I recently visited the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and stopped by its Process Lab. The current installation is Citizen Design, which uses a creative approach to invite visitors to participate in a civic opportunity.

Cooper Hewitt
Cooper Hewitt

Upon entering the lab, you select from 12 value nametags, choosing one that especially matters to you or your community. Options include “Recreation,” “Diversity,” “Health” and “Creativity,” among others.

Cooper Hewitt
Cooper Hewitt

The second step is to pick a printed card with a question you would like to work to resolve. I chose “Education” as my value and posed the question, “How might we make vacant or blighted properties useful and desirable?”

At the third station, you are presented with 36 design tactic cards. On the back of your question card is room to fill in your value, select two tactics and draw in your design ideas.

Finally, you place your card in a corresponding bin of a location in your community where you think your design should go. You can flip through other participants’ worksheets, as well as record your process with “the Pen.” You also can log in to see what others in your “community” chose as a value and ultimately presented as a potential creative solution.

Cooper Hewitt
Cooper Hewitt

The Process Lab essentially creates an ad hoc brainstorm that engages museum visitors, drives dialogue and encourages critique.

Because I manage the operations of a creative studio, I found this installation particularly interesting, since process is a big part of the day-to-day for a successful, efficient business. It also is very much a part of great design. In the past, we have had clients approach us saying things like, “I just need a logo.” However, once we walk them through the myriad tactics that go into developing a brand positioning, they quickly understand that “design” is not simply the result, but also the process that goes into creating the final product. While it may vary from project to project, to really position and elevate a brand requires planning, research, strategy, brainstorming, experimentation and other steps. And for these steps to be successful, an organized process must be in place.

My visit to this particular Process Lab came at a perfect time, as ThoughtMatter has been working with a few community organizations in New York City, including the 100 Gates Project, a grassroots initiative that aims to connect new York City artists with businesses and merchants in the name of community beautification, improvement and putting an end to graffiti. While working to create a brand identity for the organization, we conducted surveys, interviews and workshops with members, stakeholders, merchants and artists in the Lower East Side, where the project originated. Much like Citizen Design, that project reinforced to me how important it is to engage with the community when working on a brand so that the end result can be useful and available to everyone.

Process Lab: Citizen Design is on display at the Cooper Hewitt Museum until Sept. 17.

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