Schaber, F. (2009) Creating better communities: involving design students in regeneration projects. Paper presented to: 11th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E & PDE '09), University of Brighton, 10-11 September 2009. Glasgow: The Design Society. 9781904670186.
How can University Design students pursue their studies imaginatively whilst making a real contribution to the community and built environment in an English Midlands town? The paper discusses the scope of creating better communities through design, detailed in two cases studies piloted by the University of Northampton and the Sorrell Foundation's Young Design Programme. The first case study is a collaboration with the 'Healthy Living Hub', a community grassroots group aiming to enhance the environment of a large Northampton urban park with wayfinding/signage, to stimulate regeneration and further funding. The second case study discusses a partnership between Product Design undergraduates and secondary school pupils. Students form small design teams and work 'for' the pupils - who act as clients - on a design problem in their environment. The project dovetails with UK government policy such as the large-scale rebuilding of schools and the Creative Partnerships programme. It has been noted that pupils involved value opportunities to make a positive contribution to the community and display high levels of social responsibility. The paper highlights the role of the Design Department as a trail-blazer in encouraging undergraduate students to use their skills and knowledge to support and rethink local projects to do with the community - a process known as 'live projects'. Furthermore, it considers the exposure to live projects in terms of enhancing the curriculum, challenging undergraduate students with outside constraints and deliverables and furthering their knowledge as the projects also explore the benefits that communities experience in return, through university engagement. In conclusion, the author reflects that the key is to understand what students learn from structured opportunities off-campus and to conceptualize this learning in terms of employability and the social implication of design on communities.