problem solving & designing solutions, a social impact module at university of johannesburg

Between August and September 2018, I was able to provide objectives and structure to direct and facilitate a module on social impact for thirty BA Multimedia Design students at University of Johannesburg. Their brief was set to problem solve around design and communication challenges related to a development organisation or group in the city.

The students were in their second year of study, with their earlier focuses towards meeting demands within the media, advertising and commercial worlds, such as promotional videos, websites and mobile interfaces. The briefs were often fairly specific, ie, title credits in a particular genre’s aesthetic. Therefore with the module directed towards designing for ‘social impact’, their course tutor and I had agreed to present real-life examples of organisations – with their limitations, needs and socio-economic conditions – to give students also the chance to connect with the personalities behind them.

This posed as an opportunity for students to experience the challenging process of designing outside of the ‘creative industries’, where those within share a common language, practices, and other technical and conceptual understandings. To design and collaborate with parties in this new space, required the students to disrupt complacent attitudes and expectations. And to establish their own approach to self-initiated research, responsive engagement, in order to understand and internalise parts of the complex social systems and realities, before reaching design solutions.

I had several motives behind this partnership:

  • To grow relationship with youth, in order to invite them on future project independent of their course
  • To link youth to social development groups, for the possibilities of continued contributions and engagements with the causes
  • To expose the complexity of social systems to youth, in order for broader, lateral, cross-disciplinary, problem-solving practices to be experimented with and adopted
  • To introduce a new direction of design, intention, audience and ‘client’, to those who have been directed to design for the demands of mainly commercial entities
  • To encourage the partnership between social development groups (with often limited resources, time and access) and institutions (control over student directives and therefore a creative, skills resource). Could a greater number of briefs and modules increase the productivity within the social sphere, provide challenging briefs and real-world environments for testing and analysis, that can speed-up innovation and student learning, and without challenging the industries and providing competition?

Through several ‘gamified’ students were able to approach various aspects of the social impact space, including:

  • Defining ‘social impact’
  • Introduction to 3 topics and organisation: Recycling, Food Waste & Community Agriculture
  • Engaging with a holistic view of the 3 topics
  • Research into audience profiling, psychological needs and drivers, towards proposing their own target audiences and positioning of their project
  • Research into the organisations through direct interaction
  • Exploring the existing communication approaches of social campaigns
  • Ethical considerations for social impact communication

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