In May of 2019, sixteen design students worked on one comprehensive participatory project with the residents of El Cocal, a small informal community located next to the town of Quepos, Costa Rica. The focus of the project was working with key residents in El Cocal to co-design a comprehensive waste management solution that would assist the community to reach its goals of protecting the natural environmental and sharing its beauty with its residents and visitors. Using the participatory design process, OCAD University students engaged in systems thinking to develop a robust solution that can be implemented and sustained by the community. This solution provides not only a way to manage El Cocal’s waste, but also provides a grassroots platform to empower community leaders and residents, offers economic opportunities and job creation, and provides a strong visual identity that can serve as a unifying symbol of the strength, beauty, and Pura Vida that is El Cocal.
Below is a documentary about the students’ experiences traveling and working with community in Costa Rica. It was created by one of the students, Zaiah Briscoe, as part of her final project for the course.
Below is a presentation and two videos created by the students and delivered to the community, which provides an overview of the work accomplished collaboratively with the community residents and next steps for further developing the project. The instructional videos, created by student Adé Abegunde, can be used by the community leaders to promote the waste management initiative to fellow residents. As part of the course, the students also created a comprehensive Implementation Plan that provides detailed information and resources to assist the community residents as they implement the project in their community.
Classes of 2013-2017
From 2013-2017, the Design Abroad course took place in India. Though the location has changed to Costa Rica, the format of the course and the types of projects and experiences are the same. Watch the video below and explore the range of projects OCAD U students co-designed with organizations and communities in India since the program started in 2013. A summary of each class and their projects are provided on this page. Learning more about these projects will provide a stronger understanding of what to expect if you are part of the Design Abroad course.
In May of 2017, nine design students worked on two projects that engaged two different women’s groups. Both student teams acted as a bridge between the organizations that work to build skills and economic empowerment for marginalized women, the women themselves, and potential sustainable market opportunities for the women’s products to be sold on a regular basis. Based on user research and the collaborative design process, students designed products that can be produced by the women’s groups and meet the needs of the clients. In both cases, students explored sustainable materials and processes and carefully considered both the costs of production and consumer price points to ensure that the products are economically feasible.
One group designed a reusable bag for a local supermarket that will allow the owner to stop using plastic and synthetic bags and replace them with this new design that can be produced by a group of 10-12 women living in a nearby slum community. After researching customer buying patterns and grocery transport needs, the team developed a bag that would meet the demands of the customer and the price point of the business. The students helped the supermarket owner imagine innovative ways to display and merchandise the bags to encourage customer use and promote the handiwork of the women who make the bags.
The other group worked with an organization that trains women to sew and embroider, among other skills, as part of their women’s empowerment initiatives. The team of students helped to define and produce a line of high-end products that can be sold at the 5-star hotels/resorts located in the area. The students designed a series of fabric patterns, envisioned how these customized designed could be made into a number of desirable products, and demonstrated how they could be embellished with the women’s hand-sewn and embroidered details.
In both cases, the students conducted in-depth interviews with the organizations, women, clients, and potential users. They sourced and tested materials, worked on the brand story of these product collaborations, and gathered inspiration everywhere they went. Both design solutions connected these women to a sustainable market for their goods while also giving them a creative voice through the final product.
In between the design process, the students enjoyed taking in the sights of India and having fun. During the first and second weeks, the students watched a Bollywood film and learned a few new moves during a Bollywood dance lesson. The first weekend trip was to Mumbai, which included visits to 1,000-year old Buddhist caves, food markets, tour of the Dharavi slum with a local, ethical social enterprise, along with getting their fill of shopping and eating local fare. The last weekend was an opportunity to explore North Goa with students enjoying the beach, learning more about Portuguese architecture and Goa’s colonial history, along with visits to ethically-driven businesses and to see some of the inspiring contemporary art happening in Goa, which included meeting an international artist and owner of the Museum of Goa. The weekend ended with a walk in a forest preserve, a swim in a lovely waterfall, and a visit to a fifth-generation working spice farm.
In May of 2015, thirteen OCAD U students worked directly with a community called Zuarinagar, a slum located outside of the Sancoale Industrial Estate, near Vasco da Gama, Goa. Co-designing with residents of Zuarinagar, as well as with organizations working in this community, the students identified potential design interventions centred on one main focus: waste management. As this is a semi-legal settlement, there are few infrastructural amenities – no sewer, no garbage pick-up. The result is a community with no systems in place to handle their residential waste, where garbage is left in any open area available and where the negative impacts of uncontrolled waste on the safety and health of its residents are visible.
Working in three groups, the students engaged in systems design, tackling the challenge at three distinct but closely interdependent levels. One group co-designed with the community to develop infrastructural solutions to collecting, separating, and disposing/reusing waste. They devised two holistic approaches that residents could implement to create a sustainable, long-term solution.
Another group worked directly with children in collaboration with a community-based organization, called Magic Bus, to help raise awareness of waste in the community. This group created a song and dance and two original activity-based games to help instil the concepts of working together and keeping their community clean.
The third group worked on the messaging of the overall solution, realizing that even with a sound infrastructural plan in place, a behavioural shift would be needed for the community to fully adopt any kind of waste management system. Inspired by the traditional Indian art form of Rangoli, temporal designs made from rice flour, this group worked with the community members to develop a visual identity and message for a campaign that would help the residents take ownership for the management of their waste.
The three groups worked collaboratively and iteratively. Their work has had a lasting impact, inspiring the residents of Zuarinagar to form an association with the mission to build from the students’ work and create a long-term plan to managing waste in their community.
Class of 2014
In May of 2014, OCAD U students worked in two groups. One group co-designed with CJAM, a human rights organization advocating for the rights of people living in cantonment areas in India. The CJAM student group delved into learning from the cantonment communities about their history, their daily lives, and their continued struggles to be heard and have their basic human rights secured. Alongside the community, the students designed an astute social media campaign aimed to give the community a louder voice, to raise awareness of the issues they face, and to create a united call for change that extends far beyond the borders of the cantonment areas.
The other student group worked with Shikshangram, an orphanage which is home to over 100 children. Through observation, play, dancing, and imagining, the group engaged the children, teachers, caretakers, and founders in developing a design that physically and metaphorically connects the growing community at Shikshangram. Encompassing a winding outdoor staircase, central meeting place, and beautiful mosaic, the co-designing process and resulting project left a lasting impact on the community and the OCAD U students.
Class of 2013
In May of 2013, the program first launched with nine OCAD University students traveling to India as part of the Design Abroad: India course. This diverse group of students came from both the Faculty of Design and the Faculty of Art and represented a cross section of disciplines, skill sets, and perspectives. This blog documents the projects these students undertook and the incredible work they did as they co-designed with two organizations over the three-week period of the course.
The students worked in two groups. One group co-designed with KESBO, a boys orphanage, and the other team collaborated with Sadhana, a human rights organization that works with residents living in slum areas. The KESBO team designed and built a new playspace with and for the boys who live and go to school at the orphanage. This playspace not only provides a safe place for the boys to have fun and interact with each other, but also offered the boys the opportunity to express their ideas and work together to see these ideas become real.
The Sadhana group worked with the founder of the organization, her staff, and the residents of the nearby community to develop a visual identity that would represent their goals and collective voice. This identity, used on letterhead, posters, flyers, etc., was also printed on textiles and worn as a means to unify Sadhana and the residents at meetings, rallies, press conferences and other events where they are working to have their rights upheld in order to improve the health, safety and governance of their community.