Designing for Social Good – the Lunchroom

18:55 30 May in Interviews, Social, Thinkers

George’s Thoughts on Re-designing a Public School Cafeteria’s Lunchroom Experience

George Aye thinks it’s important that his students work with populations that they normally don’t “bump” into — what he referred to as those who are “underserved.” He is happy he has a job as a tenured track assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he is able to introduce students to those underserved populations so that they get design experience for the social good. The school, meanwhile, benefits by being known as a place where students learn about the ways they can impact the world around them.
So they identified a public school on the south side of Chicago, the Academy for Global Citizenship, that needed its cafeteria re-designed. The school had something rare going for it in terms of public school’s in general: its food quality was excellent. The struggle was getting the kids to eat the lunch food. So the goal was to improve the lunchroom experience. That meant re-designing the interface between the food and the kids. Listen to George talk about this in today’s video episode in the latest of a series of interviews with George talking about Design Thinking and the social good.

Design Lessons Learned

I asked George Aye what he thought his students learned from the re-designing a public school lunchroom experience, and he thought that exposing yourself to an underserved population is a wise one because many people — such as parents of the students — are designers, even if they don’t have the training to be an actually designer. So there’s lots to learn.

Also deep seated empathetic research allows for a richer understanding of how the students need to respond to the design problems. This kind of empahty means you can fit things into people’s lives, as opposed to pressing on to it.

George’s view is that designers don’t give their design solutions as a gift but that the populations that George serves are the experts, and he is trying to catch up to them.

Prototyping is key, as a way to see what works. Watch the video below to hear all of George’s thoughts.

On the importance of integrating people you are serving as part of the design team

Change is something necessary in any design process, but especially when the process involves intersecting with a social good project. In the case of George Aye and his students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, one thing that was apparent was how slow the entire process of trying to affect change is. That’s something they learned when re-designing the cafeteria for students at the Academy for Global Citizenship, a public school in Chicago, to help it become a more “user-friendly’ place.

And, for George, one of the lessons he’s learned as a designer is that the population you’re serving should be integrated as an integral part of your design team. This is something he learned with the parents of those students at the school. By giving the parents some tools and explaining the design process, you can get insights into their design ideas, ones that they’ve held inside, which were just waiting to be unleashed, Aye said.

That’s a great lesson for every designer, not just those who are working to advance the social good. To listen to George’s insightful comments on these subjects just click on the video below.

George’s Advice to Designers

George Aye has some interesting advice for those who want to make an impact in Design Thinking. He admits that the work can be overwhelming for those who want to design in the social good arena. The needs and the statistics can get depressing at times. So his advice is to try to distance yourself from the complexities of the project and treat it like any other project. Approach the issues and problems in a systematic way, as opposed to giving completely of yourself, he said.

To also make an impact, George also advises that Designers make a quick analysis of the assets in the community — things that are happening that are positive and being underutilized — and then tap into them, looking for what he refers to as “positive deviance,” which means someone who is acting in a way that you want them to act. Then, as a Designer, you try to scale the actions or behaviors that are working.

To listen to what he said, just click on the video below.