The Discover Design mentoring program pairs local high school students who have
expressed an interest in graphic design with professionals from the local
design community. Over the course of three to four months, the mentoring group
meets on weekends to complete individual projects that help them give back to
their community through social design. We have completed a range of projects,
including “Get Out the Vote” posters and billboards that promote tolerance
(Create! Don’t Hate.). We’ve also carried out projects to help students identify
things within their own schools that they’d like to improve upon (School: by Design). Most recently, the
program was involved in the design and development of an iPad app that
encouraged students to get out and explore their community, illustrating
cultural hot spots around the city.
Each year the challenges involved in continuing the program
are different. Sometimes it’s finding the right venue to partner with; sometimes it’s
identifying a diverse group of students to participate. We learn from those challenges, and every year the program improves. We’ve developed a basic 10-step strategy that we use each year:
We’ve encouraged high school students to find their
voices, to better understand how design can change the quality of
life and to realize they can make a difference in their community by effectively
delivering their message. We’ve seen quiet students really come out of their
shells by the time they present their final project to the group—it’s crazy
what a transformation we witness over the course of a few months. The students
gain confidence working one-on-one with a mentor. Building trust with that
person helps guide them through the project.
We teach students the principles
and elements of design, and we teach them how those principles come together to
deliver a message. For the mentors, the
program offers a chance to go back to the roots of their interest in design,
explore different ways of teaching, give back to the design community that has
supported them and form bonds that make a difference in young people’s lives.
We consider Discover Design effective because we’ve
successfully complete five different social design projects over five years,
with several different groups of students and mentors each time, and we’re
still going strong.
For the “Get Out the Vote” poster project, it was great to see the
participating students come alive and feel like they’d played a role in the
election process. For another project, conducted in the second year of the
program, it was gratifying to see all of the students so excited about using
illustration and design to support their local library system. With the third project—“Create! Don't Hate.”—it was
inspiring to see the mentees choose specific topics about intolerance in their
school or community and create billboards that addressed the issue. In the fourth year, “School: by Design” encouraged the
students to find something within their school that they wanted to redesign or
change—whether social, economic, cultural or environmental—and come up with a
system to improve it.
Our most recent project, Discover Jacksonville, really
forced us to dive into the unknown—creating an iPad app—as none of us involved
in mentoring had ever done that before! But the project turned out well. The
students were able to research and explore their city, and 15 pairs of mentors
and mentees created an app that navigates through their favorite city
spots. This program has even opened the professionals’ eyes to things they may
not have known about.
We credit a lot of our success over the past five years to
our initial research. “Design Ignites Change,” a partnership of The Worldstudio
Foundation and Adobe, has been a huge source of inspiration and resources for
us. They offer online mentoring guidebooks and workbooks for anyone who wants to start their own mentoring group.
They also started “Create! Don’t Hate.” Because AIGA was a
strategic partner for that program, we had been hearing about it from the AIGA national office, and we decided to take
on that project during our third year of Discover Design.
Each year, long before the mentoring sessions begin, we
research popular design projects, including those being offered
through “Design Ignites Change.” We also talk to influential people within Jacksonville to determine
if we can collaborate on projects that will give back to the city in some way.
Deciding on the project and scheduling it to be completed within three months
is the biggest challenge, so we try to keep the parameters flexible in case other things come up—things that the students need to spend more time on.
In summary, Discover Design is an amazing program, and the
students who embrace the opportunity to participate truly get a lot out of it.
The mentors are here because they want to be here; they want to feel like they
are making a difference, and they really are. We have students who have
returned because they want to participate again. They
say they absolutely love the projects, and they love working one-on-one with a
The earlier we can get students to understand what good
design can do, the better. Mentoring is so important, especially in our
profession, whether you’re an official mentor for a group like Discover Design or a teacher
who takes some extra time to find something special within a student who might
one day become a designer or illustrator. Mentors are important in any industry because they
nurture and encourage students and those with less experience to work toward
something they want to become great at. A good mentor doesn’t do the work for
you and doesn’t belittle you. Instead, they motivate you and bring out what’s already inside of you.
With Discover Design, we have been blessed with a
very supportive and encouraging group of professionals who volunteer their time,
helping guide students who are just beginning to explore career opportunities. Who knows? These
students may end up becoming our colleagues!
DesignEd K12 is a movement to inspire and sustain design education programs for elementary, middle and high school students—instilling creative
confidence and a design thinking mindset at a young age through hands-on
experiences in creative problem solving.
Section: Tools and Resources -
DesignEd K12, education
What happens when designers apply their problem-solving skills to socially progressive businesses and causes? In the first of an ongoing series of posts, Laura Weiss shares her experience and points the way for designers considering pro bono projects.
Section: Why Design -
nonprofit, personal essay, pro bono, social responsibility, Design for Good
Designers who developed a strong concept to ignite change in their community are invited to apply for the Sylvia Harris Citizen Design Award of $10,000 for implementation of their project.
Section: Why Design -
Competition, social responsibility, Design for Good
A panel of design leaders discuss diversity challenges, insights for influencing corporate programs, and solutions for a more inclusive design profession.
Section: Inspiration -
culture, diversity, Diversity and Inclusion
The Gaslight Anthem
Base Art Co.
AIGA Medalist Seymour Chwast shares his new passion project
Upstate New York
Thinking outside the chair
Alt Group Limited