AIGA’s GAIN: Implementing Social Change
How can visual communication promote social change? That’s the big question our visual communication class is asking this quarter. Though we are specifically focusing on visual communication and sustainability, I find it important to try and learn from any designers and communicators who try and make an impact with complex social issues through visual communication. This week, I was lucky enough to attend AIGA’s Gain: Design for Social Change Conference at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
The conference invited “design, business and social innovation leaders from a variety of industries share their visionary approaches to creating social value.” According to the marketing materials, these speakers would “demonstrate the broadening role design plays in institutional strategy, leadership, process and service, product and message, and how the creative attributes of designers provide special advantages to tackling socially relevant projects and enhancing the human experience.” I personally believe this is a pretty difficult thing to demonstrate but I was sure the conference would at least provide our class inspiring ideas.
One particular workshop that I found especially relevant to our sustainability project was titled “Implementing Social Change” and was lead by Andréa Pellegrino, founder of Pellegrino Collaborative and University of Notre Dame Associate Professor Robert Sedlack. Andréa identified as a “Social Impact Strategist” and now that is my new career goal – ha. She actually does not have a traditional background in design but began her career as a publisher. She eventually was connected to design projects through AIGA and Design Ignites Change. Yet another instance where a communication professional ends up working intimately with projects of visual communication.
Pellegrino and Sedlack spoke primarily about the together + project they’ve been involved in for about 2 years. The together + project is an anti-xenophobia campaign to reduce fear and build connections and community in South African neighborhoods where South Africans and refugees compete for scant resources. They showed this video below to help attendees understand the context of the problem.
Leaders of the project decided their multilingual campaign would be educational in focus and would try to convey misconceptions of common stereotypes and South African and refugee’s common humanity. Eventually, they came up with a community mural project, a healthcare rights campaign (this looked like a small brochure), a welcome to South Africa Guide and a “Blooming Together” children’s book. Pellegrino mentioned that the children’s book was really the center of the campaign. This was partly because in their initial interviews with students (Pellegrino and Sedlack had interviewed 3rd, 6th and 11th graders back in October of 2011), they noticed the 3rd graders were the most malleable in their opinions about refugees. I personally think this was a really interesting idea that maybe we could extend to children at Margaret’s House at RIT but related to sustainability.
Similar to what we plan to do with the sustainability project, Sedlack and Pellegrino applied for numerous grants and other funding in order to continue the project and send students to South Africa. I’m thinking it would be exciting for us to develop a visual communication and sustainability collaborative. If any of you are interested in a thesis related to visual communication and sustainability, we could work on applying for grant funding for your project. There were a few students who worked on writing grants as their senior projects. It is possible for CMT students to work on a senior project as opposed to a thesis if that is what they choose (I’m not suggesting that this is necessarily preferable, just an option).
Sedlack also strongly suggested that it is best to work with other disciplines on campus. For instance, in this project they also worked with anthropology and business students and professors such as warfare anthropologist Carolyn Nordstrom. Sedlack and students said this kind of additional expertise was invaluable. Maybe visual communication students could eventually work with designers in CIAS and the Institute for Sustainability?
What I really wanted to ask Sedlack was about the research students did in creating their designs. There was no mention of any kind of visual communication theory, visual literacy theory, behavioral psychology theory, early childhood education theory, etc. I stayed afterward to ask but the line to speak with them was incredibly long and then we were actually asked to leave the room. I do plan on emailing them both, however. There also wasn’t any mention of research related to the social change project. I feel that this is something we could include in the vis com and sustainability collaborative that would make us unique — a combination of prior investigative research, social implementation and academic and popular publication of results. I also plan on asking them for a copy of their budget and grant proposal. I’ve NEVER seen such a beautiful grant proposal and even their budget was aesthetically pleasing. I would love to share this with all of you.
If you have more questions about the presentation, please comment on this post!