Students Learn the ABCs of Creative Vision

Article excerpt

Try this: Practice viewing the world as a child, seeing things as they might be, exploring your creative potential. For example, find the letters of the alphabet in everyday objects, such as a cloud that forms a C. Now for the final exam: Using design and creative problem-solving, describe how to turn those images into a tool for social change.

At Cornell University, the answers to that undergraduate exam question were so strong that Sheila Danko, associate professor of design and environmental analysis, challenged her students to forge ahead and make their creative visions a reality. With no previous experience, no sales or marketing force, and no start-up money, the students have produced a full-color, 2-by-3-foot commercially printed ABC poster. The majority of the images were photographed on the Cornell campus.

The posters have been donated to Cooper-Hewett National Design Museum Smithsonian Institution and the Arts Connection, both in New York City, and to the OMNI Program/Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell, which teaches children and art teachers about youth art education. They will be sold by these institutions to benefit their youth education arts programs, which nurture the creative potential in our nation's youth.

Roots of the project began when Danko developed a new introductory course on design called Making a Difference: By Design.

"Rather than merely teaching elementary design concepts, I wanted to show how design can be a tool for change for biologists, lawyers, community activists, or business CEOs," Danko says.

"And I wanted to inspire students, showing them how leaders use design to make change, take risks, view the world imaginatively, and solve problems creatively."

Thus, the course explored how design affects daily life, the impact of design from the individual to the global level, and how design has been used to make positive social changes; it also examined creative problem-solving, risk-taking, and leadership in using design to promote change.

In one assignment last year, 140 students had to capture the letters of the alphabet in ordinary objects - such as railings, doors, shadows, fire escapes, clouds and vegetation - on color film. …