The University & College Designers Association (UCDA) 2018 Design Education Summit “Good Design Works” was hosted by The Department of Art at Youngstown State University on May 21 and 22, with RJ Thompson as conference chair leading the charge along with UCDA Executive Director Tadson Bussey. The theme of the summit was inspired by the transformative work taking place in Youngstown with the “City of You” campaign (spearheaded by Thompson) which demonstrates the power that graphic design can have as an agent for cultural and social change.
During the two-day conference, over 90 design educators from across the United States, Canada, and China shared their peer-reviewed research, projects, and pedagogical strategies on how design has affected change in their respective communities, cultures, and universities. Leading these conversations were two featured keynote speakers: Jennifer Hughes, Director of Design and Creative Placemaking for the National Endowment for the Arts and Brian Friedman, President of Plan F Solutions in Cleveland, Ohio. The first keynote featured Hughes sharing a wealth of information regarding the grant opportunities available to artists and designers – primarily the “Our Town” and “Art Works” grants. Accompanying this information, Hughes also demonstrated the powerful impact these grants have on communities of all shapes, sizes, and cultures – with a specific focus on Native American communities. Where Hughes showed large-scale impact, Brian Friedman shared his successes with smaller scale ambitions and opportunities and in so doing detailed how artists and designers can have a huge impact without a huge investment.
As conference chair, Thompson was responsible for securing presentation spaces, acquiring sponsors, ensuring the peer-review proposal process operated smoothly, securing keynote speakers, and developing additional programming, such as the “City of You: So Much More Than Home” exhibition, a third public presentation of published and conceptual design work produced for the City of You platform. Additional programming also included the peer-reviewed academic poster exhibition, “Twenty Years of Social Cause in the Classroom” from YSU Graphic + Interactive Design Professor Michelle Nelson, and additional work from YSU Graphic + Interactive Design students.
Thompson was also a presenter in the Good Design Works conference, offering a presentation on +Public titled “Plus Public: A Startup Social Enterprise Transforming Communities by Design.” The following description is the basis for the presentation:
Utilizing the discipline of graphic design as a catalytic influencer for social and culture change can manifest in a variety of big or small ways, but ideally the impact is always substantial and meaningful. Sometimes, though, no matter how good the design is, change can be small and incremental, and small change is usually tethered to budgets, scope of service, and a specific target audience’s ability to act on what is being communicated to them. Big change requires big thinking and bigger strategy – and one of the biggest ways to affect society and culture through design is to redefine, through branding, the places in which we all live, work, play, and learn. If cities can be redefined or transformed through strategic branding and design at the highest level, the impact will affect all the different types of communities within a single city.
In Fall 2017, RJ Thompson, Assistant Professor of Graphic + Interactive Design at Youngstown State University, and Kent Kerr, an MFA Design Research candidate at Radford University, formed Plus Public – a new type of company known as a B-Corporation, which operates like a for-profit company but has the heart and soul of a non-profit organization. Plus Public creates transformative stories of the revitalization of people and places by designing scalable and sustainable communication solutions to economically-challenged communities-in-revival. Be they small borough or townships or larger municipalities like cities or even counties, Plus Public offers design research, graphic and interactive design, multimedia storytelling, event planning, space activation services, creative placemaking, and community and economic development planning – a portfolio of services that can transform all aspects of a community.
This presentation seeks to cover the inspiration behind starting this company, the challenges of cultivating clients, sharing some of our successes, and detailing how designers can create their own B-Corporation design companies.