Funding Received: 2013
New York, NY
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
December 10, 2013

This late fall, AIGA/NY is continuing to build its Design/Relief project, a participatory design project to help the three New York City neighborhoods of Red Hook, the Rockaways and South Street Seaport re-establish community identities. Design teams are now finalizing the first phase of research and discovery, and have met with many stakeholders in these communities hit hard by Sandy.

Creative Project Management
In October and November 2013, the Design/Relief teams focused on conducting research and interviewing stakeholders and residents, who represented by a diverse palette of organizations such as small businesses, tenant associations, social and health services providers, and recovery efforts entities. The teams approached the research phase humbly by listening and studying the participating communities as blank slates at a time when a number of organizations—Federal, State and otherwise—have poured into these places to offer solutions for better, more resilient places. "The influx of researchers, urban planning projects and aid programs is wearing on residents and local organizations—likening Red Hook to a Petri dish," writes David Al-Ibrahim, the Design/Relief Red Hook Team storyteller. Although our teams were warned about the general fatigue, they have only found open hearts and hands when they went to the neighborhood.

We equipped our teams with team management tools, including Contract Agreements, Schedules & Deliverables and Expectations documents, which bring clarity to roles, responsibilities, and shared expectations. Because the teams are curated and the fact that most team members didn't know each other prior to the Design/Relief project and were new to collaborative settings, it was crucial to foster a sense of belonging through very practical tools and work methods. We have completed in-person debrief meetings with team members to address concerns and clarify outstanding issues such as how a designer recruited as a storyteller should not act a designer but play that subtle role of a translator of the creative process on behalf of the entire team, thinking outwardly how to share the story with the rest of the design community and the public at large. We also discussed at length the intersection of the community engagement strategist's role in communicating and shaping the project's position "in the world" with the designer's vision and necessity to think of his/her work in terms of impact.


We expanded the Rockaway team to include a second designer group called Partners&Partners, which brings a strong digital background and greater familiarity with the area—especially during Occupy Sandy, providing complementary expertise and support to the design work of Publication Placement.

We finalized our agreement with two documentary filmmakers Meshakai Wolf and Zac Nicholson, who will capture the overall project goal and impact. The filmmakers’ mission is to convey a sense of place through the design process, provide visual context for each neighborhood’s geographic character and vibrancy, and coordinate team interviews with relevant community representatives. We hope that the film will serve as the by-product of the design team work and function as a way to convey a sense of discovery, progress, and positive transformation through design.

Finally, we opened up the Design/Relief initiative to encourage AIGA/NY member participation. Since the announcement of the initiative, we received an enormous amount of interest from volunteers seeking ways to get involved in the project. Following a recent group session with volunteers, we're devising specific supporting roles around tech support, photography, communications strategy, event planning and fundraising.

Programming and partnerships
As New York marked Super Storm Sandy’s one-year anniversary, Design/Relief launched a series of conversations around the theme of creative placemaking as part of our efforts to define what differentiates creative platemaking by design. Our plan is to invite inspiring leaders in community development and experts from around the world to present their stories and best practices in making places more visible, legible, and navigable.

We purposely schedule these events in the three sites we are working in currently so that our teams can use them as leverage to connect with local partners. On October 24, 2013, we started in Red Hook with Donald Hyslop, Head of Regeneration and Community Partnerships at London's Tate Modern, one of the largest and most iconic arts institutions in the UK. He shared works with Tate's communities and surroundings that engage visiting and local artists, using existing infrastructure, and support economic diversity within the community, while building a connection between tourists and local residents.


On November 22, 2013, we hosted Paris-based design expert Ruedi Baur, Principal at Ruedi Baur Design, and founder of Civic City, a Geneva-based institute of critical research, focused on the identity of places by design. He shared a select number of case studies of his participatory design practice and academic labs, demonstrating how to leverage the use of typography as a civic act. He discussed extensively the role of design as a means to bring history to a non-place in what he called the high culture of the temporary. And he addressed the shifting role of designers as prototype makers in context and encouraged our designers to think of their unique capacity to create counter projects. Design as counterpoint.

Content and Communications
A dedicated Design/Relief section was launched to share progress and announce Design/Relief events. The Daily Heller recently celebrated the launch of our teams in the media. We are planning a brainstorming session around PR strategy to gain more visibility for the project in the coming months as we start clarifying what each design project will be in each of our sites.

We are in the midst of building a new interactive platform for Creative Placemaking by design examples. Working in collaboration with volunteer designers and AIGA chapter members, we are developing a strategy for an online platform to crowdsource ideas about Creative Placemaking by design, setup award winners and possible dissemination schedules through-out our Design/Relief programs. Ideally, this platform would feed in a public program in Spring 2014 focused on discussing creative placemaking.


Recent Wins
-- Building team spirit, M.O. and understanding of their respective project's goals and positioning

-- Creating momentum with public programs and tying them with team's inspiration, direction and outlook

-- Establishing trust in neighborhoods with preliminary conversations, seeds to more established partnerships

-- Curating design teams requires hands-on creative management

-- Designers are not natural collaborators, collaboration requires tools, rules and encouragement.

-- The concept of designer as an agent of change, whose work intends on having an affect on a particular site, social condition, or urban context is not that familiar within the graphic design community practice