Building Connections with Design

December 20, 2018

Design and nondesign students alike have been challenged to unravel and explore concepts such as culture and identity in DES 4165/5165 Design and Globalization.

Intended to raise cultural and global awareness the class, “sharpens students’ design skills, fosters critical thinking, and challenges students to work towards creating designs that matter,” explained Professor Tasoulla Hadjiyanni (Interior Design). “The goal of this class is to connect to stories and experiences one is not familiar with, breaking down barriers and prejudice,” she continued.

Throughout the semester, students in the course have worked in small teams to connect with a  local community through interviews and literature reviews. The students then created a digital story focused on that community. “For the final project, my team has been researching the American Indian community in the Twin Cities and how Native-owned restaurants are becoming a catalyst for a back-to-the-roots food revolution. Since there are many indigenous tribes in this region, we chose to focus on the new Sioux Chef restaurant, which was founded by Chef Sean Sherman of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe,” said Katie Page (graduate student in Urban and Regional Planning).

A non-design student, Page decided to take the course to get a better understanding of how community planning is approached by disciplines outside of her immediate academic area. “Much of what I’ve learned about housing in my own program has been approached from a broader lens — where is the housing, is it affordable, what are the policies affecting accessibility of these units — so looking at housing from a more focused, interior design lens has been eye-opening for me,” said Page.

Interior design student Kotono Watanabe’s group selected a different community for their project. “My group decided to learn about the Ethiopian community in the Midway area. We specifically focused on a restaurant called Fasika and came up with three categories we wanted to emphasize throughout our project; food, identity, and community,” said Watanabe.

As part of their final projects, students used their research to identify ways design can address issues that each specific community faces. “Our group identified a lack of awareness as a problem,” said Page. “For example, many people assume that fry bread is a traditional American Indian dish, but the history of fry bread comes from a place of government oppression and a lack of access to indigenous and healthy ingredients. As a solution to this lack of awareness, my group created a poster campaign that talks about the importance of supporting chefs who are bringing back traditional foods,” she continued.

Watanabe’s group identified a different problem facing the Ethiopian community, “Overgeneralization is one of the issues,” she said. “People tend to categorize others without actually trying to learn about another person’s background. This creates a sense of misunderstanding.”

For both students, the class has taught them skills that they plan to carry on in their future careers. “As a designer, it is important to have an in-depth understanding about clients and their background. This class taught me how to appropriately put myself into a client’s shoes, and how to create design work that is thoughtful and respectful of others,” concluded Watanabe.

Watch the digital story “The Sioux Chef and Food Sovereignty.”

When designing for today’s workplace, interior designers are increasingly called upon to think beyond the traditional cubicle and create a more contemporary space. Interior design students in Abimbola Asojo and Justine Pliska’s IDES 2604 experienced this first-hand when they were asked to design a “third place work cafe” as part of a competition from Haworth.

A collaboration between Professor Abimbola Asojo (Interior Design) and Professors Dolapo Amole and Babatunde Jaiyeoba of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in lle-lfe, Osun, Nigeria has culminated in the development of the first interior design program at a Nigerian university.

Universal design is the practice of designing an environment in such a way that it is accessible and usable by the greatest number of people possible, no matter their age, cultural background, or ability.