The First Four Weeks | Molly Millette, BFA ID 2018
I came to Washington, DC with the overarching goal of merging my interests in industrial design, urban studies and public policy. Now, one month into my time here, the most central realization I have is just how desperately these disciplines need each other and how resistant people can be to interdisciplinary approaches.
My first weeks were filled with tabling events at the Senior Symposium, University of DC Institute on Gerontology Health and Wellness Informational Fair and the Housing Expo, while struggling to gain a sense of direction. During these weeks I worked alongside Age-Friendly DC’s three interns to compile Washington DC’s first report for the World Health Organization (WHO). The report serves to maintain the District’s status, earned in 2012, as an Age-Friendly city.
Each week has a different focus related to a domain used in the report to the WHO. The focus during my first week here was on Communication & Information and the second week’s focus was on Civic Participation & Employment.
In Leah Erica Chung’s talk, Why Designers Need to Run for Congress, at Better World by Design 2016, she spoke of her experiences as a designer working in government—a path she started down through a Maharam Fellowship. During her talk, Chung mentioned that when you are a designer working in government, you should never introduce yourself as a designer. Why? Because people will ask you to take their work and make it look pretty. Nine months after hearing Leah Chung’s advice, I forgot it and made this very mistake. I was consequently asked to make a 4’ x 8’ poster for Age-Friendly DC and the WHO’s presentation at the International Gerontology Conference in San Francisco. The content was better suited for a book than a poster.
In addition to working on the poster, I also used the third week as a chance to take a step back and recognize that my assignments did not complement my Maharam goal. The point of this fellowship is to relate my discipline to a non-design field—this mission could not be accomplished with the original tasks I was assigned. However, my experience with the poster did familiarize me with the preconceived notions people have about designers that cause their involvement in government to be the limited and often purely aesthetic. Now that I am more aware of where familiarity with designers’ skills is lacking, I feel better prepared to propose more solutions for this knowledge gap. Going forward with my time here, I decided to diverge from the collection of information to be used in the WHO report and proposed several projects that would better combine my industrial design background with urban studies and public policy. These projects include a press kit, event kit, redesigned logo, alternate engagement materials and a branded template for the WHO report.
Each week one of the interns is selected as the “team lead,” tasked with the job of being the main point of contact between the Age-Friendly DC supervisor and all other interns. I will be the team lead for the weeks and domains of Outdoor Spaces and Buildings and Housing, in addition to working on my proposed projects.