How Can Design-Thinking Help Communities Flourish?

How Can Design-Thinking Help Communities Flourish?

Going forward, communities must be the centre of their own change, design thinking can provide tools: design lead Craig Vogel

Design-thinking has evolved significantly over the past 25 years, not only in how it’s done but where it’s applied, most recently to community issues. The question is, what can it contribute that’s different from other community development approaches?

Craig M. Vogel, associate dean with the University of Cincinnnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, is leading a design-thinking approach to the development of Cincinnati’s urban core.

He proposes a key difference design-thinking offers is that it’s “solution-action-based.”

A mind-map of opportunity areas in Cincinnati's urban core.

That is, it involves creating a representation or prototype of an idea early in the research process, and testing that out, rather than doing “a lot of upfront thinking.”  He refers to this as “an iterative process of solution.”

The co-design approach, which is relatively new in the design world, also offers a great deal of opportunity, says Mahsino Blamoh, a design research associate with the Live Well Collaborative, who is also engaged in the Cincinnati urban core effort.

“(Co-design) is one way of allowing people to create their own solutions, and to feel empowered to make a difference within their own communities,” she notes.

“The more you can work empathetically with the people you’re trying to work for or with, the better the depth of the insight, the better the solution, and the greater the potential the solution will last longer and have greater impact,” Craig adds.

“So the two things together, this idea that we’re action-solution oriented from the beginning, and that we’re very interested in creating as deep an empathy in the people we’re working with as possible and drawing them out, so that they can give us enough information to support their needs, that combination is a much faster system for getting to solutions that we can put into practice and test.”

Asked about the greatest possibilities he sees in design thinking for Cincinnati’s urban core, Craig notes that for decades the U.S. government has played a significant role in diverting massive resources into different parts of the economy to help improve less fortunate areas.

But he doesn’t see in the foreseeable future enough money coming from any government agency to make a difference.

“The only way that communities that are struggling today will get out of those situations and move to better situations is to become empowered themselves, be the centre of their own change, and the centre of creating a new kind of economy based on their own potential,” he says.

The greatest opportunity for the design sector on this front is to provide communities the ability and tools to do this over and over again, as well as to create some very good examples of success that can become the banner for inspiring more people to want to think this way, says Craig.

“We know in every community the potential for entrepreneurship is there, but very often in lower income communities there is often not enough belief in people’s own abilities; there aren’t examples of success that are readily available; particularly proactive, positive change in community and economics,” says Craig.

“Our goal is to get people who are looking to find a more positive way to solve issues and to help them to create the tools and methods to see that and develop it.”

-- More to Come

For a related story on the design-thinking initiative in Cincinnati’s urban core, please click here.

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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