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EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

Designing for small communities.

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People and places are ultimately why design exists. In recent years, many designers have turned their efforts towards creating solutions to social problems. Four groups—Make by Þorpið, Austurland: Designs from Nowhere, Designers & Forests, and Epicenter—have sought, through new and tested methodologies, to engage with the frontier—the small communities that are often disregarded for lack of population or lack of capital. These designers and organizers have contributed to the life in small cities and towns by participating in in-depth and constructive discourses. Through immersion, they have found inspiration in community identity, history, and culture and have found new ways to work as designers. Their work is as varied as the regions where they reside but they all work collaboratively with the stakeholders of their communities and across disciplines.

The problems confronted by small communities are often complex, but through the methods used within community engaged design sustainable results and solutions can be found. Solutions that are created benefit planet, people, and foster prosperity. In the following, four design groups from Iceland, Sweden, Great Britain, and the United States share their own community based design processes, their outcomes and show how design can be used for engaging people and developing communities.

MAKE by Þorpið Iceland make.is

AUSTURLAND: DESIGNS FROM NOWHERE Iceland | United Kingdom designsfromnowhere.is

EPICENTER United States ruralandproud.org

DESIGNERS AND FORESTS Sweden | United States designersandforests.us

DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

Design is found as both the solution and the process in the work of these groups. In the frontier they work in, design may stake out new territory, creating new paradigms of collaboration and engagement as solutions are created. For these collectives, the design process is used as an strategy for regional development, as they aim to clarify and communicate the complex problems facing small communities. Through a collaborative process the concepts that are generated not only serve as answers to complex problems but help to define the path for future inquiry and development.

With contributions by:


EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND. image: MAKE by Þorpið

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Collaborator Lára Vilbergsdóttir

↓ Q: What does community mean to you and your work? How do you define it?

A: Creative community is a playground where people of diverse backgrounds work together led by creative thinking. The collaboration is to discover the potential power concealed in common knowledge, traditions and passion, and how that power can encourage creativity. Q: What role does collaboration have in your process or projects?

DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

A: Collaboration means everything to Make by Þorpið, the willingness to form partnership with individuals and groups is the most effective way to create valuable ideas, projects and network in local and global context. Collaboration is inherently educational, both through sharing personal skills and experiences and on an academic or technological level.

Q: What sort of impact do you hope your work have in your community or the community you are working with? A: 1. Through creative processes, we hold a desire to create a hotspot in the far East. Led by an ideology based on utilizing local materials, skills and production methods, we hope to encourage entrepreneurship and to attract young people to take part in this development with us. 2. We hope that locally made products demonstrate the cultural legacy of East Iceland and strive to maximise the value of local materials. We also aim to incorporate sustainability and design value in all local products. 3. We hope that by introducing creative thinking and design processes into the community the project will support the development of local industries and suggest new solutions to old problems within the social systems in East Iceland.


Make by Þorpið is a design and development initiative in Iceland. The main focus is on facilitating cooperation between designers and local manufacturers and the materials available in East Iceland, with the aim to create projects and products that incorporate sustainability and design value.

EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

Make by Þorpið

Make by Þorpið is a hands on project that relies on people and their ideas, energy and motivation. A main philosophy of the project is to make use of what we have got both in terms of material resources and human resources and to enhance it with different perspective. Make by Þorpið is a valuable international network and a platform of craftspeople, designers, creative thinkers and producers in the area. The aim is that East Iceland will be a destination for creative people offering diverse services of workshops and residencies in various locations in East Iceland.

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all other images: MAKE by Þorpið

DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

above image: Designers and Forests


EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

Austurland: Designs from Nowhere Austurland: Designs from Nowhere explores the possibilities for small-scale design and production in East Iceland, using locally sourced materials and skills. The exhibited work was created following a series of workshops that took place in Autumn 2013 featuring the designers Max Lamb, Þórunn Árnadóttir, Julia Lohmann and Gero Grundmann collaborating with local practitioners in Egilsstaðir, Djúpivogur, Eskifjörður and Norðfjörður. The products are presented for the first time at Spark Design Space during DesignMarch. For each designer, the workshops started with an intensive learning process, to help understand better the potential of the materials and resources found among their new surroundings. For Max this meant exploring the hillsides south of Djúpivogur with Vilmundur Þorgrímsson, learning the geology of the mountains and considering potential uses for the rock. Þórunn learnt rudimentary net-making skills under the patient tutelage of net maker and teacher Þórhallur Þorvaldsson in Eskifjörður, while Julia and Gero roamed the coastline in Borgarfjörður eystra collecting seaweed and driftwood samples to test for suitability in their designs.

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The project is built on the ideologies of Make by Þorpið and is a direct outcome of the Make It Happen conference held in East Iceland in September 2012. The long-term aim is to make Austurland: Designs from Nowhere a biannual project, inviting a new group of designers to the East Iceland region

DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

image: Designs from Nowhere


EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

all images: Designs from Nowhere

Collaborator Pete Collard Q: What does community mean to you and your work? How do you define it?

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A: Community is the context in which all of our work takes place, whether in a global city like London or the villages of East Iceland. Community is the shared history, resources and skills that define each project and it is the audience that we speak to with the results. Q: What role does collaboration have in your process or projects? A: In the case of Designs from Nowhere, without collaboration there is no project. At the beginning of the workshops in East Iceland there was an intense learning process to understand the possibilities that exist in each community. From the start this meant that each design process was collaborative as the designers learnt new skills and explored the cultural history of the region. Q: What sort of impact do you hope your work have in your community or the community you are working with?

DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

A: We hope that the legacy for Designs from Nowhere is a better understanding of the potential that every community holds within it. The project was created with the specific intention of unearthing hidden or lost skills or resources in the community that could be developed into new products. These products represent the communities in which they were made and we hope that they encourage others to look around them at the resources on their doorsteps. 


EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

Epicenter To accentuate Green River, Utah, USA’s rural pride and pioneering spirit, the Epicenter works to promote the town of Green River and make it a more vibrant place to live and visit. A passionate, multidisciplinary team of young professionals, Epicenter engages, collaborates with, and learns from our community. We value the potent effect of collaboration over egotism, community participation over subversive upheaval, and local solutions over topdown decrees. We see ourselves as part of a change of tone occurring in the design professions, led by emerging professionals who want more than what the licensed professionals have settled for: working unapologetically for the socioeconomic elite. Epicenter is crafting an alternative model of practice, one that can accommodate our fervent desire to collaborate, to provide “shelter for the soul,” and to emphasize place and circumstance. Epicenter’s insistence for these ideals has led us to a radical mission taken on by “citizen architects.” To this great revolt we hereby pledge allegiance.

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DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

above: Designers And Forests left: Epicenter


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DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

USE THIS PAGE TO PRESENT A DESIGN FOR YOUR COMMUNITY

EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.


EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

TOOLKIT DESCRIBE YOUR COMMUNITY What does your community do well?

Are there problems in your community?

Where is your community, who are your neighbors?

What resources are available to community members?

Anything left out? LIST ALL COMMUNITY STAKE HOLDERS (WHO ARE THE PEOPLE THAT MAKE UP YOUR COMMUNITY? THINK THROUGH MANY DIFFERENT SPHERES AND SCALES OF INFLUENCE)

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DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

EXPLAIN THE STATE OF YOUR COMMUNITY NOW

EXPLAIN HOW YOU HOPE YOUR COMMUNITY IS IN THE FUTURE


EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND. TOOL KIT

SKETCH PAD

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EXPLAIN HOW COMMUNITY MEMBERS ARE CONNECTED

LIST THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUR COMMUNITY

DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

RECORD YOUR COMMUNITY GOALS


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EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

EXPLORE YOUR SURROUNDINGS LOOK FOR THINGS YOU NEVER NOTICED BEFORE LOOK UP HIGH LOOK DOWN LOW

DRAW A DIAGRAM OF SOMETHING YOU DON’ T UNDERSTAND

TAKE A WALK DOWN A DIFFERENT PATH

SHARE A CUP OF COFFEE WITH 5 STRANGERS

TAKE A NAP ON THE FLOOR

‒ ‒ Sometimes the role of a designer is simply to help a community envision their future.

‒ ‒ To create a destination, begin with a place where people want to live. Put the locals’ quality of life above the tourists’ quality of a visit.

‒ ‒ Cut out the design jargon. Talk like a normal human. You’re designing for people, not scholars.

‒ ‒ Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Work harder than anyone in the community expected.

‒ ‒ Bring the right people together: do-ers, leaders, and progressives who believe in change. Not just designers.

‒ ‒ Let data inform your work. If the data doesn’t exist, gather it yourself.

‒ ‒ Invest in the longterm. Live and work from within the community. Don’t just helicopter in and “save the day.”

EPICENTER’S RULES TO LIVE AND WORK BY

EXPERIENCE YOUR SURROUNDINGS. USE THIS PAGE TO RECORD YOUR FINDINGS

DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

HOLD ONTO SAND


EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

Collaborator Maria Sykes Q: What does community mean to you and your work? How do you define it? A: Epicenter has a few different communities. Our direct community, that of Green River, Utah (pop. 952), is defined as each and every resident in town. Without our local community, the Epicenter wouldn't have purpose. Everything we do is human-centric and for our local community. Our work is citizen-led and determined by our community's wants and needs. Beyond our town's borders, we're a part of a larger community of emerging designers and artists who share our attitude and common goals of working to create change through collaboration and design. Q: What roll does collaboration have in your process or projects? A: As emerging professionals, we value the potent effect of collaboration over egotism, community participation over subversive upheaval, and local solutions over top-down decrees. We see ourselves as part of a change of tone occurring in the design professions, led by emerging professionals who want more than what the licensed professionals have settled for: working unapologetically for the socioeconomic elite. We are crafting an alternative model of practice, one that can accommodate our fervent desire to collaborate, to provide “shelter for the soul,” and to emphasize place and circumstance. Our insistence for these ideals has led us to a radical mission taken on by “citizen architects." To this great revolt we hereby pledge allegiance.

Q: What sort of impact do you hope your work have in your community or the community you are working with? A: As local leaders of change, we do hope to inspire our community to craft a vision for their future. Less locally, we hope to inspire the global design community to collaborate with their communities and to emphasize place and circumstance. However, if you're going to work locally, there is little "hoping." There is only "doing." Since 2009: We have renovated a historic building in a blighted area of Green River, Utah. We co-developed the town's first ever affordable housing plan. We have facilitated the de facto chamber of commerce which has meet every other week since January 2012. We have raised funds for and design/building the first ever Habitat for Humanity home in Green River at a total cost of $76,500 for a 1050 SF 3 bed/2 bath home.

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We started the first ever residency program in Green River in 2012 which has ↓ hosted 41 professional artists-in-residence called “Frontier Fellows.” We started the first ever arts programming in Green River. Since beginning, it has facilitated 47 multi-session community arts workshops with 141 sessions serving 385 unique participants ages 4-80, 3 arts and music festivals, and mentoring 7 local teens as interns (teaching design thinking and promoting higher education to ages 15-20. We started the first ever local housing rehabilitation micro-lending program (“Fix It First”) in Green River and completing 15 critical home repairs during 2013. We assisted 71 households with social services such as food stamps, unemployment, and various housing programs.

DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

all images: Epicenter


EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

Designers and Forests Designers and Forests is a small group of interested individuals engaging in a conversation about their, and society’s, involvement with forest environments. Forests offer a wealth of possibilities. They are rich in raw material, yet also play a complex role in society—places that can be both very wild and highly cultivated and that elicit strong emotional responses. Through our interaction with the forest environment, we find opportunities for connections between individuals, scientists and designers to engage in interdisciplinary research and creative collaboration within our communities and throughout the world. While our methods are simple, our aim is lofty—to create healthier forests, healthier communities, while creating better designers and citizens. We maintain focus by keeping our efforts small and sustainable. We believe in taking creative risks, confronting conflicts, and making informed decisions that will benefit the small communities where we live and work.

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Beetle Kill and Aspen Die-Off is the inaugural project of the larger Designers and Forest collaborative. This design venture was prompted by the pine, spruce, and aspen that are stressed and endangered as a consequence of changing conditions in the Intermountain West. It links designers from Sweden and New York with foresters, scientists, activists, designers, artisans, and community members in Utah. The overall goal of the project is to help revitalize forests and foster healthier communities by taking a holistic view of both natural ecosystems and the design process.

DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

all images: Designers and Forests


EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

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Collaborators Megan Urban & Jason Dilworth Q: What does community mean to you and your work? How do you define it?

Q: What roll does collaboration have in your process or projects?

A: Community is an increasingly fluid concept. Certainly, there is the most traditional definition—those who you live or work with, knowing or experiencing them directly. When working with community based design, the community is your audience. However, the range of the community may vary. In many places in the United States, travel is expected so the physical scope of the communities is greater. In other, more densely populated places, a community may be a neighborhood, a block, or even a building. Perhaps it is the sense of awareness of who a person shares immediate space with, of those who are impacted by that person’s actions, that defines a community.

A: Design is inherently collaborative. There are so many creative individuals currently working and solving problems in their own communities that we must acknowledge their experience and efforts, learning from, and working with, them. As we design, we involve experts from different disciplines in our process, helping us to answer the questions we cannot. We also view the people or the communities we work with as being an essential part of the design process. Designers should hand-over some of their creative assumptions, and create work that many people—even a community—can take ownership of and continue.

Q: What sort of impact do you hope your work have in your community or the community you are working with? A: We gauge the impact of our work on multiple levels. There is the simple, yet lofty, goal of making the world a better place by making life easier for another person or by putting a smile on a face. At a more complex level, we would like our work to continue beyond our own efforts and ideas, inspiring others to action. We view the design pieces we create to be only one way to have an effect. It is the interactions that are part of the design process—the informal conversations and formal workshops—that have the potential for as much, if not more, impact. Through experience, people learn. Through exposure to other points of view, people may change their perspectives and, hopefully, their actions.

DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

A newer definition of community grows out of the increasingly global, far reaching connection made possible through modern means of communication. In preparing for this project, we spoke more frequently with a colleague in Sweden than with many individuals in our traditional community. In such a case, community may be defined through shared beliefs, interests, expertise, and experience, no matter how geographically isolated


EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

↑ 14 all images: Designers and Forests

Collaborator Daniel Byström Q: What does community mean to you and your work? How do you define it? A: The community for me means resources. When applying design thinking

in development processes, and connecting the community to it, there are endless opportunities. Design can bring forward more knowledge, experiences and thoughts, and enhance the creativity throughout the whole process. Design adds important tools for innovation and visualization. Connecting to the community in regional development is essential for achieve shared understanding of challenges and visions. It is a must for getting knowledge of the needs, important information, and relating to different stakeholders. When I work in community based design projects I aim to co-create, and co-design. The inspiration comes from the community, and the outcome is more sustainable.

DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

Q: What roll does collaboration have in your process or projects? A: First of all, without collaboration, the work would not be all that fun. Collaboration is a fuel to me, specially within design projects . I get knowledge from specialists, I learn and explore. I get new friends and connections. Together we test and experiment. Together we can make stuff, that none of us could come up with alone. I also believe that creative problem solving is made best together. We can use our different creative skills and crazy thoughts, and mix them up to fantastic results. Collaboration means respect, humbleness and curiosity. We need more collaboration between different minds and people. Between ages, between different cultures, between disciplines. Collaboration makes us work more together, we can understand each other better, reach out and make the world a better place.’

Q: What sort of impact do you hope your work have in your community or the community you are working with? A: The wanted impact depends on what we want to achieve. Often the aim within community based design projects is to strengthen the identity of a place to make a destination more attractive. We set up common guidelines in a communication platform, that the community works from. We look at the stages in the brand wheel and try to maintain a high level of satisfaction for the visitors. The community decides together the core values and works together to communicate them through signs, marketing, food, scents, materials, buildings etc. Then, there can be other reasons to strengthen the identity and the connection to a place. We want to connect to our story, we want to be proud, and feel as a collective. Sometimes we can achieve that in unexpected ways. Through provocative design, through design that illuminates a situation, design that has a content and a message, design that engage. That’s what I want; I want my work to engage the community!


EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

Designers and Forests collaborator Paul Rogers Director, Western Aspen Alliance Ecology Center Associate Wildland Resources Department Utah State University Q: Describe your work? A: My work addresses forest ecology and largescale landscape monitoring. I am most interested in human impacts on forest communities. Thus, my research has entailed investigations into fire ecology, monitoring methods, lichen and plant surveys (as bioindicators), large ungulate herbivory, and air pollution. All of these factors, and others, affect forest change and resilience. Human decisions on controlling their own impacts, as well as those of wild and domestic animals, play a big part in present and future system integrity. In recent years, I have focused much of my energies on understand quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) ecology and disseminating recent science related to this topic to interested scientists, land and wildlife managers, non-government organizations, schools, and the public.

WESTERN ASPEN ALLIANCE is a joint venture between Utah State University’s College of Natural Resources, USDI Bureau of Land Management, and the USDA Forest Service, whose purpose is to facilitate and coordinate research issues related to quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) communities of the west. The WAA disseminate state-of-the-science aspen information to interested managers, researchers, the public, and other entities. We host conferences, webinars, an online aspen subject matter bibliography, and an expertise database. The goal of the Western Aspen Alliance is to facilitate effective and appropriate management of aspen ecosystems in Western North America through coordinated scientific efforts and shared information.

Q: What can a designer learn from the forest and it’s ecosystems? A: Interconnectedness. Much as we’d like to believe that natural and social systems operate along simple linear pathways, this is rarely the case. Some may believe this runs counter to basic tenants of design which often invoke simplicity and elegance. However, I would argue that connections between salient components—be they trees and soil, fire and fuels and wind, or sound and color and beauty—are all lessons to be drawn from thriving forest ecosystems. I am particularly interested in links between humans and natural systems. Sometimes the connections are positive, in that they promote sustainable natural and social environments, and sometimes they are negative, in which they trend otherwise. When Euro-American settlers first came to the Rocky Mountain West they saw the high mountains and forests as a bounty, there for the taking. As time passed, settlements arose, and societies matured preservation of surrounding wildlands became synonymous with self-preservation. Overgrazing lead to flooding. Fire suppression lead to fuel build-up. Damning too many rivers in times of water plenty lead to over-allocated water in times of drought. Thus, we are faced with dilemmas calling for design solutions based on compatibility, sustainability, and resilience at the crossroads of human ingenuity and ecological complexity.

Q: What is the one thing you would like people to know about the ecology of the Utah forests? A: The things we do to forests have implications for us. Sometimes those implications have direct monetary consequences, like degradation of grazing or hunting lands that affect people’s livelihoods. Other times they simply impact our quality of life, as in reduced stream flow, wildlife habitat, camping opportunities, or aesthetic value. Forests, and the beauty their complexity holds, may serve as an elixir to societal ills; those busy and stressed lives overly dependent on instant gratification. For example, aspen may form a forest of genetically identical stems connected underground. Over time, these aspen “clones” may expand or contract depending on larger factors impacting their development. If we allow too many animals to eat the young sprouting stems from extensive aspen root systems we are dooming clones, forests, even large landscapes to reduced aspen cover and the biodiversity those ↑ forests support. Ecology is an open-ended query into the way the natural world functions. Ecologists embrace complexity for the lessons it teaches about natural systems and the way we engage them. In understanding connections, we learn while we contemplate. This, of course, takes time and patience. We can learn from the forests around us by making connections. The wisdom of these lessons helps us all live compatibly together.

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DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES


EXPLORE. REFLECT. RESPOND.

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image: Designers and Forests

DESIGNING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES

www.DesignersAndForests.us

DESIGN by MEGAN URBAN & JASON DILWORTH, DESIGNERS AND FORESTS PRINTED IN JAMESTOWN, NY, USA

Explore. Reflect. Respond. Designing for Small Communities.  

International designers, organizers, and curators present their approaches to engaging with small communities.

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