Design in Social Systems

Tiles highlighting creative organizational case studies from student work.
Tiles highlighting creative organizational case studies from student work.

Design in Social Systems, the core required seminar for the Minor in Creative Practice for Social Change, brings together students from disciplines across the University who are interested in creating change through design, art, and other creative practices. During each week of the spring 2020 class, a guest expert joined the class to talk about how they use creative practices in their work. Guests included artists such as Yvonne Osei (MFA16), an MFA alum who creates textiles and patterns that respond to different spaces and sociopolitical situations; Geoff Ward, professor of African and African-American Studies and faculty affiliate in the Department of Sociology and American Culture Studies Program (all in Arts & Sciences at Washington University), who examines the racial politics of social control and mapping histories of racial violence; and Rachel Roberts (BA19), a recent alum who uses her design practice to interrogate environmental and educational challenges. These guests exposed students to a wide range of methods, in turn encouraging students to reflect on their own skills and interests. 

To wrap up the semester, the students worked in small teams to research, write, and design case studies of organizations in the St. Louis area that utilize a range of creative practices to make an impact on the community. The student teams had calls with the leadership of these organizations, to hear directly from those who are involved in the process; these conversations also set the stage for relationship building. As one student said, “It was cool to see how the project could extend outside of the semester and class. Once the class is over, you don’t stop engaging with these people and neighborhoods and communities.” Students also reviewed materials that the organizations had produced, including reports, websites, and social media.

Each organization brought a different creative practice to their work:

- Arbolope is a landscape architecture firm that works in urban design, community building, and public art.
- Better Family Life provides social services, youth empowerment, and community building that seeks to bridge socioeconomic gaps.
- Creative Reaction Lab champions equity-centered community design, empowering youth for racial justice.
- Perennial creates art workshops that foster a culture of sustainability through creative reuse. 

The final case studies are available online here. Social media profiles of each organization were also created, and are available here


Better Family Life 
Creative Reaction Lab 

Minor in Creative Practice for Social Change

The minor in Creative Practice for Social Change provides students with a deeper understanding of how to use creative practices in art, design, and architecture to address systemic economic, environmental, and social challenges. Creativity is an essential component of social change, particularly in creating new systems and solutions, understanding the fundamental constraints of a challenge, and leading the process of change. Creative practice can encompass a broad array of production methods, including printmaking, sculpture, fashion design, communication design, architecture, landscape architecture, planning, and performance, among others. Learn more>>