Case Study: Discover Design Mentoring Program
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:
- Form a committee, or at least a position, on the chapter board to run the program.
- Find a venue or after-school group to collaborate with.
- Decide on the group project.
- Determine out how long the program will need to run and plan the session calendar.
- Recruit mentors, either industry professionals or college students.
- Work with after-school programs or local schools to find and contact prospective mentees, their teachers and their parents.
- Plan programming for each large group session (we hold eight Saturday meetings over three months).
- Find sponsors to cover costs for materials.
- Do preparatory research. (We suggest referring to Worldstudio mentoring workbooks on how to run a successful mentoring program, among other resources).
- Start meetings!
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 designer.
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!