It has been an inspiring week in Chicago, filled with fresh ideas about contemporary design education research and the teaching of design. The LearnxDesign Conference (aka the 3rd International Conference for Design Education Researchers), was an engaging week focused on design methodologies and teaching tools.

Organized by the DESIGN-ED Coalition, in partnership with DRS and Cumulus, the conference was held at various locations on SAIC’s campus. Themes discussed during the conference include Design Thinking and Engineering Education; Developing Systems Thinking; DIME: Design, Innovation, Media, Economics in Design Education and Philosophy of Design Education.

During the conference, I presented two papers to the diverse international crowd of educators and designers including, “Experiential elements of high-to-low-context cultures” (with Kelly Murdoch–Kitt) and “WonderBox: Storytelling and emerging technologies” (with Basma Hamdy).

Experiential Elements of High-to-Low-Context Cultures

My paper with Kelly Murdoch-Kitt explores intercultural design collaboration (IDC), a cross-cultural exchange that can take place between visual, spatial, product and digital designers. IDC involves a shared approach to gathering information, making decisions, creative production, critique, and developing design solutions. IDC methodologies can provide designers with the cross-cultural experiences and competencies necessary to navigate an increasingly globalized landscape. This qualitative study combines Edward T. Hall’s theories of high- and low-context cultures with Elizabeth Tunstall’s ‘Five Experiential Elements of Community’ to explore the impacts and outcomes of IDC between two geographically distinct groups of students and faculty.

The exploratory research in distance collaboration uses grounded theory to compare and analyse the experiences and interactions of independent groups of participants located in the United States and the Gulf Region over a period of four separate academic semesters. Findings indicate that a blended approach integrating ‘communication’ and ‘design’ into the methodology can increase cultural understanding, break down perceived barriers, and promote effective design outcomes. As such, this comparative analysis aims to share findings and recommendations with design educators while advancing IDC between students situated in seemingly disparate cultural contexts.

Wonderbox: Storytelling and Emerging Technology

My research with Basma Hamdy examines a design collaboration between university graphic design students and a public art organization in the Middle East to revive the magic of these traditional ‘WonderBoxes’ using emerging technologies in programming and manufacturing. The project methodology leveraged trans-media approaches to include the community in dynamic and interactive visual storytelling. Students employed cooperative tools for social inclusion by presenting the assembled boxes to the public.

This action research explores the technological and participatory implications of reviving obsolete optical devices through contemporary design practice in support of cultural sustainability. The application of participatory action research to the project structure cultivated dynamic teamwork based on complementary design competencies. The methodology and findings of the study aim to support ongoing research into participatory approaches to collaboration in support of the integration of community-based activities in a pedagogical context.

As part of the conference activities, we had the opportunity to explore Chicago’s architecture and design via trolly and boat. A big thanks to the conference organizers and to the city of Chicago for such a memorable experience!