Sarah E. Rutherford

RESP20_RUTHERFORD

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY
CLEVELAND OH

I am an Associate Professor of Design at Cleveland State University. I teach a number of courses across the design curriculum, but I have a special interest in classes that incorporate research practices and social impact design. Informed by my own work with the AIGA Design for Democracy initiative since 2016, I have built a number of student projects centered in voter advocacy and civic engagement.

TELL US HOW AND WHY YOU BECAME INVOLVED IN DESIGNING FOR GOOD, ANY THOUGHTS ON WHY DESIGN IS AN ESPECIALLY EFFECTIVE TOOL FOR THIS GOAL?

The university where I teach, Cleveland State, is a public, urban research institution with an underrepresented student population of about 37% and the second highest number of Pell Grant recipients in the state. When we work on class projects based on topics that disproportionately affect BIPOC communities, the impact is not hypothetical. Whether projects deal with educational access, housing or food insecurity, or civic disenfranchisement, there are students sitting in the classroom whose lived experiences speak to the issue at hand. It is within that context that I have introduced a number of projects centered on civic and voter engagement. In the design classroom, there is an opportunity to tackle civic engagement projects that take a unique process to how such problems are identified and addressed. By approaching civic engagement within a design context, students are able to evaluate how systems might be designed to include or exclude people. They’re also able to develop solutions that incorporate not just aesthetics, but also experiences. For example, two recent projects from a Graphic Design for Social and Cultural Contexts course resulted in students creating large-scale popup installations to promote voter engagement in the 2018 midterm elections and student participation in the 2020 Census. My motivation for creating these types of projects is twofold. First, I’m able to help students apply a human-centered design approach to topics that reveal inequities in social and civic structures. Second, I’m able to engage that specific class of 20 or so students in the value of civic participation. I have seen, on multiple occasions, students who initially felt apathetic towards voting change their minds after learning about the process and importance of voting. Within a few weeks, they’ve moved from disengagement to registering and voting in their first election. In my own voter engagement work, I’ve focused on sharing information and stories about voting to inspire civic participation. In 2016 I collaborated with my colleague and then AIGA National Board member, Jenn Visocky O’Grady and the studio of Christine Wisknieski to develop content for the AIGA Get Out the Vote exhibition, hosted in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention. Another favorite project from 2016 was a collaboration between AIGA Cleveland and Purple Films, the Get Out the Vote Design + Community project, which paired local designers with organizations that serve underrepresented voters to create customized GOTV posters.

GIVEN THE CONFLUENCE OF EVENTS AND CHALLENGES WE FACE THIS FALL, DOES 2020 PRESENT ANY SPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES, URGENCIES, OBSTACLES TO DESIGNING FOR GOOD?

Educators have an opportunity to expand how our students are prepared to practice design in their careers. The list of design proficiencies students should possess upon graduation is ever expanding. While ensuring that students are exposed to the full scope of modes of design, educators should also shift our attention to consider the attitude and methods by which students approach design problems, beyond their creative output. We can build assignments and curricula that allow students to incorporate the principles of equity and inclusion, anti-racism, and social impact in their work.