Shout: A High School Design Studio
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Case Study By
Craig Steen
As of June 2012, there have been five installments of “Shout.” Programs are held two times per year. Each program is four days, plus one day for an exhibition and party to show off the work.
High school students in Detroit
Project Title
 Shout: A High School Design Studio
  • Program chair: Craig Steen
  • Volunteers: 4–6 volunteer mentors for each installment of the program
  • Students: 10–20 students per program
  • Advisors: Vernon Lockhart, Project Osmosis; Vera Smith, College for Creative Studies, Community Arts Partnerships


“Shout” is a high school design studio that challenges students to use their voice in the creative process and develop projects that make their community better. Currently, “Shout” is organized as a four-day, three-hours-per-day after-school or summer design studio. Each studio concludes with an exhibition, where students invite parents, friends and teachers to see their process work and completed projects. During the studio, students work in teams of four, with one or two professional design mentors per team. The teams are assigned projects that are intended to walk them through the creative process as a problem-solving method, and to help students develop smart communication solutions.

All projects are crafted so that each student may draw on their personal experience and voice to solve a communication problem, which helps demonstrate how design can be used to convey information about personal and social issues relevant to the students themselves. Topics are provided, to establish a framework. Here are details about five different projects that we’ve conducted to date:

Poster: Improve your community
Question: How would you like to improve your community? (e.g., clean up parks, start a community watch, help save school art programs)
Outcome: Each student received 25 posters to hang in their communities.

Kiosk: Favorite places in Detroit
Question: What are the best people, places and things in Detroit? (e.g., favorite movie theater, riverfront parks)
Outcome: Create a one-of-a-kind dimensional public marker for a favorite place in the city.

30-second PSA video
Question: What community issue or topic would you like to challenge an audience to take action on? (e.g., school bullying, safe sex)
Outcome: Working as a team, create a 30-second PSA video

Poster: Adult illiteracy in Detroit
Question: How do you inform adults that it’s never too late to learn to read? (e.g., speak to mothers of young kids—don’t let your children down; speak to high school students—keep them reading)
Outcome: Create a large poster about the topic, to be hung in a library or school.

Illuminated letterforms: “ACTIVATE OPEN SPACES”
Question: What activities could be held in Detroit’s 37 square miles of open land in order to help transform and increase the value of these spaces? (e.g., zip line park, traveling outdoor movie theater)
Outcome: Create an illuminated letter representative of an activity that would bring value to these open spaces. When combined, the students’ letters spell out “ACTIVATE OPEN SPACES.”

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“Shout” students and mentors use the creative process to develop smart communication solutions in the city of Detroit.

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A brainstorming session.

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Results of a brainstorming session that considered the question of audience.

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Collaborating on a project about safe sex.

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Condoms as accessories: a “Wear it Right” idea board.

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Teamwork is an important part of the “Shout” program.

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Mapping things across the city of Detroit.

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Participants discuss an ongoing project.

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“Shout” work in transition: from idea to implementation.

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Learning design through example. 

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A “Shout” team at work.


The team faced three key challenges in executing the project. The first was balancing the length and timing of the program to meet both the students’ and volunteers’ schedules. When “Shout” is implemented as an after-school program, it’s very convenient for students, but it’s difficult for the mentors to get off of work at that time. So far, we have focused on making the program convenient for the students. 

The second challenge was giving the project a longer life—one that goes beyond the classroom. We are working on collaborations with other groups so that we can display completed projects throughout the community. For example, adult illiteracy posters have been displayed at the Detroit Public Library, and process work for the open spaces project was on view in the Detroit Works lobby. 

The third key challenge is teaching design in a very limited amount of time. In the space of four days, we do not want technology to get in the way of the creative process, so projects are created using illustration or collage. We show a lot of design samples from both local designers and top designers from around the world, and we discuss how they are successful forms of communication. We also start each day with a discussion about key design terms like hierarchy, foreground, background and read path, providing examples of work that illustrate these terms. Finally, there are many design samples hanging around the studio, and we encourage the instructors to discuss them with the groups or individuals they are mentoring.


“Shout” was the first program developed under the Community Impact branch of AIGA Detroit’s board. The goal was to help support Detroit high school art programs by giving students additional opportunities to discover how creativity can be used to communicate, and to help the students develop their art and design skills.

Any Detroit-area high school student who has something to say can participate. As stated in our program description, “If you like drawing, design, art, photography, singing, writing, theater or research, you’re going to enjoy the challenge of working on design studio projects.”

With inspiration and counsel from Vernon Lockhart of Project Osmosis and leaders from local youth art programs, we outlined program goals for fulfilling the Community Impact mission: “to implement tangible examples of how design can be used to positively impact a community through building awareness, calling people to action and service to the community.”

The key educational goals of the project include helping students to:

  • Build an understanding of how the creative process is used as a problem-solving method.
  • Become confident in expressing thoughts and opinions in a smart and thoughtful way.
  • Use graphic design as a creative form of self-expression.
  • Become aware of how design has been used in communities to build awareness and promote issues.
  • Learn to collaborate with each other and work in teams.
  • Learn basic graphic design principles such as type, image, hierarchy and composition, etc.
  • Become more aware of graphic design and its potential as a legitimate career path.


Feedback gathered via student surveys and parent/teacher input informs us that students are excited about “Shout”—it has become a great extension of their high school art programs. “Shout” is unique because most high school graphic design programs focus more on the formal aspects of the discipline, as well as software and technology, and less on design as a problem-solving method.

The program has a 98 percent retention rate, with numerous repeat students who continue to be challenged by the projects and process.


The program costs have been paid for as part of AIGA Detroit’s annual community impact budget. AIGA Detroit held a pinewood derby fundraiser for “Shout,” and The College for Creative Studies donates classroom space when school is not in session.

Additional Information

While planning “Shout,” several of our consultants thought that focusing on the creative process was a good idea, but they also felt that the program should be pitched in a way that would excite high school students. So, while the educational goal was to teach the creative process, the “attract” was to show students how their personal voice could be integral to a message and how design can help amplify their voice.

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