Designful City: Culture leaders discuss the power of design

Photo: Chicago Mobile Makers

Highlighting our city’s extraordinary design heritage, Tanner Woodford, Founder and Executive Director of the Design Museum of Chicago, moderated a panel of Design Impact Grant winners, including Laviyah Ayanna, Kathy Gregg, Maya Bird-Murphy, Emily Winter and Quilen Blackwell, in a program highlight of NeoCon 2022. Woodford posed the question: How do you define design? Panelists’ responses drew attention to design methodology but also highlighted its properties as a shared language.

“It takes my breath away that I’m sitting here talking about design because I had no idea it really had an impact on me and the people I fundraise for,” says Kathy Gregg, director of development at Friedman Place and professional fundraiser, referring to the non-visual markers using touch, sound and smell that they designed for resident navigation. Their campaign to raise awareness of good design practices promotes the autonomy of blind or visually impaired adults.

Laviyah Ayanna, who serves as an instructor with the Tilden High School After School Student Pilot to Permanent Design Incubator, spoke of the overall impact of design: “You can be in our town and not know there are students who go to school in third world conditions. “Her face lit up as she described the curriculum taking root in the minds of young people. “Design is a collective process and I love that aspect of a classroom,” she says.

Photo: The weaving factory

The brainchild of entrepreneur Maya Bird-Murphy, Chicago Mobile Makers offers design-focused skills-building workshops to the city’s underrepresented communities. Bird-Murphy says, “The retrofit truck is really wonderful because it’s this shiny, weird thing that stops and brings a sense of joy to young children. Young people need to understand how design sometimes affects them so negatively, and then they can start thinking about how to design in a more positive way. »

Artist and co-founder of The Weaving Mill, Emily Winter asks us to rethink the notion of waste: “Think of the life cycles of materials and waste as a starting point for something else. She physically and symbolically weaves together the design process and operation of a small industrial factory with artisans and adults with intellectual disabilities. Their grant supports a human-powered pedal-powered fiber shredder that collects fabric scraps and turns them into byproduct fluff to reuse into usable products. Winter described the evolution from the improved design and preferred gentle “pedal and shred” activity to the original peddling concept when the team took into account participants’ disabilities.

Photo: Chicago Eco House/Southside Blooms

Chicago Eco House/Southside Blooms co-founder Quilen Blackwell has a visionary goal backed by enthusiastic optimism. “Dream big,” he says, “Human beings have overcome big problems. Someone had the courage to dream bigger than they could see. By turning vacant urban land into solar-powered flower farms, they are creating jobs for at-risk youth and establishing a viable national industry in the community. “Our challenge has been to create an environment where young people feel comfortable being themselves within the foundation of a great company.”

Design sense could be the collective creative potential within all of us. And if the design is faithful to its multifaceted language, it is possible to consider a periodic redesign. After all, the key to remember, as Bird-Murphy said, is to actually act on the lessons learned from the program and from NeoCon as a whole. “How can we personally take action and be better stewards of communities and environments across the country?” This is where designing a better community, a better Chicago, and a better world begins.

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