51 Futures: An Approach to Community-Driven Design at Boxville


In summer 2019, a group of students and faculty members from IIT Institute of Design (ID) embedded ourselves at Boxville, a market in the local community of Bronzeville, with the goal of using design methods and frameworks as an activation tool for the community to design 51 Futures.

We quickly realized that a truly community-driven design engagement necessitated a shift away from the traditions of academic and design research in underserved communities. Rather than engage and observe community members as research subjects, we sought to empower community members to be the owners and drivers of the work and ideas created during the project.

As designers, this required a shift in our own mindsets as well. While instinct and training tempt us to analyze, synthesize, and design solutions, we instead need to be intentional about coming to work with a service mindset — prepared to facilitate and provoke thought. For many, this shift may be an uncomfortable one. The already murky design process is made even more uncertain when the outcomes are driven by community members without formal design training. This discomfort is a small price to pay in pursuit of the democratization of the design process.

We determined that in order to truly design with the community, it isn’t sufficient to design on our own and then communicate our findings. The community should be engaged throughout the entire process, from idea generation, to analysis and synthesis, to prototyping. To make this possible, we have to first make design methods and frameworks accessible so we can design with the community, not for the community.

Designing with the community means: rather than staying in our own corner as we develop concepts, periodically asking the community for feedback, we get them involved from the very beginning. With this perspective, one of our challenges became how to best introduce design tools to the local community.

To makedesign tools more accessible, we can find new ways of presenting them.

Frameworks such as ‘How might we…,’ ‘Might, should, could, POEMS, value maps, etc. are very familiar to us as designers, but are new to our community co-designers. To make these design tools more accessible, we can find new ways of presenting them — instead of saying ‘Might, should, could,’ we embedded it in a statement ( The future of _______ needs to be different than the past).

Regardless of how these tools and frameworks are presented, it is worthwhile to always introduce them thoroughly. Modeling the activity yourself and serving as an example for your co-designers is key in order to inspire confidence as you ask them to engage with these new tools and thought processes.

Leading and facilitating successfully demands significant forethought when planning activities in order to achieve your desired outcomes. What design tools and frameworks are appropriate for getting people thinking and engaging with one another? Are you confident in your own abilities to teach people to use these tools? How will you draw people in to join the discussion? How will you keep them invested after piquing their interest? In our early weeks, we wrestled with these and other questions while designing activities that we hoped would be fun and accessible, yet also relevant and thought-provoking for our community co-designers. Moving forward, we will begin to discuss the outcomes of our reflection and discussions, painting a more vivid and practical picture of our work in the community.

51 Futures is Denis Weil (advisor), Chris Rudd (faculty), Matt Impola, Justin Walker, and Yuqing Zhou.

Originally published at https://medium.com on July 29, 2019.



Institute of Design (ID) at Illinois Tech

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