Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


Visual and Performing Arts

First Advisor

David L. Sigman

Committee Chair

David L. Sigman

Committee Member 1

Shannon McMullen

Committee Member 2

Fabian Winkler


Approaching the design field today is a significant quantity of societal needs that have potential to be resolved through systematic design initiatives. There is increasing curiosity around the designer's role and responsibility within society; a belief that designers have the power to make social change happen in their own communities. Many neighborhoods with driven community members and professional designers are working together to turn to design as problem solving, as social activism on a local scale. But how do we make this sustainable?

To create a systematic change, designers must rethink the processes in which they view the problems and work to solve them, thus working in a systems thinking approach I call the Community Design Ecosystem. Within the Community Design Ecosystem the client is no longer a singular recipient of the design services but rather the client is the community.

How can a local problem be sustainably resolved if the designer is only viewing the issue as an outsider? Due to the nature of the projects, this is one of the unique challenges of community driven design initiatives. By taking the time to walk in the shoes of those you are trying to help, designers are able to create with empathy. With location specific responsiveness, a collaborative design process within the community allows for sustainable long-term solutions for specific situations. This thesis will discuss the ways a shared agenda creates a universal conversation between designers and the effected communities.