Designing from the Core: Facilitating Core Thinking for Sustainable Development in Design Education

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How might graphic designers identify and clarify their personal values and identity so that they might develop a responsibility mindset in their design process? This has been a central question in the research of the authors Napier and Lettis, two design educators who have been collaborating across the world from the United States and Ireland, through Master’s thesis and Ph.D. work, from first-year graphic design students to senior visual communication design students, and from in-person to online teaching. Our research is driven by a deeply vested interest in personal or core values and how they relate to making sustainable or responsible design decisions. We believe that design students must be able to develop a personal awareness of their individual values and goals to not only benefit their design process and practice, but also to benefit sustainable development. “Value thinking” is a central mode of thinking encouraged in education for sustainable development, which “develops and strengthens the capacity of individuals, groups, communities, organizations and countries to make judgments and choices in favor of sustainable development” (UNECE, 2009, p. 15). Within our research, we acknowledge that value thinking also involves thinking of oneself, and the direct correlation between the “personal” and sustainability. We termed this personal value thinking or, as Lettis has termed it since, core thinking. Ann Thorpe (2007), an educator of sustainable design and author of The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability, states: Many of the issues confronting us in the landscape of sustainability are those that feel more personal than professional, for example, your connection to nature, your politics as a citizen, or your willingness to put your personal resources toward ecological sustainability. We have found that in the context of sustainability in graphic design education (GDE) and design education generally, many programs are exclusively available to postgraduate students. Additionally, while some undergraduate education does aim to foster the development of personal values, it is unclear which processes are used to help students clarify and integrate those values into their identity and practice. This paper will describe the processes, methods, and tools that Napier and Lettis have developed to facilitate core thinking for sustainable development in different courses, at varying levels of graphic and visual communication design education. It will discuss the theoretical background of value thinking and include a high-level look at the ongoing efforts of evolving materials aimed at supporting design educators to foster sustainability-minded design students. Additionally, this paper will discuss both students’ and educators’ reflections on this ongoing work. It is the hope of the authors that a more inclusive approach to fostering sustainability-minded students and graduates will impact the role that designers can play as responsible citizens.

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Napier, P., & Lettis, G. (2022). Designing from the Core: Facilitating Core Thinking for Sustainable Development in Design Education. Cumulus Conference Proceedings Detroit 2022, 351–371.
Cumulus Conference Proceedings Detroit 2022
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