Community Development & Graphic Design – What's the connection?
The years after I graduated college were rough ones for me. After a very brief stint as a professional fruit-fly dissector (I mean Neuroscience Research Technician…) I realized that the career path I was walking down wasn’t right.
I took some time to reconsider, bounced around between jobs and cities, tried to figure out what I really wanted - but most of the time just felt like I was being drowned out by the world’s noise.
Eventually I bounced all the way to Southern Vermont, and finally the pieces started to fall into place. I discovered how much I liked graphic design and illustration. I tried out some business ideas and generally started to putting together a life that made me feel happy and fulfilled.
What was different?
For the first time in my life, I was a member of a fantastic and supportive community.
In my experience, small communities fall into one of two categories:
- They can be like the community I found myself in: one where, if your barn burns down, a neighbor will house your animals while another makes sure you have dinner in the freezer and a another helps clean up the ash. The kind of community where a lost young woman can try things out and feel safe enough to grow into a greater understanding of herself and her place in the world.
- They can operate from a place of fear and an attitude of scarcity. Something can shift in the collective mind and people can block business permits for fear of competition, they can set impossible building criteria and mire themselves in bureaucracy - and in the process they can crush the very thing that they are trying to protect.
I feel so strongly that everyone should have the opportunity to be a part of a supportive community; to have the kind of safety and peace that comes with that. These struggling strangled communities pain me so much, and I find myself asking how might we turn a strangled community into a flourishing one? How might I, using the skills I have or ones I could gain, make a positive contribution?
I believe that a big part of the problem is that individuals in communities find themselves operating from different base assumptions. Second-hand information, rumors, personal agendas and biases are poison to a community – and it’s a part of the problem that I have/can gain the skills to address.
I hope to spend this year taking the graphic design and research skills that have brought me this far and turn them into a mirror to hold up to these communities; so that they can move forward from a place of common knowledge and with a shared vernacular.
I think it’s going to be a fantastic year of growth and learning. At times it will be wonderful and at other times it will be hard. Fortunately I know I have a supportive community to lean on.
Michelle loves to help foster resilient communities through immersive research, emotionally connective data visualization and thoughtful branding. She’ll be using the Ei program to design her master’s in Design for Social Impact – she is interested not only in using her design chops for good, but specifically in how powerful design can be used to build forward-thinking communities – the kinds of communities that can prevent things like food insecurity, social injustice and inequality, and can survive calamity by supporting each other.