Our Summer Reading List, 2014

Illustration of a stack of books

As dedicated but typically distracted readers, we often wonder what titles our friends and colleagues are reading—and wishing we had the time to take in the books ourselves. Summer gives us an opportunity to play catch up, and a chance to ask around for recommendations. In our continuing tradition of gathering summer reading lists, we consulted several of our inspiring collaborators from the design projects and programs we’ve been involved in over the past year. The polled include our fellow participants in “Implementing Impact! The Business of Social Design,” a one-week workshop on design for social impact, presented by the School of Visual Arts Impact: Design for Social Change program; our partners in <codr>, an app we helped create as part of the 12-Week Prototyping Bootcamp for educators and technologists, presented by EDesign Lab and 4.0 Schools; and our teammates in Design/Relief, the AIGA/NY initiative to help areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy.

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From Scratching to Coding

Li’l Robin’s founder Anke Stohlmann at <codr> presentation, June 5, 2014.

For today’s students, coding is the new literacy: If they don’t know how to code, their job prospects will most certainly be limited in the future. In a YouTube video posted for Computer Science Education Week last December, President Barack Obama asked the U.S. to learn how to code: “If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans to master the tools and technology that will change the way we do just about everything.”

Block-based code (Scratch), left; professional code, right.

Many children are now learning basic coding skills in Scratch, a popular programming environment that teaches the concepts of coding using a simple visual system based on building blocks. But it’s a big leap from Scratch to the “real” programming languages of Javascript, Python and Processing, and it’s hard to know which language to learn next. <codr> is a new app that helps kids “graduate” from Scratch to the more complex text-based programming languages that are used at a professional level. L’il Robin founder Anke Stohlmann collaborated on the creation of the app with the educator Keledy Kenkel and the developers Adam Wooton and Hassan Abdel-Rahman.

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Connecting People Through Stories

Panel Detail from Interactive exhibit by Collective Story at Border Crossers' Gala

Interactive exhibit by Collective Story at the Border Crossers’ Gala, May 8th, 2014

Telling stories is a time-tested, universal and appealing form of expression that allows people to creatively engage with the world around them. Collective Story is a new project that uses the power of storytelling to start community conversations. Designed as a simple, low-fidelity intervention—an oversized piece of paper posted in a public area—Collective Story invites passersby to begin a dialogue, use their imaginations, or voice their concerns. The approach promotes civic engagement and critical thinking in a collaborative way that also happens to be a lot of fun.

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Using Placemaking to Revitalize Communities

RuediBaur, CivicCity Project

The Studio of Calligraphy presented by Bakélite, global and solid design, as part of Civic City’s project in Nègrepelisse, September 15, 2013. © La cuisine, Center of Art and Design.

When a community seeks to transform itself in the face of a challenge, it can be difficult to organize a response that satisfies everyone involved and stills feels true to the place. Creative placemaking is an inclusive approach that uses art and design as a catalyst to help communities regenerate themselves. Partners from public, private, non-profit and community sectors collaborate to shape the physical or social character of their town, neighborhood or city. The resulting project may take the form of a cultural activity, the regeneration of buildings or streetscapes, or the development of a new landmark or destination. Often the process involves the creation of a story or narrative that expresses the unique quality of a place, and begins with a simple question: What would you like to change about your community?

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Designing to Make a Difference

Photo mural project featuring Red Hook residents

Photo mural project featuring Red Hook residents. Photo by David Al-Ibrahim

When natural disaster impacts a community, it’s not just the physical destruction that takes its toll—the damage to the area’s self-image, pride, sense of place and economic well-being can be long-lasting and particularly hard to rebuild. Design/Relief is a new initiative from AIGA/NY that pairs communication designers and other specialists with the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy to help re-establish a sense of identity through creative place-making. Three teams have been assembled to help the neighborhoods of Red Hook, Brooklyn; the Far Rockaways in Queens; and the South Street Seaport in Manhattan. Li’l Robin is one of the firms chosen to work with residents and small businesses in Red Hook. Our collaborators on the team include the design studio MGMT., the non-profit strategists Amplifier Project, and the communications specialist David Al-Ibrahim. The area is particularly close to our hearts: Li’l Robin founder Anke Stohlmann lives in the adjacent neighborhood of Carroll Gardens and has seen first-hand the effect Sandy has had on the community.

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