It’s been over two years since we launched the Detroit City of Design Action Plan alongside dozens of local partners, and now more than ever, Design Core is committed to advancing the practice of inclusive design in Detroit and beyond. Together with College for Creative Studies and local hybrid design studio rootoftwo, we are working to advance one of the key recommendations that came out of the action plan – the development of an inclusive design training program. While the COVID-19 crisis has heavily impacted our original plans for co-creation of this program, it has only reinforced our belief that inclusive design is the path forward, and we remain committed to engaging peers and stakeholders in this process. Let’s check in with rootoftwo to see what that looks like.
Design Core: First, would you mind sharing a little about yourselves?
rootoftwo: We are rootoftwo, LLC a research and practice-driven hybrid design studio, formed in 1998. Our work engages in civic future-making, using design methods to facilitate people to imagine and shape collective visions of desirable futures that are more just, resilient, inclusive, and adaptive.
Design Core: Cool! Please tell us more about the project you’re working on.
rootoftwo: This program will offer capacity-building opportunities for designers and non-designers to respond to the shifting social, economic, and environmental realities of the 21st Century. Fundamentally it is about helping people formulate a set of approaches that take into consideration the spectrum of human diversity and the individual experiences of each person to create solutions that have a broader social impact. Vitally, that means taking a values-driven approach to research and program development that foregrounds equity and inclusion as part of every phase of work.
In phase one, we are conducting original baseline design research. We are comparing equivalent programs nationally and internationally; gathering information on comparable inclusive design training programs; and interviewing those involved with exemplar programs to understand the opportunities, challenges, and models they have employed. We have created a bibliography of books and journal articles related to inclusive design to provide an overview of the field, indicate thought leadership, and establish sources for further investigation.
Design Core: How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted this project?
rootoftwo: Central to developing the inclusive design training program is for this to be done with and not just for our community members, policymakers, entrepreneurs, educators, students, and other creative professionals. This phase of work originally included stakeholder gatherings to understand what people would want to see in future trainings and opportunities. Just as we were beginning this work, COVID-19 hit. We had to quickly reconfigure to develop online approaches that would support listening and learning from the wealth of experience and expertise that we would have gained through the stakeholder gatherings.
Design Core: Could you tell us more about the approach you’re taking in light of the situation?
rootoftwo: We interviewed 20 resident/community, industry/entrepreneur, and government/policy stakeholders. For students, faculty, staff, and alumni we decided to develop an online survey as the best way to understand how an inclusive design training program could augment existing curricula at metro Detroit educational institutions (including College for Creative Studies, Wayne State University, University of Detroit Mercy, Lawrence Technological University, and University of Michigan).
An issue that came up for us was whether and how to collect demographic data in a way that is much more intentional and much more inclusive. Participants need to understand why we are collecting this information, how we will use it, and how we are thinking about framing these choices. After researching best practices in inclusive demographic data collection, we decided to use an open-ended question prompt. We felt it was important for people to self-describe in any of the ways that they might construct identity for themselves using any of the words that are meaningful, rather than a set of checkboxes. There is an urge to want to track data fully and to make that tracking as reproducible as possible from question taker to question taker. Instead, we went with something harder to track, but that afforded an infinite variety of self-description. For this phase of work, we believe this was the right approach. Working with inclusion as a guiding principle is always about these little judgment calls.
Design Core: Beyond this project, how has COVID-19 impacted you as a design-based business?
rootoftwo: We have an office at Green Garage and are grateful for the continued community they have fostered during lockdown – providing advice, economic resources, and relief. We are also fortunate that we can work from our home. There have been days when we have been overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation. We have focused on doing our best by the people and partners that work with us. That pretty much keeps us focused on the immediate day-to-day, but we know we should be thinking about the future – on working to imagine and realize a just and equitable recovery. There is an opportunity in the current crisis to reimagine the regulatory, political, financial, and social systems that we want on the other side. We are taking small steps in our practice and as part of larger collectives to build the reserves, capacities, and power needed to influence the next normal. We have to begin somewhere.
Thanks to the team at rootoftwo for sharing more about what they’ve been up to. Stay tuned for more updates on our progress by subscribing to our newsletter.