Design Team Tackles Cincinnati’s Urban Core

Design Team Tackles Cincinnati’s Urban Core

Early signs of success as co-design approach applied to community issues

Design-thinking is being applied to some of the community concerns in Cincinnati’s urban core, with some early signs of success.

Craig M. Vogel, associate dean with the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning and Mahsino Blamoh, a design research associate, are both with the Live Well Collaborative, a non-profit partnership between the University of Cincinnati and several businesses, primarily Procter and Gamble.

Live Well works with companies to address the issues of 50-plus consumers, helping them to create responses to opportunities that the companies aren’t addressing effectively.

After Craig’s introduction to Dr. Victor Garcia of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and his vision for the co-creation of a new Cincinnati, an agreement to work together was formed.

Last fall a Live Well team met with a representative group from the urban core to test whether some of the methods they use with companies could be applied effectively to communities.

Craig and Mahsino volunteered their time to lead this two-session initiative.

Co-design, a relatively new approach in the design world was applied in this work.

Craig describes co-design as a process where designers work with the people who are the focus of the opportunity that’s being addressed to come up with their own answers.

“The goal is not to be prescriptive, but to really engage the participants in helping to create their own solution,” he says.

“Designers can help make that insight better, stronger or clearer, but they don’t try to solve the problem for the individuals themselves.”

A key activity of the first session was to map out a week of participants’ lives, with the designers translating this information into diagrams and overviews and helping people see their lives in a different and perhaps clearer way.

A variety of other methods were then used to refine what the participants were saying, as well identify what they consider the most important issues in their lives and community.

“The idea of visualizing and making it clear is so that everybody is looking at the same thing,” says Craig, noting this is much different than people sitting in a room, perhaps brainstorming and putting up post-it notes, but with no strong representation of patterns.

“It’s just a little more design-refined approach to bringing information out and then modeling it in a way that people see it and can talk more about it as a group,” says Craig.

After the initial session, Mahsino created six logos with three themes and two variances, based on the information they gathered. In this way, participants could see the different identities they had thought about and how those could be transformed into more formal-looking identities.

The logos were then presented for further conversation and refinement.

There are already early signs of the effectiveness of the design approach, both Craig and Mahsino note.

One participant felt more empowered and in control of the issues he was dealing with as a result, so much so that when he attended an event he was able to represent his ideas clearly and put forward an agenda in a way he felt he never could before.

“That whole process got people so excited that now they’re continuing to work on these ideas without us even being there,” Craig adds.

A follow-up six-week session in February is now planned, with the Live Well team and designers from a number of other organizations to volunteer their design expertise. Craig notes the hope is that eventually there can be some funding for this important effort.

The February design session will also be linked to the Feb. 17-19 CoreChange summit.

-- More to Come

For more on the Live Well Collaborative, click here.

To learn more about CoreChange, including the Feb. 17-19 city-wide summit, and how you can get involved, visit this link. You can also follow the @corechangecincy and @cincysummit Twitter accounts, as well as like CoreChange on Facebook.

Axiom News is storying the CoreChange effort in Cincinnati, including people’s commitment to this, possibilities they see and what can be expected. To share your story, please contact the newsroom at 705-741-4421 or e-mail michelle(at)

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Michelle Strutzenberger

Michelle Strutzenberger has been a Generative Journalist and curator with Axiom News for more than 15 years.

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