Project Perry/Proyecto Perry


Project Perry/
Proyecto Perry

project details

Type: Community Engagement/Social Design

Collaboration: Design & Community

Partnerships: Jeremy Swanston (University of Iowa), Bernard Canniffe (Iowa State University), and Perry, IA

Deliverable: A series of design solutions to address a variety of challenges that were essential to community vitality

Year: 2018

Field: Design Empathy, Socially Conscious Design, Culturally Conscious Design, Human-Centered Design, Systems Thinking, Design Education

Funding: Community Impact Grant ($10,000)

This project employed problem-and project-based learning, as well as principles of design thinking and systems thinking, to engage with the rural and socio-economically diverse community of Perry, IA.

A total of twelve students, six from the University of Iowa and 6 from Iowa State University, spent five days living in the community, reaching out and engaging with leaders and residents, and co-identifying community challenges and solutions. Students formed small teams and engaged residents on a variety of challenges that were essential to community vitality, including, but not limited to, economic development, education, community engagement, and cultural inclusiveness.

Project Perry/Proyecto Perry

Communities are both fragile and complex ecosystems and having design students embedded in these systems affords them the opportunity to engage with business leaders, government officials, community stakeholders and the community to understand the complexity of the issues and develop creative strategies to respond, help, and assist.

Understanding the importance of design advocacy, design democracy and politics of design was a vital component as well as grasping the consequences of creating community-centered design solutions.

Students had to develop creative strategies and projects in real time as well as listening and responding to community needs and community feedback.

Design can be a conduit for change when it is socially focused and human-centered.

Project Perry/Proyecto Perry
Project Perry/Proyecto Perry

An asset of having a diverse student group provided a rich educational experience for everyone.

Undergraduate and graduate graphic design students where sharing understandings with each other and graduate community and regional planning students were sharing their expertise with graphic design students. Everyone was a much more effective designer from going through this experience.

Rapid Prototyping

Each workday revolved around the teams cycling through the three modified stages of the design thinking and systems thinking process, culminating in a working prototype that was then implemented throughout the community to elicit additional feedback from residents. Students were able to develop projects in the morning and place them in the community in the early afternoon, receiving community feedback in a timely manner on the same day.


Financial support provided to students mirrored the complexity and applicability of each project – projects were embraced, improved, or declined by the community, and as projects advanced in stages, so did the funding, driving implementation.

Project Perry/Proyecto Perry

Community Exhibit

By the end of the week, students were able to develop multiple and diverse design solutions which were displayed during an exhibition that invited members and leaders of the community to interact with the projects and engage in meaningful dialogue with the students about the collaborative process and proposed outcomes.

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