Word on the Street; Neighborhood typography

Word on the Street; Neighborhood typography

Patricia Childers


Typographic Design 3

Activity Description: Provide a brief description of the activity

This low-stakes activity introduces students to ethical reasoning while they investigate typographical messaging in the public arena.

Students explore typography as a narrative tool through typographic signage in their neighborhood. Deconstructing ideologies embedded in typographic representation provides information needed to discuss their beliefs about inherent messaging, and its significance to various shareholders.

Students begin the activity by posting photos of neighborhood typography with a statement about their significance on our class blog. They also comment on other postings.

This project culminates with each student presenting their findings to the class, explaining the connotations of their image, stating their position on how it functions within its context and any issues affecting them or other stakeholders. The class discusses alternative suggestions and points-of-view. Insight from this discussion helps the presenter develop a concept for a book based her viewpoint of the neighborhood.

This discussion is step one of a scaffolded process that results in each student designing a 20-page book. Through a series of typographic assignments students create material, organize, and produce a product that visually communicates their concept. Weekly critiques fine-tune material and concept assumptions.

For this activity I will address the ethical reasoning segment of the assignment, which takes place during class discussions at the beginning and end of the semester.

Learning Goals: What do you aim to achieve with this activity?

By examining the connotations of the students' examples, we can determine if their signage represent a unique vernacular specific to their neighborhood or a ubiquitous non-place specific representation. Most neighborhoods contain a combination of representation in neighborhood with loose demarcations of borders. Discussion explores the definition of neighborhood, implications of change with its benefits and challenges, students' personal experiences and beliefs on the effect of change, and the consequences to other stakeholders. Is there a right or wrong way to make change? What are the assumptions and implications of gentrification?

Terminology: denotation, connotation, vernacular, gentrification

Students experience typography as a way to confer meaning and establish context.

Students gain competency in observing and assessing the language of typography and develop the ability to present conclusions about typographic signification and its implications.

This specific activity develops
an awareness of local design traditions and enhances the appreciation of a diverse mix of influences
an awareness of the semantic representation of typographic form in the public sphere
an awareness of the effect of design decisions on multiple stakeholders
Students' awareness of the semantic representation of typographic form in the public sphere and the implications of their design decisions accentuates the need for ethical responsibilities to multiple stakeholders.
In the classroom
students respond to varied mindsets, respect conflicting points of view, empathize with the presenter and understand different cultural perspectives.

In the brainstorming process
students learn how to professionally ask probing “why” and “how” questions to drive deeper thinking to arrive at solutions.

By reflecting on content
students reinforce and internalize insights gained and the connection between their work and the ethical issues discussed.

Timing: At what point in the lesson or semester do you use this activity? How much classroom time do you devote to it? How much out-of-class time is expected?

The activity is given on the first day of the semester to prepare student for an assignment that requires design from a specific point-of-view. Students are expected to photograph during their daily activity. In class discussion is an hour followed by self-assessment using the Ethical Values Rubric
At the end of the semester students reflect on the process followed by another assessment with questions asking students to reflect upon what has changed.

Logistics: What preparation is needed for this activity? What instructions do you give students? Is the activity low-stakes, high-stakes, or something else?

Ethical design refers to work that conveys a strong, beneficial message, promotes a worthy cause and encompasses social responsibility and public interest. As there is no formal class introduction to this subject, analysis through the deconstruction of existing "public" design provides a natural introduction

In this low-stakes activity students examine connotative messaging and its implication in preparation for future assignments.

Students use a basic camera and post to the class blog. To introduce the assignment, I provide a handout, explain the assignment, answer questions, and post the assignment on the class website. A lesson plan is provided at the end of this report.
Class presentations and discussions begin with a series of prompts, a review of terminology, potential ethical issues, and opposing viewpoints of potential stakeholders. Throughout the discussion prompts and potential issues are reintroduced if needed to spur discussion.

Assessment: How do you assess this activity? What assessment measures do you use? Do you use a VALUE rubric? If not, how did you develop your rubric? Is your course part of the college-wide general education assessment initiative?

I used the Ethical Reasoning Value rubric to determine questions and establish a framework of expectations for both class discussions. Discussions take place at the beginning and end of the semester.
After each discussion students self-access using the Ethical Reasoning Value Rubric. The second assessment asks student's to reflect on their assumptions of the first class and described how they have changed.

This process provides students the opportunity to reflect upon their experiences and to see their progress. It provides me with a vehicle for assessment of the effectiveness of the assignment and insight to changes that will improve the activity in future classes.

I will assess the overall success of this activity using the Ethical Reasoning Value rubric Benchmark-Capstone evaluation.
Ethical Self-Awareness
Understanding Different Ethical Perspectives/Concepts
Ethical Issue Recognition
Application of Ethical Perspectives/Concepts
Evaluation of Different Ethical Perspectives/Concepts

Reflection: How well did this activity work in your classroom? Would you repeat it? Why or why not? What challenges did you encounter, and how did you address them? What, if anything, would you change? What did students seem to enjoy about the activity?

This assignment provided an opportunity to introduce socio-cultural implications of typography in a low-key manner. Student engagement led to one of the most thoughtful discussions of the semester.

There were several unexpected consequences.
Using the camera to document work seemed alleviate some of the usual "critique" anxiety students can experience after laboring over a project. The reflective aspect of the discussion increased student engagement—and bonding. And, possibly because the students were not presenting their own design work and were less sensitized, participation in critiques was more fluid. Students openly engaged with one another without looking to me for approval. A few students found that although they lived in the same neighborhoods their experiences differed based on the amount of time they had lived there. They drew upon their individual histories in the area to compare past and current vernacular and convey very different individual perspectives.
By the end of the discussion students had a more nuanced understanding of the power of symbolic representation and the inherent assumptions of and consequences to stakeholders. A few students freely admitted apathy to change in the larger social and cultural environment. However, within a few weeks, students developed the unique perspective and understanding of details needed to complete future assignments.

I will repeat this activity for many reasons. Describing the proliferation of cafés on two blocks of Bed Stuy or the clutter of fast food signage in Puerto Rico revealed core beliefs. Through this brief activity, students who were aware of their positions, now had the knowledge to describe, analyze, and explain their context. As social predicaments become more onerous it is vitally important to guide our future designers to continue questioning ethical implications and recognize the implications of their work.

In the future I will increase student participation on the blog by having students answer questions each week. Adding categories to the comments section will allow us to can posts by subject matter. For example, students will be asked to respond to one of the quotes below:

“All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.” Toni Morrison, from a conversation with Elizabeth Farnsworth, PBS News, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment-jan-june98-morrison_3-9/

“Our small choices as creators matter in powerful but sometimes subtle ways” Diógenes Brito, designer: Slack, from an article on Medium https://medium.com/@uxdiogenes/just-a-brown-hand-313db35230c5

Additional Information: Please share any additional comments and further documentation of the activity – e.g. assignment instructions, rubrics, examples of student work, etc. These can be links to pages or posts on the OpenLab.

This project was assigned to students in the second-year of their graphic design studies. At this point, their studies incorporate more than formal aspects of design, they experience design as a decision-making discipline. A "design thinking," human-centered, approach to problem solving values empathy with users.

Our neighborhoods, our homes as a reflection our humanity, provide a natural space for empathic inquiry. Encouraging our students to begin questioning ethical implications at this primal level is one step in the process of enabling them to confidently voice their opinions and intelligently take action.

Please share a helpful link to a pages or post on the OpenLab


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