The series of violent events that have rocked the United States in just the past few months have exposed deep rifts in our social fabric that are rooted in history, injustice and a sense of isolation. From the mass shootings in Orlando to the targeting of police officers by snipers to the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement, many feel helpless to change the reality with little space to participate in the national conversation.
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Antionette Carroll, a native St. Louisan and AIGA chapter president, felt a similar sense of despair in 2014 after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in nearby Ferguson, MO sparked massive protests and civil unrest in the community and around the nation. She founded the Creative Reaction Lab (CRXLAB) in response to the events with a mission to cultivate creative leadership through collaborative efforts between civic and social communities. CRXLAB has since hosted a number of workshops using design thinking to empower participants from various sectors to develop products, programs and services "by, for and with the community."
At this year's annual Core77 Designing Here/Now conference our theme explores how design-led co-creation will lead interdisciplinary teams to build successful, game-changing products. Antionette will share more about the work CRXLAB has been doing in St. Louis in collaboration with social and civic leaders, businesses, community members, law enforcement and designers including ongoing projects that sprung out of a 2014 design workshop around police brutality. In anticipation of tonight's AIGA virtual Town Hall on Racial Justice by Design, Antionette shares three tips for designers to start transforming their own communities today:
De Andrea Nichols' project #StickyNotetoSelf
TELL A PERSONAL STORY
Instead of trying to address grandiose systems, look at the people who are impacted by these issues. Instead of saying "I want to address racism," you can say "I want to help someone who is affected by racism," by telling those stories, of someone's journey and what they've gone through. Some of the most impactful design that has organized our society are those videos, those interactive websites, where people can see the stories of the individuals effected. The same happened with the civil rights movement and television where people across the nation were able to see what was happening in the South. This type of storytelling removes us from an ignorant space.
Recent video from the Nike Foundation's Girl Effect project
Two examples of this type of storytelling include the work of De Andrea Nichols and the organization, Girl Effect. De Andrea lives in St.Louis, she is a designer but also has a masters in social work. Her work, specifically the #stickynotetoself project, reflects her journey around racism, sexism and the issues we have in society. That's how I view art and design—we are really the historians. I also really love Nike Foundation's Girl Effect organization and how they use design for change. Their recent video was so powerful and moving.
Immerse yourself in the topic and the community. You cannot have a fishbowl perspective. Don't be on the outside looking in. Design "with" not "for." You have to be part of the community. One of the biggest issues we had in Ferguson was artists coming into the community that had no idea what it was like to be a St. Louisan. And it wasn't that they were trying to cause more harm than good but it created an "other" effect, where we felt like we were in a movement where people were trying to capitalize on the situation. To this day, it doesn't sit well with many St. Louisans and the same with designers.
Designers have the unique ability to be empathetic and we are navigators of complexity. That is our job. We are given a sheet of paper and a pen and told to create. Because of that skillset, we are able to come up with these solutions to these major problems, but to do that we have to be immersed in the topic, be immersed in the community.
Graphics from the "Guerilla Art Warfare" project by Jordan Thompson from CRXLAB's 2014 workshop on police brutality.
The most effective projects from our 2014 workshop on police brutality didn't come in and say, "I have the best solution, I have the best idea." They came in and 1) they listened 2) they partnered—worked with individuals on the ground or in the community. That's when we can create the most change. With CRXLAB, we intentionally try to make sure there are certain stakeholders at the table, not just the thought leaders in the space. We want the civic and social sector, the creative sector, we want the community members because they are the living experts of the day-by-day issues. And the business sectors because they're experts of scale.
MOVE BEYOND YOUR CRAFT
As designers we have the tendency to pigeonhole ourselves. We want others to understand the value of the work we do but we continue to fall into the status quo. When CRXLAB was first created, I was not received with open arms by design leaders. We want to be problem solvers and change agents but we keep telling ourselves that the only way we can solve your problem is by giving you a website or if I give you a poster. My greatest advice to give designers is to challenge the solution. Don't come into a situation saying, "I know I'm going to create an artifact." Move beyond the craft—you may create a service, you may create a program, many of the projects had a design element but they also built curriculum, built workshops, partnered with established entities. Designers need to learn to apply our way of thinking to intangible solutions. But then also recognize these are all different drops in the bucket. Do the due diligence to make sure its the proper response. Don't create just to create. Create for impact.
Learn more about CRXLAB and strategies for designing social justice at this September's Core77 Conference in Los Angeles. Buy your tickets today!