In late May 2018, the University & College Designers Association Design Education Summit was held at Youngstown State University. The theme of the conference, “Good Design Works,” sought to cast a spotlight on how the discipline of Design was being used as a catalyst for positive social change. The UCDA Series featured on the +Public blog offers a venue for academics and designers to expose their research to our clients, colleagues, and communities.


Misty Thomas-Trout is an assistant professor in graphic design at the University of Dayton. She holds a BFA in visual communication design from the University of Dayton and an MFA in graphic design from Ohio University.

Misty’s community-based design praxis is informed by methods within the socio-economic sciences and humanities. One mode of dissemination has been through the public libraries and the design practicum studio course which is foundational in experiential learning and citizen/community-based design projects. Her practice and pedagogy utilize both practical and poetic methodologies explored through cartographic languages that revolve around interconnectedness, community-building, and human connection. Design strategies can be appropriated to create the visuals that promote and preserve local culture and educate public audiences about the benefits of cooperation and deep connection.

Misty was influenced by the culture of her hometown—the village of Jewett, Ohio. This place has limitations of access to resources due to years of economic malaise which created a unique but impoverished community. The importance of collaboration and shared support can reveal the link between a place’s economic health and the quality of its social bonds. She researches how visual communication can strengthen local economies and positively impact community engagement through the visualizing of these relationships.


For And With Community – Graphic Design As Positive Social Change

The role of the design educator as a citizen in our current landscape requires a sensitivity and value in human relationships. The AIGA Designer 2025 document recognizes the “complexity of contemporary problems” which are “situated within larger systems that are characterized by interdependent relationships. ” These human networking systems are influenced by inevitable recurrent inside and outside forces that shift and alter these relationships. The core of my research studies these systems and their interconnectedness through community-based design initiatives. I aim to impart upon my students how graphic design can become the method to promote positive change in unhealthy systems—whether economic, cultural, environmental etc. Students need to be challenged and encouraged to view graphic design outside the lens of a computer-based process that caters towards consumption. Instead, they need to view their discipline through the lens of a citizen designer responsible for the messages they disseminate. This ignites a sensitivity needed when designing for and with the community. As an educator, I am always exploring new methodologies and strategies to implement into my pedagogical practice. How can students make a lasting impact on their local community during the transitional period of college? How do you get them to care and value the community outside of campus? What projects foster community-engagement while keeping students interested, motivated and curious? I implemented a typographic poster exhibition project that addressed these questions through experiential learning methodologies. In tandem with the Facing Project, “a non-profit community story-telling project that intends to bring awareness about human rights issues and assets of a community to inspire social action”, students were asked to visualize these collected stories. This human-centered project showed students the power within their discipline to create meaningful designs that celebrated community, collaboration and relationships while allowing these local voices to be seen, heard and felt.