In eight fast-moving weeks, I’ve experienced an immersion into typography, product design, digital photography and the design lexicon. I come to the Institute of Design (ID) without a formal design background and am taking a humbling, foundation (“foundie”) year to acquire and develop a new set of skills to preface the two-year Master of Design program. This three-year commitment also means that I am stepping away from action, engagement, and service– for a moment– to add to my toolkit and increase my potential impact. It isn’t an easy transition. After six years of working in global education, my personal and professional identity are inextricably linked to engaged service. My active participation in inaugural BarnRaise, a student-run event that is all about design for civic engagement, reaffirmed my decision to attend ID and connected me to the greater design community with a collective mission.
I volunteered to help with marketing and worked on a cross-cohort team to carry out front-end outreach, social media, and event coverage. It was neat to build relationships across the ID student body and learn about the soft and hard skills that we all brought to the table from our diverse previous career experiences. The core group of student organizers did a fabulous job of engaging 40+ ID students to leverage skills and participate in meaningful and exciting ways. Cooperative involvement inspired a strong sense of community– we no longer ascribed to our cohort/formal labels (i.e. foundie, first year, second year, admin), but became a caring community of people that passionately believe in design for the greater good.
During the event, our team of five traveled across the city from River North to Hyde Park and back again to intently document the goings-on of each team throughout their 2 day process. I observed different firms and facilitators giving weight to different aspects of the design process. Some gave 75% of their time to research whereas others started prototyping ideas within the first work day and developed a higher fidelity visual aid for the public exhibit. Those who weighed research more heavily demonstrated their research methods as intrinsic conceptual prototypes. What’s more, I was mesmerized to witness the facilitators integrate a diverse group of personalities and thinkers: grad students (business and design), professionals, trained designers, etc., and move them through a process in a short time frame. I was inspired by their ability to integrate a culture of collaboration, learning, listening and making in less than 24 hrs of time together. I know how challenging team dynamics can be and am grateful to now have more than a handful of reference points in the Chicago design community to reach out to for mentorship.
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The third part of the BarnRaise experience that helped me forge a sense of community took place in my Bridgeport apartment. I’ve been fortunate to experience hospitality throughout years of travel and wanted to jump on the opportunity to welcome Chicago visitors “home.” Two bright business students from Rotman in Toronto, both with international childhood upbringings, stayed with my sister and me for 3 nights. After packed days of research and ideating, we shared umbrellas, train rides, evening tea, and pie-in-the sky visions for our career paths as we tucked into bed. I enjoyed getting to know Shreya and Rabi beyond the professional space and time, and look forward to visiting them in the upcoming years. Our home-stay experience expanded our sense and sensibility of the global emerging design community.