Title: Sustainability at the forefront: educating students through complex challenges in visual communication and design

Authors: Kelly M. Murdoch-Kitt; Denielle Emans; Kelly Norris Martin

Addresses: Rochester Institute of Technology, School of Design, College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, 73 Lomb Memorial Drive, Rochester, NY 14623-5603, USA ' Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar, Department of Graphic Design, Al Luqta Street, Education City, P.O. Box 8095, Doha, Qatar ' Rochester Institute of Technology, School of Communication, College of Liberal Arts, 92 Lomb Memorial Drive, Eastman 3200, Rochester, NY 14623-5603, USA

Abstract: Although a range of academic disciplines in higher education are now introducing sustainability into their curricula, the need to present this concept to graphic design and visual communication students is especially important. These fields influence trends in society and culture and have great potential to impact decision-making for individuals, corporate practices, policies, and politics. Recent workforce surveys (Adecco Group, 2013; Workforce Solutions Group, 2013) reveal that employers across many fields value 'soft skills' more than technical skills. Acquiring these competencies can stem from experience in sustainable development and include: applying human-centred research methodology; systems-based thinking; awareness of human behaviours and impacts; tackling complex problems and employing creative approaches to solutions. Although these skills make students more competitive in the workforce, recent graduates often lack these capabilities. Therefore, this paper considers a collection of case studies from university-level graphic design and visual communication courses that used project-based learning to further sustainable practises. Examining multiple projects helped researchers highlight broader themes, learning advantages, best practices and methods for students to evaluate outcomes. The anticipated benefits are that students who use visual communication in the classroom, while tackling the complexity of promoting sustainable public practices, will likely develop unique problem-solving abilities as they simultaneously brainstorm and design potential solutions.

Keywords: sustainability; higher education; post-secondary education; sustainability education; design education; design pedagogy; visual communication; graphic design; human-centred research; design methodology; systems-based thinking; human behaviours; problem solving; design projects; interaction design; interdisciplinary education; environmental education; environmental design; sustainable development; project-based learning; PBL; sustainable practises; social design; human-centred design; behaviour change; complex challenges; wicked problems.

DOI: 10.1504/IER.2015.071015

Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, 2015 Vol.16 No.2/3/4, pp.285 - 311

Received: 09 Oct 2014
Accepted: 25 Apr 2015

Published online: 05 Aug 2015 *

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