Design educators have the increasingly complex task of emphasizing the importance of reflective design practices in the development of a well-rounded designer. To accomplish this task it's essential that design education incorporates problem-based learning, embedded in projects. As Jorge Frascara, professor emeritus of the Design Studies program at the University of Alberta indicates, educators “tend to teach through projects, rather than through isolated variables, exercises or subjects."
This case study describes one such unique, collaborative project in which University of Alberta
Design Studies students work with a team of Revelstoke Search and Rescue
(REVSAR) to change attitudes and behaviours of the residents of the mountain town in BC where deaths from backcountry skiing, out of bounds skiing and snowmobiling have been multiplying exponentially since 2017.
This 6-week project is part of a problem-based learning course for students in their final year. The objective of the course is to give students hands-on experience of professional design practice. The students learn how to use strategic design methods, manage a project and work on professional development.
For this project, the client brief was to raise awareness amongst avid adventurers of the dangers of irresponsible outdoor sports and provide effective, engaging, preventative and relevant solutions.
In the Design Studies program, we work with community organizations and/or non-profit clients because we believe that this benefits our students. We receive an honorarium for the work that our students do and the clients are encouraged to work with our students after the in-class project has been completed. This would be on a freelance or a per hourly basis. For example, Titus Lo, the student whose campaign was chosen for this project, worked with the client to execute another set of deliverables that wasn't a part of the in-class project.
Before the course started, I worked with the stakeholders from the REVSAR
to determine project deliverables and outputs. We decided that students must submit:
- A written proposal based on their design strategy plan (to be written after the initial meeting with the client). This design proposal would outline the communication vehicles which they would use to communicate the campaign messages. This was essential to evaluate each student's understanding of the audience and strategy to communicate messages to them.
- A campaign that must translate into one environmental message, use print or digital messaging, a booklet, brochure or any other information graphic. The pieces must be of sufficient complexity to demonstrate that they were part of a system that will all communicate the intended message.
The project comprised of sharing the initial concept with the clients two weeks into the project, followed by a preliminary presentation and a final presentation. The class time for this project was 6 hours per week.
The students met with REVSAR
to determine the initial strategy helping them to understand the uniqueness of their audience — backcountry and resort skiers and snowmobilers, to develop a key concept that would provide identification to REVSAR
and cohesiveness to the campaign system. Then they developed visuals defining typeface, layout and colour, imagery needs, technical specifications of the project.
The clients joined our class three times during the process: during the initial meeting where the issue was presented, at the initial and refined concept evaluation stage and at the final presentation of the work. The winning campaign chosen by REVSAR
was implemented in the Revelstoke ski area in the 2019 ski season.
Stephanie developed a safety campaign with an educational message that related to the natural beauty of the Revelstoke Area. Using original illustrations of animals and landscape within BC, its serious yet playful imagery reflects a serious educational tone. This campaign consists of print and digital media drawing upon the existing rules of outdoor travel as outlined by AdventureSmart
. This campaign’s message is communicated through an app, trip planner including a contact card.
Nicole developed a safety campaign that prompts people to be realistic about the dangers outdoor enthusiasts face. The focus of the campaign was an idea that the perception of what is safe is based on our own cultural context and is typically false. For example, her headings suggest that most people think that stream water is clean, but it rarely is. Similarly, sunny days can prematurely turn into storms. This campaign is communicated in digital media and print media using Instagram ads and environmental ads posted on gas station billboards.
Titus Lo, whose work was selected by the client, developed a safety campaign that reminds people of the essential items every adventurer should carry when going into the backcountry. The campaign is based on the idea of being prepared. It uses small illustrations to indicate what should always be in your backpack. This campaign includes a checklist, a set of outdoor signs suggesting what do to if someone gets lost and a wall mounted poster for the chalet. The intricacy of this solution lies in the integration of indoor and outdoor messaging which work together to prepare people for what to do in case of emergency.
This project is necessary in an undergraduate curriculum and well-received, but not without its challenges. Education is evolving drastically and for the future batches, I would like to make the following changes to the course:
First, the timeline for the deliverable should be extended. Currently, the students do not have time to allow for experimentation, feedback and iterative prototyping which is essential to build long-term leadership and strategy skills within a semester-long course. If more time is allowed, as part of the design and prototyping process, we would connect with potential audiences to see how effective, understandable and desirable campaign messages are. Involving participants, soliciting informal feedback and working with them as experts to test a design solution is a benefit in any design project.
Second, enough time must be built into the project timeline to allow for the production of final files which can be time consuming. Ideally, we'd also like to build in time to invite past students whose work was selected by the clients to advise the current students working on the projects.
Finally, an integrated approach between all Design Studies students could be used so that we could have expertise from industrial and product designers in the production and fabrication specifications for wayfinding, signage, mapping.