Improving Humanity by Improving AC4D
As the ninth cohort to (soon) graduate from Austin Center for Design (AC4D), this assignment felt particularly appropriate to the end of our 8-month journey.
Our task: to develop and present a case study of how to improve AC4D within one of the following areas: financing, bootcamps, continuing programs (for alumni), and recruiting.
AC4D’s main offering is a 1-Year Course to earn a Certificate in Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship. My intent was to develop a strategy that could significantly impact participants of the 1-Year Course. That area is recruitment.
Video of the full case study.
Since AC4D was founded in 2010, design teams, processes, and fundamentals have gone from nascent to ubiquitous within the larger business world. Capital One, USAA, even Wal-Mart now have design teams and process that were once only achievable by design firms like frog design or Argo Design.
The influence of interaction design is strong, particularly in businesses with influence. AC4D has a duty to its social entrepreneurship roots to not only influence business, but to graduate students who can affect “wicked problems.” These are the large, complex solutions like poverty and natural resource management that have no easy fixes, or one set of key performance indicators.
The problem is that AC4D’s cohort does not reflect the diversity of the United States, nor Austin. It has typically recruited, taught, and graduated people who look like me (white) and have a history like mine (privileged.)
One of the key takeaways from our Theory classes at AC4D is the recognition of “designing for” versus “designing with” and how designing for wicked social problems is not as easy as implementing the “correct” solution. Take perhaps the most wicked problem of them all- inequality. Do you suppose that the most privileged members of a society can single-handedly design a solution for a minority community? No. Nor should they.
Design requires expertise, but expertise formed by working in and with, and on behalf of communities that designers aren’t often members of. There’s limits to what a non-members can do, as there are limits to empathy.
That’s why AC4D should launch a targeted effort to recruit local, minority community members to join AC4D.
The time is right for AC4D as well: with the school now in a larger studio space, the average cohort size has doubled, from 8 to 16 students per year.
The goal: For 25% of the 2020-2021 cohort to come from Austin’s diverse community. We begin with 5 local chamber of commerces, and the method is lightweight, and low-risk. Each step builds on the next, proving if the outreach is worth devoting more resources.
The method is simple: communication with chambers of commerce for a complimentary presentation to its members, and a the basics of AC4D’s outreach and scholarship efforts. AC4D reps present on design thinking and its rapid rise in the business community. They end the presentation with an ask: encouraging minority candidates and their contacts to apply, with scholarship details.
As leaders in making design education affordable, AC4D is well suited to attempt this outreach strategy. The future of wicked problems depends on all communities having access to creative problem solving methods and practices.