Posted January 30, 2017
  • Defining Public Interest Design Panel

  • Audience, Defining Public Interest Design Panel

  • Post-panel Discussion, Defining Public Interest Design Panel

  • Post-panel Discussion, Defining Public Interest Design Panel

Defining Public Interest Design Panel

PennPraxis is on the threshold of several organizational changes – new dean, new board members, rotating faculty leadership.  In order to take full advantage of new leadership, evolving civic and academic contexts, and advances in the fields of public interest design, in January 2017 PennPraxis are launched an external review.

The review was an opportunity for focused learning about the experience of a few similar organizations, about changes and innovations in the sphere of public-interest design and pedagogy, and about our organization’s strategic direction. 

PennPraxis used the external review to inform strategic questions about goal formation, the business model, the integration of clinical work, think-tank functions and the basic academic enterprise of the School of design and tactical possibilities including programs, initiatives, partners and sources of revenue.

Over the course of the two days, PennPraxis explored a vision for the future over the next 10 years, and a framework for how to achieve these goals. Feedback was collected from reviewers after the event and was consolidated, combined with insights gleaned by PennPraxis staff and board, to produce a report that will inform strategy and decision-making in the future.

Included in the Review was a panel, Defining Public Interest Design, moderated by Dean Fritz Steiner and featuring the three professionals:

  • John Peterson, Founder Public Architecture, Curator of Loeb Fellowship, Harvard Graduate School of Design
  • Terry Schwarz, Director, Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, Kent State University
  • Barbara Brown Wilson, Cofounder of Design Futures, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning, University of Virginia.

The topic, public interest or social impact design, was selected because of the rising interest in the way the built environment can be used to combat issues ranging from nutrition and healthy living to education or overall quality of life. Today, this idea of impacts has been taken a step further, with more and more design professionals and students stepping up to propose solutions to problems they see in communities without being approached by a client, the far more traditional process. The evening saw a lively discussion among the students, professors and professionals who attended, all grappling with how to define what a designer is, how to train students to better advocate and support community members and to think critically about how to set and measure stated project goals. Beyond sharing insights from their own projects, the panelists also pushed attendees to think about non-traditional designers and the benefits new perspectives can bring to projects be they scientists, youth partners or artists.