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Life and our communities, by design

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Staff

AUGUST 11, 2021

In my gap year before attending college, I and a few friends founded Project Meta, a weeklong community building and personal growth retreat for college students and young adults. When designing the curriculum, I delved deep into design thinking. We wanted to incorporate design thinking into our workshops and use it as a methodology for developing our programming.

Without formal training, I read every resource available on Stanford’s d.school’s website and attended numerous events. I learned about divergent thinking and convergent thinking, utilizing sticky notes and Sharpies intensively, and how to iterate upon prototypes. I was fascinated by learning how design is a process that can be applied almost anywhere. I wanted to keep learning more about it.

Berkeley has no formal design program but many informal pathways and communities. Design Innovation courses are highly competitive to get into, so instead, I opted to get involved with the Jacobs Institute of Design via its speaker events and field trips.

In my first semester, I visited the Charles and Ray Eames exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California with the Jacobs Institute of Design. Charles and Ray Eames were groundbreaking industrial designers who made significant contributions to modern architecture and furniture. In an interview with Charles Eames, he defines design as “a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose.” 

This brought me back to a conversation I had right before summer. At the beginning of college, my father emphasized that I need to take advantage of college to understand my strengths and talents. When I asked him what my strengths are, he said, “You are very organized.”

I’ve never thought of design as an organizational process, but it makes sense when I stop to think about it. We need to place elements in the most intuitive space so that they can be the most functional. 

I started to realize that just as there was so much to the technicalities of design, that design is also everywhere and we all utilize design processes in our everyday lives. In deciding what we are doing each day and planning out our schedule, we design our life. In organizing and cleaning our room, we design our space.

For example, I read somewhere that circles are the most joyful shape. So, to imbue my cramped freshman dorm with joy, I cut every single beautiful flyer I received into a circle and pinned it up. I wanted to create a wall of bubbles, abundant and round, with no end.

Simultaneously, while thinking about design in my daily life, I continued my earnest attempts to learn about design theory. I discovered Berkeley Institute of Design’s weekly seminar where doctoral students and visiting scholars give presentations on interdisciplinary design. To be frank, I was always slightly confused as they talked in highly technical terms. Sometimes, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. But that didn’t dissuade me — I took a challenge lab called Deplastifying the Planet, in which I applied design thinking to crafting a waste-to-good economy. 

One of my favorite things about exploring design at Berkeley is getting involved with the College of Environmental Design, our architecture school. During my freshman year, a coxswain strongly recommended that I take Introduction to Landscape Architecture, and I said, “Sure.” I finally squeezed the class into my sophomore spring semester and found a renewed joy in observing our built environment and imagining how it could be better. 

Getting involved with environmental design asked me to think about how I can use design to think about myself, my community and our collective future.

In that same semester, I was also fortunate to partake in the Wayfinding your Purpose decal. This curriculum provides design thinking exercises for students to ponder their path of purpose. Life design asks that you accept that there are multiple satisfying and fulfilling paths, that you can intentionally craft and design your life. It hinges on the maxim “You won’t know until you try.”

Life design is for the self, but what will it be like when we come together to design for our community? 

One of the most delightful events I’ve attended is Oakland 2100, a public engagement game that asks its participants to build housing and community structures (using Legos) for Oakland’s growing population, fulfilling different building needs and operating under constraints. 

While it’s unlikely that such a hastily built city will become a reality, this kind of creative engagement allows constituents to understand the city planning process better and invites them to engage deeply in shaping the future of their built environment.

Learning about design thinking expanded my understanding and knowledge of design. Previously, I’d mostly thought about the aesthetic and visual aspects of design and usually interpreted design as a way to make things more beautiful. Now, I understand that design is also a process, methodology and discipline applied to many fields.

In crafting my Interdisciplinary Studies major, I included speculative design, a critical design approach that focuses on possibilities rather than probabilities, as one of the topics I wanted to delve deeper into. How do emergent technologies and stories shape our civic life? How can we speculate together and question the status quo through community engagement and programs? In asking these questions, I hope to come to a broader understanding of how belonging is mediated by design.

Shuge Luo writes the Wednesday column on creativity and belonging. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter
LAST UPDATED

AUGUST 11, 2021


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