On October 23 and 24, 2009, the Designers Accord convened 100 progressive individuals from academic and professional institutions all over the world, for two days of highly participatory discussion, planning, and action around the topic of design education and sustainability.

While the group was predominantly U.S.-based, there were representatives from the UK, Sweden, Mexico, Columbia, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, and Australia.

This group of thought-leaders, design educators, and experts discussed, challenged, and conceived of a new path for undergraduate and graduate design programs to integrate sustainability.

We tackled topics ranging from creating curricula and writing grants, to communicating to trustees and motivating students. These topics were culled from pre-Summit meetings and brainstorm sessions, and were refined as specific questions that a group could tackle together in this workshop format.

The main activity during the Summit was small-group brainstorming focused around the topics. In addition, we had eight guest speakers sharing their perspectives how designers can influence and impact social and environmental issues. We also built in time to socialize and network, and held an open exhibition to share projects and perspectives.

The workshop consisted of a highly choreographed series of small group brainstorm sessions focused on the eight prevailing topics of interest to this community.
  • What is our common language?
    Create a shared definition of terms / best ways to communicate about sustainability
  • How can we communicate best?
    Best practices for communicating with and aligning stakeholders within your department and school
  • Designing the core sustainability curriculum
    Understanding the landscape and drawing out the best
  • Transitioning legacy department curricula
    Methods for initiating new programs, courses around sustainability
  • What constitutes a meaningful design challenge?
    Structuring and enabling the ideal student projects and assignments
  • Connecting the theory with action
    Methods for better effectiveness in the classroom, and ultimately in design practice
  • Measurements of success
    Marking progress, maintain momentum, setting up appropriate goals
  • What’s next?
    Creating a shared point of view about the future of design education, in the context of how design is used to solve broader challenges, in different kinds of collaborations

The 100 attendees were distributed into 8 different groups on each day for the workshop portion of the programming. Four sessions were held on each of the days. The groups were balanced by considering a number of factors, including: discipline, type of design program, undergraduate/graduate, professional/activist/student, region, country, teaching experience.

Each person had the chance to work on each topic, from a different perspective. This relay model used multiple “lenses” to structure each brainstorm session. The function of the lens was to articulate the specific goal of each brainstorm session, and create a boundary around it so that the session would be more productive.

Each breakout session used one lens, and each session built on the output of the previous one. At the start of each session, the group facilitator and note taker would provide a 2-3 minute summary of the point of view built in the previous session. At the end of each session, the group as a whole would decide on 2-4 point summary of their work to be passed onto the next group. This framework was designed to iteratively develop a tangible and actionable output–summarizing real-time.

The Lenses were used in this order, and were designed to mimic the convergent and divergent pattern of a design process.
On each person’s Summit name badge, his or her group assignments were listed.
Each person received a matrix for each day that mapped groups to certain topics at different times.
While groups moved to different topics in different orders, the lenses remained consistent and linear. In other words, each group used the same lens to work through a different topic each rotation.

Each Topic was mapped to a consistent physical location within the Autodesk Gallery. All notes, illustrations, post-its remained in the space and were built upon over the course of the 2-day workshop.

At the conclusion of the Summit, each group facilitator and note taker reviewed their accumulated notes, and edited them into 5-10 page summaries.

Those summaries were synthesized into a common format, clarified and further developed, and reviewed by a small editorial team. This website represents the collective perspective of those in attendance at the Summit.