Learn more about the City of Design Challenge experience firsthand through the words of our intern

Hear our Intern’s take on supporting the City of Design Challenge so far! 

July 6, 2021, Detroit, MI My name is Sydney Mantua and I am the Intern working with Ellie Schneider & the Design Core team on the City of Design Challenge. I am a communication designer at College For Creative Studies (CCS) and will be going into my senior year next fall. This internship is a part of the Applebaum Fellow Internship Program. I took this position because I want to stay in Detroit as I start my career and am interested in working for a company that really champions for design in Detroit. Design Core is known as the central hub for Detroit’s design community and I admire that they support and help Detroit based designers.  They offer services to strengthen, grow and attract design businesses, and increase market demand for design services in order to advocate for design that improves lives locally and globally. The City of Design Challenge (CODC) is a new program for Design Core that encompasses everything Design Core stands for. I am excited to be a part of this competition & meet more wonderful and inspiring people in the Detroit community.

The City of Design Challenge has begun and so far it has been a very exciting and eye-opening experience for everyone involved. Major contributors to the challenge’s success, John Marshall & Cezanne Charles from rootoftwo, help prepare and lead the sessions. I was not sure what to expect when accepting this internship position because the CODC is a new program, but I am very grateful that I am able to be a part of this team. The competition consists of mandatory training sessions, along with optional talks & workshops that allow the teams to be more conscious designers and learn from other members of the Detroit community. As the Design Challenge Intern, I feel like I have truly won a prize to be able to attend all the talks and events. At CCS we talk extensively about inclusive design and how to address the community in our work, but the sessions & talks of the competition have pointed out things I haven’t yet considered. It is also nice to work directly with individuals who combat these issues every day as they are working. I feel lucky to have this opportunity to hear from experts so early in my career. It is also great to hear from Detroiters from all different backgrounds. The things that the presenters and teams mentioned in the sessions and talks will stick with me throughout my career.

So far, we have heard from seven amazing & socially aware professionals. First, Chris Cornelius, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin and Founder of Studio Indigenous, talked about how design can be a ceremony. My biggest takeaway from his talk was that when designing for an area, it is important to do your research on who was there before you. It is respectful to acknowledge the history of where you are designing for and to respect those people in your designs. This attention can have a big impact on the community. Next, Sarah Miles, a Trauma-Informed Designer and Child, and Adolescent Mental Health Specialist talked about addressing trauma in the design process. She talked about how it is important to remember when dealing with trauma that people may have things going on that have nothing to do with you. You should recognize the places trauma might show up in your practice, realize trauma exists and is impactful, resist re-traumatization by engaging with others to create a safe & respectful space and respond by integrating concepts of change and self-reflection. After, Wesley Taylor, who is a Printmaker, Graphic Designer, Musician, Animator, Educator, Mentor, and Curator, did a talk about starting where you are. He mentioned, to be inclusive as you design, you have to work with others, but you also have to work on yourself. If you are not inviting the principles into your daily life, it will be hard to address them to others and find solutions. Next, in a panel discussion, Asandi S Conner, Ani Grigorian, and Kaylan Waterman talked about dealing with partners and teams. Something that was important to hear from the panelists was that good collaboration comes from relationships over time and it often works better when you already know that this person has your back and will value the time and effort you are going to put into the work. Often it takes time to establish those relationships before a productive process can take place. Also, we often know the what and the why of a project because it is the vision and why you are passionate in the first place. The who and the how are harder but also more important to nail down because it is difficult to attract the right people without knowing who you need and how you are going to make your vision happen. Finally, Kimani Jeffrey an urban planner for the Detroit City Council & City Planning Commission talked about finding opportunities in conflict and how it is possible to move from disputes to solutions. He mentioned that in conversation we often aren’t properly listening because we are coming up with our rebuttal as the other person is talking. Without listening, you aren’t able to have a healthy and fair conversation. It is important to put your pride aside and really take in the conversation as you are having it. You may realize that your opinions are not as far off as you originally thought. As you can see, the talks have already shared some valuable knowledge and there are many more inspiring talks to come as we continue the competition.

One of my favorite parts of the sessions is when we always go over Acknowledgements of Indebtedness & Rules of Engagement/Community Practices before we get into the meat of the session material. I think this helps ground the group and reminds everyone that even though this is set up as a competition, that this is a great opportunity to teach each other and learn from one another. With anything on zoom, it is hard for people to feel like they can open up. We are also talking about a lot of vulnerable topics like acknowledging your privilege and how you deal with trauma and conflict. Luckily that initial awkwardness did not last long and we have had many people open up and share with the group in the sessions and activities. This has been really helpful for me getting to hear about the experiences everyone faces and how they are able to deal with their situations. In a way, without even knowing it, all the teams are mentoring me on how to be a professional. Everyone involved is becoming more conscious about issues surrounding the Detroit community and gaining skills to combat these obstacles. One of the teams we are supporting mentioned, “It is evident that they put so much thought and time into planning a collaborative, inclusive, and quality training program for us to have access to and help lift our local initiatives.” As the pilot event, there have been a few kinks along the way, but with feedback and troubleshooting, we are figuring out how to make this competition successful for everyone involved. We have heard a lot of other positive feedback and some suggestions for the future that helps to let us know that the teams feel like they are getting something great out of all the planning and work it takes to run an event like this.

I am looking forward to even more sessions, talks, and workshops. Especially, the Quilting Bee with Diana Nucera aka Mother Cyborg. The event is open to the public with limited space on Saturday 7/17 & 8/7 from 9 am-12 pm. Participants will be given supplies and training to sew together while discussing big data, community tech, and more. The workshop will result in a hand-stitched community quilt. If you are interested in hearing any of the talks mentioned above or attending any future events you can find everything on the design core website under the City of Design Challenge tab.