DesignUnderstandAct (DUA) is a 3-day, fully-funded, residential training for 20 young activists and organizers from South Carolina—the inaugural edition happened in summer of 2019. Through a series of interactive presentations and workshops, participants learn about the institutions and systems that affect how change is made. As a result, DUA empowers youth to engage in persistent and impactful local action.
We envision a generation of activists who are not only passionate about taking action, but also equipped with the understanding they need to create the greatest impact possible.
In 2018, DesignUnderstandAct was formed as a way to merge the worlds of design and activism.
In our early research, we found that young organizers frequently tend towards action—e.g. organizing marches, rallies, or protests—but do not always take time understand the larger systems and institutions within which their issues are contextualized. As a result, their actions, while well-intentioned, could ultimately be ineffective. We call this “the gap between understanding and action.”
Gaining understanding, however, is a core component of Design Thinking, the iterative problem-solving method used by designers like architects and graphic designers. In recent years, Design Thinking has been repurposed for fields outside of traditional design professions, like business and government. With simple, time-tested tools, the process provided a perfect frame for modern-day activism.
To see if this had already been tried, we spent time reading existing academic literature, reviewing existing programs, and interviewing dozens of researchers, activists, and youth to get the best understanding of youth activism. What we found was not a single, well-known activism training that used design thinking as a conduit for bridging this gap.
DUA therefore is an experiment that uses Design Thinking as a mental framework to bridge the gap between understanding and action—specifically, through training on the iterative, understanding-focused nature of problem-solving.
Our democracy is facing a challenge: motivating young people to be civically-engaged. In the wake of events such as the shooting in Parkland, Florida, youth have become increasingly interested in affecting change. Having spoken with youth activists and the adults working alongside them, our team has discovered that this activism, while well-intentioned, is usually only impactful in the short term. However passionate these changemakers may be, their actions are usually not supported by an understanding of institutions and foundational theories that power activism.
We hypothesize, though, that we can apply a designer's mindset to any problems in activism: encouraging activists to understand before they act, be open to critique, and evaluate all possible approaches to a problem before settling on one.
DesignUnderstandAct answers the question, “How do we civically engage young people?” through a series of interactive workshops that illustrate the systems that affect both modern-day activism and how large-scale change is made.
DesignUnderstandAct operates under the fiscal sponsorship of The Southern Guitar Festival and Competition, a 501(c)3 registered nonprofit.
Since 2011, Kevin has been working in youth civic engagement, community organizing, and design thinking. He is the founding organizer of [email protected], South Carolina’s TEDxYouth event. Their event (among 30,000+ others) is the only one to partner with high schools to get students dialoguing about social issues in-school, and it has received widespread acclaim for its unique focus on generating impact at the event. He graduated from Clemson University as a National Scholar (a full, merit-based scholarship) with a degree in architecture, philosophy, and digital production arts; his undergraduate thesis focused on the role of student voices in curriculum design.
Jack is a student at the University of South Carolina with experience and interest in theater and astrophysics. A member of USC’s Top Scholars program, he has interests in theater, the Chinese language, and astrophysics. As a Duke University Summer Research Intern, he studied the effects of different telescope masks on telescope focus. In 2019, in addition to organizing DUA, he served as a summer camp counselor at Pisgah National Forest.
He can be found on LinkedIn.
William is a student at USC with interests in the German language, global engagement, and marketing. He serves as the president of the USC Maxcy College’s International House, where he oversees day-to-day activities and engagement opportunities for students living in a community focused around international civic engagement. In summer of 2019, he worked at the Metro Richmond Zoo in addition to organizing DUA.
He can be found on LinkedIn.
Ashley is a student at Union High School in Vancouver, WA, on a mission to reimagine education through entrepreneurship and educational technology—specifically, through the lenses of cross-cultural collaboration and civic power. She has served as a U.S. Youth Ambassador to Uruguay and is the founder & CEO of Project Exchange, a youth-led, 501(c)3 nonprofit increasing cross-cultural learning experiences for high school and college students around the globe through digital solutions. In summer of 2019, in addition to organizing DUA, she studied the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in Egypt and Kosovo.
She can be found on LinkedIn.
Christian is a student at Westwood High School with interests in interdisciplinary arts, culture, and design. He currently serves as an organizer at [email protected], uniting students across South Carolina around the power of ideas and dialogue. He is also planning a project centered around social innovation, through which students ideate, design, and execute solutions to social issues. Christian spent part of his 2019 summer learning to play piano in addition to organizing DUA.
He, too, can be found on LinkedIn.