Civic Expo is a class fair developed to connect students with socially–engaged classes, promoting hands-on community involvement and combating brain drain.
This project began with one very general prompt: identify a problem in your community, either St. Louis or Washington University. I worked with an amazing five-person team of fellow Sam Fox (Washington University's visual arts school) designers. Together, over three months, we collaborated, ideated, and delegated to build an implementable and engaging solution.
At the project's onset, my team and I engaged in a great deal of generative research to hone in on what problem we thought would be most valuable to tackle. Once we had our problem, we conducted literature reviews, interviews, surveys, and finally, the process of designing and implementing a solution (with a healthy dose of ideation along every step of the way). While the project was technically hypothetical, it was very important to us through the process to develop a solution that was feasible, and met the very small budget that Sam Fox had for civic engagement endeavors. Upon conclusion, we presented to our class, a range of professors, members of the community, and employees of the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement. Because of the solution's real-world feasibility, Sam Fox and the Gephardt Institute decided to fund the project.
Strategy & Research
So, what problem to tackle?
'Community' is a very large bucket of places, and varies greatly depending on the individual. We agreed that we wanted our challenge to be something we all were connected with, so we began with the two communities we all shared – Washington University and the incredible city of St. Louis. We started by each individually making two lists, one of problems we've noticed at Wash U, and one of problems in St. Louis. After comparing our lists we noticed we had all written the same thing: the issue of 'braindrain' occurring in St. Louis. Braindrain is the emigration of highly trained or intelligent people from a particular country or community. Not only is this a city-wide issue, but also an issue occurring in large part due to college students moving away from the city after graduation.
We continued the generative research phase, increasingly honing in on a specific problem to tackle. What was it about St. Louis and the students that is driving this emigration? Was it that students just weren't leaving the nest of campus, and therefore never came to appreciate everything St. Louis had to offer? Were there no classes that engaged with the community? No new jobs in St. Louis looking to hire recent graduates? Turns out, Wash U has a wide variety of what they call CBTL courses: Community Based Teaching & Learning. The problem wasn't that there weren't opportunities, it was just that these classes were chronically under-enrolled. This under-enrollment was not for lack of interest, but simply because people didn't know what CBTL was, or that there were classes that had engagement components at all.
Through a variety of informal conversations with students, interviews with school employees and Wash U alumnae in St. Louis, and a cohesive student survey, we came to the conclusion that the most effective way to begin tackling braindrain, considering the short time we had and our resources and backgrounds, was to figure out a way to connect students with civically-engaged courses. After a crazy and ever-changing initial generative process, we finally arrived at a problem statement:
How might we connect Sam Fox undergraduate students with classes and programs that engage with St. Louis?
Along with the interviews and student conversations, we engaged in extensive literature review, as well as conducted a survey. Instead of trying to tackle the whole body of Wash U students in the short time we had, we wanted to narrow our focus to Sam Fox undergraduates in order to really be able to understand our user, gather a solid amount of data, and develop the most effective solution. Our primary and secondary researched concluded with the development of personas and insights, carefully crafted based on what we had learned from the research process.
We iterated. A lot. We wrote down every idea we could think of (no ideas are dumb!) on sticky notes, sorted them into categories, discussed, and then voted on our favorites using thumbtacks. After counting the votes, we narrowed down to three to bring to the prototype stage: an interactive 'toolkit', a directional sign installation, and a class fair.
And the winner is...
After developing prototypes and testing effectiveness, the clear winner (based on our criteria of ability to connect students with classes and programs, speaking to all personas, and real-world feasibility) was a class fair. After a long session of – surprise surprise – more ideation, Civic Expo was born. The solution considers all personas and has elements that speak to each, no matter the initial mindset about community engagement. Ultimately, the only costs of the expo are food, drink, and paper.
Civic Expo Branding
My primary design responsibility was to develop the branding and brand guidelines for the expo. We wanted it to feel personable and playful yet productive, all without being childish. Every decision and element has significance: the three components of the wordmark represent the different levels of community we inspire to bring together with Civic Expo.
I also designed a variety of playful and personable backs for the informative class cards. These designs add value to the already informational cards: instead of being something that's immediately tossed after a tour of the Civic Expo, students will want to hold onto these and pin them up in their studio spaces and rooms, adding cheer and also making the class information handy whenever they need it.