Above, an Audio Postcard about the starting conditions for the project.
For the team at the Center for Urban Pedagogy, their Rockefeller funded project has been evidence that finding really thoughtful ways to improve current practices can make a big impact in the long term.
When I talked to them a year ago, their project hadn’t been formally named and they were still thinking of the project as a series of rapid design interventions resulting from isolated partnerships between designers and organizers.
Now a year later, the project has a new name, one that feels much very fitting, and they are beginning to see new, unanticipated layers emerging beyond their origin design.
Now called Public Access Design, the program connects designers and organizers to enable communities to respond rapidly to pressing public concerns through graphic media. The program builds on CUP’s extensive experiences developing print media to address the needs of vulnerable communities like domestic works, arrested teenagers, basement dwellers, and street vendors. “Community is a vague term, but for us it’s really connected to people who identify a need as a group,” explained CUP Program Director Valeria Mogilevich in their audio postcard. But they were limited to working on “evergreen” issues because the projects took a year to be produced. Public Access Design is a streamlined process to respond to a pressing issue and produce a product within four months.
Progress to Date
Since receiving a 2011 Rockefeller CIF award CUP has hired a new staff member to manage the program, refined and renamed the program through feedback from designers and community advocates, built a new website that can better handle the submission and juried review needs of the program, put a call for issues out to community organizers, and selected the inaugural group of eight design fellows through a juried process.
Some of the key program refinements included: increasing professional development opportunities for designers by creating a year-long fellowship program for designers pre-selected for the program; offering a stipend of $200 to designers in the fellowship and an additional $2000 stipend to those selected to work on a specific project; and determining that the program will include four different kinds of media:
Overall, these program adjustments have led to greater efficiency and success for the Public Access Design program and CUP overall.
CUP has learned about their needs and vision as an organization while refining and implementing Public Access Design. They found:
- Naming clarified the project: For the purposes of the Rockefeller grant application, CUP had come up with a working title, but they always knew it was not final name. In brainstorming, surveying, and meeting with design and organizing partners about a new program name they discovered that they wanted to focus on giving organizers access to design tools, and less on rapid response, and the name needed to reflect that. By taking time to reconsider the name of the project, even after the project was funded and underway, the CUP team carved out the space to discovered their deeper aims.
- Engaging a wider design community strengthened the project: By including four different media formats, the project enable CUP to do significant outreach to new design communities, like motion graphics designers. By taking this risk, CUP was able to broaden their network and increase the distribution for their calls for entry.
- Investing in technology and infrastructure helped the whole organization: CUP built a new website for the project, which included an online submission and jury review process. It has streamlined the application process for choosing design fellows. CUP will use this system to increase organizational efficiency for other projects. CUP’s success in launching a new website and working thoughtfully and thoroughly with designers and community partners demonstrates how innovation can take root in small changes.
According to Gaspar, she’s curious “How can other groups bring both design and infrastructure into their projects?” CUP’s experience demonstrates that high-impact, small changes can best enable an organization to evolve and deepen the impact of the work that they do.
CUP was has been very thorough at each step of the process, including program design and hiring, which has sometimes slowed things down, but also allowed the program to develop more carefully. Also, by seeking input from so many different sources, CUP sometimes had to reconcile contradictory feedback. Another challenge has been developing the project without concrete examples of project types. They believe that it will be easier to make adjustments in the second round, having completed two projects.
Shift In Thinking
According to Executive Director Christine Gaspar, throughout the process CUP has been asking, “How do we get more of these tools into more organizers hands so we can impact their work in a positive way?” They’ve realized that this question is central to the design of the Public Access Design program, thinking beyond the individual collaborations to creating a toolkit for designers and organizers who want to collaborate. They’ve started to think about how they can codify the skills designers and organizers are learning through their program so that they can share them more widely.
This fall, CUP will launch the program and completed two design projects. They will discover whether the four-month time period for the completion of the Public Access Design projects is realistic and if the new types of media they are working with will produce effective tools for community organizers.
Interview conducted by Karina Mangu-Ward. Post written by Eleanor Whitney with Karina Mangu-Ward.