Community design centers are non-profit organizations that provide high quality design to underfunded and underserved areas of a community. They're usually established as extensions of colleges and universities, and they're intended to positively impact the surrounding community though design — usually through the physical build.
Back when I was pursuing my degree at the University of Cincinnati’s college of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning, I worked for one, with the intention of helping to revitalize one of the more depressed parts of Cincinnati. The focus was the design of a farmers market, an initiative that included contributions from Architecture, Planning, Industrial Design, and my own discipline of study, Graphic Design. The end result of our work is a vibrant, exciting environment, and this experience got me thinking about ways in which my current discipline could take part.
A role for interaction designIt seems like there are opportunities for interaction designers to determine how the design and integration of technology could impact these communities. Our lives today are increasingly formed beyond the bounds of the physical build — in online spaces or through software that is integrated into the physical environment. As this trend continues, I believe that there are significant opportunities to positively impact the health and vitality of the underprivileged areas of our community through effective interaction design.
While surveys show a general increase in computer ownership and online access among inner city families, computer use in the inner city remains significantly lower than in other areas (see Digital Designs on the Inner City, for more info). Providing access to computers and technology is the first step; figuring out how to integrate these things into the urban environment, and tailoring the information and services they provide to have a real and lasting impact on the people that live there should be the real objective.
The integration of interaction design into the community design practice is a timely and logical next step for increasing the impact that design has on our communities. For example, in the case of the farmer's market, imagine the integration of a multimedia kiosk that delivers relevant information about health and nutrition to the people who most need it. How else could you imagine integrating well designed, technology-based solutions into a project like this?
For more information on community design, check out the website for the Association for Community Design.