Social Engagement through Environmental Graphic Design: Design for Struggling Small Communities

Fontaine, Lisa. “Social Engagement through Environmental Graphic Design: Design for Struggling Small Communities.” SEGD, 12 Oct. 2015,

Lisa Fontaine is Associate Professor, Graphic Design, at Iowa State University and an active member of the SEGD academic education community. She has presented her research and curriculum innovations at numerous SEGD Academic Summits and other educational events. Her research interests include graphic design in the built environment, Main Street design and revitalization, interactive exhibition design, wayfinding design, placemaking, symbology, and ecological issues in graphic design education and practice. (Sourced from article)

This article focuses on the way that designers view smaller communities and the way that prevents them from improving. If designers think that a small community isn’t worth working on and those communities might not even realize that design services are available, then there will never be an improvement in the design which is essential to keep those businesses afloat. When design students are presented with the challenge of improving an area like this, the first instinct is to modernize it and just slap on the same design principles that a big urban city would want without considering the needs of the community. By listening to community members, designers can create a level of accessibility to the people who live there that cannot be achieved either without professional design help or without considering what that specific area needs. If these locations are not having their social needs met (teen centers, senior centers, food assistance, art spaces) then it is a lot harder for these small towns to focus on bringing in new businesses to fill their main streets. This results in a loss of local business to the big chains and box stores that are not concerned with these social issues. Designers can help to create spaces that the community needs to be strong so that they can focus on improvement. This is rather than designers skipping over community needs and trying to market existing businesses to a community that requires more basic level needs to be met first.

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