24 events on our blog; discussing their details and introducing you to the people behind them. Join us on Facebook and Twitter – where you can catch all 2013 Festival announcements and info!


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