A Community Driven Purpose: The Core of Human-Centered Design

This December, The Center for Creative Economy launched the Momentum Bonfire Encores series as a response to the Beta Bonfires hosted by IdeasCity WS and Wake Forest University. The bonfires feature creative entrepreneurs and their engagement with the world as an editable landscape ripe for intervention. Hosted through our Momentum network, CCE partnered with IdeasCity Winston Salem to continue these conversations and establish a focus on art, design, and technology.

Momentum’s December meetup highlighted human-centered design, a problem-solving approach that empowers individuals and businesses to design products, services, systems, and experiences that address the core needs of people. CCE’s panel was moderated by Karen Wong (Deputy Director of the New Museum in New York City) and included Krystal Persaud (founder of Group Hug Solar) and Winston-Salem based design guru Adam Sebastian (co-founder and architect at Stitch Design Shop). Imen Maaroufi Clark, Chief Strategy Officer of Point Motion, worked with CCE to host the virtual event via Zoom.

Krystal Persaud

The panelists derive purpose from the communities their products serve. Krystal Persaud targets the totality of communities, serving not only people but their surrounding environments. Her company GroupHug represents the intersection of creativity, design, and sustainability and strives to create a world where renewable energy is user-friendly, accessible, and aesthetic. Persaud designed the Window Solar Charger to (physically) get solar energy into people’s hands, establishing a small step to large scale environmental change. “Everything you design is an opportunity to teach someone something,” she said. GroupHug was designed to be “aggressively friendly.” Persaud wanted to associate renewable energy with a smile, to change perceptions of how people perceive energy. Her background as a toy designer enabled her to design an educational yet beautiful product that could help people understand climate change in a digestible way.

Adam Sebastian

Adam Sebastian also understands the importance of community engagement. His work is client-focused and community driven. When asked about the role of designers, Sebastian said “designers have a higher calling.” They must understand the community with which they are working, and have the power to tell a story or teach a lesson with their work. When Sebastian started his company, his partners did not want to pigeonhole themselves into the category of architecture. His team included artists, designers, and much more. Their goal was to be a conduit, to help their community find purpose through design. By “stitching together” elements of design, artitecture, art, and community development, Sebastian’s team decided to name their company Stitch. The business connects clients with dedicated designers to initiate large-scale community projects. One of Sebastian’s most well-known works is the ARTivity On The Green in downtown Winston Salem, which he describes as a “public art project that is a history lesson.” Incorporating elements of Winston Salem’s history and geography into the project, Sebastian pays homage to the industrial past of Winston Salem through his creation of a city park. In developing a project, Sebastian emphasized the importance of understanding a client’s goals from the start. According to Sebastian, designers have a duty to ground a client’s idea in pragmatism. 

Both Persaud and Sebastian believe that design has multiple objectives. For Persaud, good design has an opinion, a stance on how to best creatively tackle an issue. Her solar panels serve as both household decorations and educational platforms, and sustainable energy sources. Sebastian believes designers have a duty to help humankind get through challenging times. His work has enabled his community to realize its own uniqueness and open its eyes to various social issues. He says that the more a company can be inclusive and open minded, the better its results will be.

CCE is grateful to all our panelists for participating in the first chapter of our Bonfire Encore series. Join us next month for a continuation of our conversation, this time focused on racial equity and social action. Our January 21st event will feature entrepreneurs using art and immersive technology to disrupt and inspire change. Register here!

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