Ethics Lab hosts ‘designer turned activist’ Krystal Arnett Henson

Krystal Arnett Henson visited Ethics Lab last week to speak with students about her experience as a “designer turned activist.” Henson is the founder of WalkingDot, a DC area program that teaches human-centered design to everyday citizens. WalkingDot teaches problem solving through empathy and design and connects volunteers with their local communities—mobilizing and empowering individuals to use their talents for social change.

Students were most interested in Henson’s recent work to create ways for citizens to easily become involved in the growing activist movements (even if they considered themselves introverts as Henson herself does).

First she created Postcards From The People to encourage citizens to make sure their voices are heard. The online resource provides postcard templates that citizens can use to write and mail their state and federal representatives about issues they care about. Henson partnered with artists and designers to create the artwork for the postcards, which are free to print at home.

Volunteer artists and designers also team up with Henson to create event and issue-specific illustrations for the postcards, including a recent campaign supporting career officials in the EPA.

After quickly becoming known as “the postcard lady” in local grassroots circles, Henson connected with two other local activists to start Postcards For Virginia, an effort that aims to get out the Democratic vote in Virginia for the recent statewide election.

Postcards For Virginia started in May of this year, in anticipation of the June 13 primary. The initial round of postcards were general “get out the vote” messages that didn’t endorse any specific Democratic candidate. Leading up to the June election, approximately 400 volunteers mailed 7,200 postcards to fellow voters. When the June election broke the Democratic turnout record by 220,000 voters they knew there was a real opportunity.

“People are paying more attention,” Henson said of the June election. “We need to reach out to these folks. If we don’t engage people now, nothing is going to change.”

The team utilized the growing grassroots network by attending meetings to share the project as well as using Facebook and Twitter to connect with volunteer writers. The project quickly became a way for people locally and even across the country to connect in person or online as a community. Organically the project grew beyond their expectations and in the end Postcards for Virginia’s volunteers personally wrote and paid for more than 136,000 “get out the vote” postcards leading up to the Virginia general election this November.

Henson spoke to our students too soon after the historic outcomes of the November 7 election to offer specific insights, but her team is working with the social and behavioral scientists at CitizenBe to conduct a research study on the impact of the project.

Ethics Lab students are working on a project using social media and animated slides to create five “postcards.” Students asked Henson about her path from professional designer to activist, and sought out advice and insight on how to best communicate their messages – particularly those with a call to action.

“Find a way to connect—quickly. You’ve got five slides to tell a story but only one to make me care enough to click. Lead with the most powerful thing you have and end with how I can do something.”

In addition to her work as an activist, Henson has been a practicing designer, across multiple disciplines, for over 20 years. She has taught graduate level design at the George Washington University’s Corcoran School as well as the Corcoran College of Art + Design where she served as Chair of the Interior Design department.

What I emphasized to students is, no matter what you’re creating—an app, a prescription drug—you need to consider the human perspective of the end-user to be successful.

—Nico Staple, on the lab team's recent visit to a local high school STEAM conference

“You don’t come to Ethics Lab to take a class. You come to change the world.”

Former student and all-around rockstar Nandini Mullaji addresses the Georgetown community about Ethics Lab at Think BIG, a TED-style student speaker event.

Friend of the lab Matt Pavesich, Associate Teaching Professor in English and Associate Director of the Writing Program here at Georgetown, is offering a new course this spring that builds on the project-based studio pedagogy employed in previous flagship Ethics Lab courses:

This class is an experiment. We’re going to test a new kind of class at Georgetown — a class in which the students, you, will receive course credit for working on a project that you’ve dreamed up, that you’d like to work on if you had time, but sadly will have to leave forgotten on the shelf because you’re at Georgetown — you don’t have the time.

After an introductory unit, intended for us to create a shared ethos and group dynamic, each of you will pursue your own individual communication and design projects. Our meetings will have a common thread — a little reading about communication design in the 21st Century and discussion — but most of our shared studio time will consist of working alongside each other, bouncing ideas around, conducting critiques (“crits”) of our work, and making substantial progress on a project personally important to you.

We will consist of two subgroups, the 305s and the 105s. 305s are students, sophomores and above, who have already worked in one of Georgetown’s studio-ish courses: University as a Design Problem, the Studio Collaborative, Introduction to Design, and so on. 305s will begin the semester with a working proposal and/or prototype of a project, and their semester’s work will be to take it to completion. They will also serve as mentors to the 105s.

105s are interested in design work and its methods, as well as communication generally. They have not taken part in the curricular experiences that 305s have; this will be their first studio class. They will likely not yet have a proposal for a project; their semester’s work will be to conceive of a communication design project, to research it thoroughly, to write an extended proposal for its completion, and to create a rough but working prototype.

Admission to the class will be based on your application: please email Prof. Matthew Pavesich with a brief statement of the project you would like to pursue this semester (approx. 300 words). This project may be one you have begun in a prior class or another forum, or it may a project you have not yet begun. Please also indicate whether you’ve participated in any of Georgetown’s design or studio-related courses or projects (the Red House, the Studio Collaborative, a UNXP course, etc.). Design experience is not required for admission.

Fall 2016 Course Offerings

Interested in designing for the common good? Want to create a new model of learning in higher education? Here are some courses lined up this fall at Ethics Lab:

IDST-308 Foundations of Design · Arjun Dhillon: This studio-based course provides a foundation of design theory and practice that will help equip students to flourish in the emerging landscape. Students will build competency in a transdisciplinary practice of design, and they will begin to develop the dispositions, habits, modes of thinking, and ways of seeing necessary to routinely shape the world.

IDST-425 University as a Design Problem II · Arjun Dhillon + Randall Bass: This course will take on the design of a new model of learning in higher education. Using Georgetown University as our site for design and prototyping, students will pursue institutional change with a sense of urgency for the state of the world. This will be more than just an exercise; efforts here will inform the development of a new curricular program at Georgetown, and all students will be expected to contribute.

PHYS-203/PHYS-551/BIOL-261/BIOL-561: Science & Society: Global Challenges · Francis Slakey + Allyson Anderson: This seminar introduces students to some of the most significant and complex science and public interest challenges of our time including: managing a global pandemic, reducing carbon emissions, meeting growing global energy demand, and containing weapons of mass destruction.

This week, the 9th grade class of Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock, AR, visited Washington D.C. for a trip focused on science and technology. Ethics Lab was honored to host them for a half-day of collaborative sessions on design-facilitated bioethics. Two specific topics were chosen as focal activities for the day: Empathy Mapping and Persona Building.

As always, we are immensely proud to expose new students to critical inquiry, design and problem solving in the study of bioethics and the work we do with in the Lab. Stay up to date on what’s happening in the Lab by following us on Twitter!

This summer, Ethics Lab student Danielle Huang attended UC Berkeley’s summer course in landscape and urban design at their Center for Environmental Design (CED). This week, the program wrapped up with final crits, where Danielle exhibited her work: “Channeling Light,” a landscaping project designed to improve the pedestrian experience at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California.

From the project description: “Lake Merritt’s Necklace of Lights provides beauty and safety for pedestrians and bikers. Utilizing natural light, the Channeling Light master plan transforms bleached, over-exposed lots into fields of warm, powerful color. The solar experience will demonstrate the vastness and awe of nature while also providing an artful display of lights.”

View photos from Danielle’s crit night above. Read more about the program here.

Participants in this year’s 42nd annual Intensive Bioethics Course at Georgetown were invited to sign up for a post-session dedicated to issues in research ethics.

Designed for clinical researchers and others whose work brings them face-to-face with moral issues in gathering medical research, and facilitated by lab designers, the full-day workshop used design-based inquiry to explore problem contexts and scenarios drawn from real cases. Participants used empathy maps to articulate issues in informed consent, unpacked some key issues in research ethics like the therapeutic misconception and research on complex populations, designed sample recommendations for US Human Health and Services regarding the Safe Mothers and Babies Act task force, and finished the day with some famous local cupcakes.

Check out our Twitter feed for a record of live event coverage!

Ethics Lab Expands Its Printing Capabilities

This semester Ethics Lab has made investments in new printing equipment to support the growing array of projects under incubation. All of the printing we do requires pre-production and finishing. Cutting, trimming, scoring, folding, binding, gluing, punching, laminating, coating, etc. On top of this, we do a lot of paper craft outside of printing—bindery, packaging design and construction, prototyping, modeling, and more. We had some professional tools and equipment for this, but with these additional purchases, we are now close to a professional print shop setup, which is saving a huge amount of faculty and student time and energy. We focused our expansion on four areas detailed below:

1. Inkjet printing setup.
Key purchase: Epson SureColor P800 Inkjet Printer
Features: borderless printing on a variety of media up to 17″ wide; ability to print using a roll for long posters; flat print path allows for printing on thick media

2. Laser printing setup.
Key purchase: OKI C931e
Features: ability to print in bulk on a variety of media (e.g. waterproof paper) and in a variety of sizes at a much lower ink-to-copy cost than was previously available

3. Printing pre-production and finishing.
Key purchase: Triumph 4305 Manual Paper Cutter
Features: professional grade paper trimming with capacity to cut up to 250 sheets simultaneously and with extreme precision

4. Paper and media storage.
Key purchase: lots and lots of Really Useful Boxes
Features: easily stacked and stored on our wire shelving; heavy duty plastic holds heavy paper stock; multiple sizes mean our plethora of supplies each has a right-sized home