Spaces of Learning design conference brings top professional association to Canada

Krishna Balakrishnan's book project
Krishna Balakrishnan’s book project

York University’s Department of Design is making history with Spaces of Learning, the first AIGA Design Educators conference to be held outside the U.S., taking place in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design at York’s Keele campus April 16 to 18.

Founded in 1914 as the American Institute of Graphic Arts, AIGA is the world’s oldest and largest professional association for design. A global community of design advocates and practitioners, its mission is to advance design as a professional craft, strategic advantage and vital cultural force.

Spaces for Learning conference organizer
Angela Norwood

“We originally proposed the idea of Spaces of Learning to AIGA two years ago,” said Professor Angela Norwood, chair of the Department of Design, who organized the conference with Professor David Gelb, director of the Graduate Program in Design, and design faculty member Robert Gill. “We think it’s fitting for our program to take a lead in expanding the design education conversation to a North American context.”

Sponsored by Adobe, the conference will explore the idea that graphic design education is rapidly evolving – that the social spaces design educators work in, and the practices of teaching and learning they engage with, are themselves mediated by larger contexts of social, cultural, political and technological change.

David Gelb is a Spaces for Learning conference organizer
David Gelb

Mindful of these changing contexts, the Spaces of Learning conference is set to question assumptions about the relationship between making design, thinking and asking questions about design, and theorizing design, in a framework that’s as open and potentially interdisciplinary as possible.

The conference will also address how, as a specific discipline of making, design educators are uniquely placed to explore the emerging conversation about visual communication and visual culture in contemporary learning spaces.

The call for abstracts elicited an avid response. Only 30 per cent of the submissions could be accommodated in the three-day event. The abstracts were assessed and proposals were selected via a blind peer review process.

Nicole Beno's work "Design as Play"
“Design as Play”by Nicole Beno

Keynote speakers are: Denise Gonzales Crisp, a graphic designer, writer, educator and curator based in Raleigh, N.C. and Los Angeles, Calif.; Carl DiSalvo, digital media professor and director of the Public Design Workshop at the Georgia Institute of Technology; and cultural scientist Sanne van der Beek, programmer for the talk show and digital magazine “Stadseven,” and for StadsSalon, Amsterdam.

York participation includes Gelb teaming up with Troy Abel of Virginia Tech to deliver a pre-conference workshop, titled “Human-Computer Design: A Practice-based Framework.” Professor Wendy Wong’s talk is called “The Power of Symbols: Civil disobedience as design education in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.” Master of Design candidates Krishna Balakrishnan and Nicole Beno present “A Guide to Image-making Inspired by the Vishnu Dharmottara” and “Haptic Methods and Materiality as Interface,” respectively.

York design alumni are making a strong showing at the conference. Saskia van Kampen (MDes ’14) and Nancy Snow (MDes ’15), both instructors at the Ontario College of Art & Design University, collaborate on “Thinking, Making, Reflecting: Design Process and the Beginning Design Student.” Brad Tober (MDes ’11), a professor at the University of Illinois, presents “Evaluation, Gamified: Developing Flexible Rubrics to Incentivize the Design Process and Recognize Differential Expectations across Student Levels (Lessons from the Vertical Studio).” Hannah Park (MDes ’11) returns to her alma mater from her teaching career at the Memphis College of Art to share her research into “Critiquing Failure: An Assessment Toolkit for Social Design.”

Krishna Balakrishnan's book project
Krishna Balakrishnan’s book project

Conference participants are coming from as far afield as Australia, the U.K., Switzerland, the Netherlands and Lebanon. There is also a large local contingent, plus representatives from many states and provinces across North America. The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario has organized studio tours downtown on the Friday evening to give delegates a taste of Toronto’s design culture.

Hosting Spaces of Learning is a natural fit for York’s Department of Design, say organizers, given its leadership position in design education in Canada and its links with the professional design community. “We’re excited to welcome design educators from around the world to our learning spaces,” said Norwood. “The calibre of the presentations promises to provoke important questions about the ever-changing social and political contexts of design education. We’re looking forward to facilitating those conversations.”

For full details of the conference program, visit the Spaces of Learning website. Last-minute registration is available on-site, space permitting.