Mark DeYoung

Why graphic design works and how to harness the power of participatory design

While most of the InterCom members and guests who attended the October lunchtime Speaker Series program had at least a rough idea of the value and communication potential of graphic design, our speaker, Mark DeYoung, was able to define and clarify some vital principles and bring us up to speed on current trends.

He brought extensive credentials to this topic: DeYoung earned a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and MFA from Michigan State University. He has worked as a designer and educator in the U.S. and Europe, in industry and for service organizations, and is currently teaching graphic design at KVCC while also working with his own company, MJ DeYoung Design and with the experimental design collaborative he founded, Jumping Dog Design.

First, a little groundwork: what is graphic design? A look at uses from architectural signage through print to even body adornment demonstrated that it is, in DeYoung’s words, a “medium-independent creative problem solving discipline that focuses on people.” We went on to look at some notable examples in history.

The Power of Design: Symbols and Typography

Hitler and the Nazi Party introduced the modern graphic design standard using a comprehensive “bible” which established a consistent image for the national movement, distinctly recognizable and associated with infamy to this day. A more recent example is seen in the Enron logo’s distinctive crooked “E,” now associated with a crooked company. Is a designer responsible for the behavior associated with the image they create? There is no denying the power of the association. These highly controlled image systems can be described as a “design monologue.”

A Technology Revolution

Recent developments in design and communication technology have opened up every aspect of creation to more of a “design dialogue.” Examples include Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, WordPress, Squarespace and Tumblr, to name a few of the most familiar. How does this affect the process of working designers?

In order to encourage design students and professionals to think along these lines, DeYoung created some exercises to demonstrate the concept. He shared several of the “Collaborative Design Events” offered by Jumping Dog Design, intended to “expand the scope of the practicing designer,” using participatory design:

A “DIY Design Theory Event,” held in Helsinki, Finland during Helsinki Design Week, where participants were encouraged to create their own T-shirts expressing their own design theory within a graphic frame. The concept was also offered in paper form at Graphic Design Festival Breda, in Breda, The Netherlands, and an AIGA conference Design Gallery event in Nashville, Tennessee.

A “Participatory Art Installation” offered people with mental challenges and a criminal record a chance to collaborate in creating furniture with professional designers, in Breda, The Netherlands.

A “Design Gallery” in Tennessee where the public was invited to create their own arrangements of wood shapes on a wall for a “participatory installation.”

Bringing Participatory Design to Kalamazoo

KVCC is leading in design innovation with the applied learning experience of Design Crew, DeYoung’s graphic design curriculum program. DeYoung shared some examples of student work applied to real life area concerns: invited to develop an advertising program for Family Health Center’s effort to encourage breastfeeding, they settled on a photo exhibition using actual clients of the Health Center to engage the public and convey the message effectively. Others developed the branding for one of KVCC’s recent new initiatives: the Culinary Kitchen on the new Health Campus—learning, in the process, to handle a professional client presentation.

We were left with the question: do technological advances offer a threat or an opportunity for professional designers? DeYoung encouraged us to think about the ways we can adapt and make the most of some exciting opportunities to bring value and serve clients better by encouraging participation.