The Power of the Image: Youth Design Takes Action

30 Aug

I’m not sure if all of you are familiar with the Culture Shock U Curve, but, to explain, it represents what inevitably happens upon trying to integrate yourself into a new culture.  And, believe it or not, it’s something that happens when you’ve spent a lot of time outside of your own country and then return home.  I was very much anticipating my reaction to the different stages of my reverse culture shock, which is where the idea for this blog came from; I wanted to share my journey.  As you can see on this diagram, the first step on this journey is the honeymoon phase; you are high off of the initial euphoria and excitement.  I was at this stage my first four weeks back and loving life.  Well, about a week ago, I had a disappointing setback in my job search and was pushed over the edge into the next phase.  I fell head-first into the crisis and frustration phase and I fell hard.  I was experiencing everything you are expected to experience during this period: anxiety, confusion, self-doubt, and rejection of your new (or I guess in my case, old) culture. I had been anticipating this period and had already made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t immediately succumb to my gut-reaction to flee and avoid it.  This is all part of the process and I had to remind myself that I would get through it.  I tried using all the tools I had set myself up with.  I tried running.  I tried yoga.  I tried meditating.  I tried reading.  I tried surrounding myself with friends and family.  Nothing.  I was suffocating in my own depression.

I did not see how I was going to pull myself out, but I knew that it was going to take something powerful.  And then my childhood friend Kathryn invited me to help out at an event that she thought would “inspire” me (Kathryn’s mantra) and inspiration was only one of the gifts I left with that day.  Last Thursday, I was reawakened, reenergized, reanimated, and brought back to life.  I was reminded of why I came home and what I wanted to accomplish and was reassured that there are like-minded people in Boston and that they are doing great things.


My very talented friend Kathryn works for Korn Design, a brand strategy and design firm headed by Denise Korn.  Ten years ago, Korn started a design internship program for students from Boston public schools called Youth Design.  Kathryn invited me to help out at Youth Design’s 2012 Graduation held at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and there I was able to see first-hand what an exciting program it is.  To give you a bit of background, ten years ago Korn had the idea to create a summer mentorship program that would pair some of the most artistic, skilled, motivated, and mature Boston high school students with designers in some of the best firms and organizations in Boston.  There were two important criteria.  Firstly, it was critical that these be paid internships, since many students need a summer job in order to contribute to their family’s needs.  And secondly, this needed to be more than a pencil-pushing, coffee-fetching internship.  In these days when school budget cuts mean the disappearance of more creative focused programs, the idea behind Korn’s program was to foster these students’ raw talent and teach them how to translate that talent into real world career possibilities.  And with those ideas in mind, Youth Design began.

Youth Design 2012 Graduation

It was an honor to meet the students from this year’s program and hear them articulate all they learned from the mentors at their separate firms and from the weekly trips they took as a group to varying design companies around Boston.  Many of the students spoke about being humbled by the experience.  Seeing their work first hand, I can say with confidence that these are very talented students.  Throughout the summer, however, many of them learned how to take criticism and interpret feedback and realized that having those skills brought their designs to the next level.  And more so than just nurturing their natural artistic talents, these students learned how to work in a professional environment and how to present and defend their ideas and perspectives to colleagues and superiors.  These students were poised and self-assured and it was not difficult to see them working among experienced designers.

There was a strong sense that the mentor-mentee relationship was equally valued on both sides.  The excitement and pride of the students was palpable and inspiring to me, a non-designer, so I can see how these relationships can affect the mentors of the program.  In 2006, Youth Design was profiled in the Boston Globe, highlighting the “two-way traffic in ideas” between this relationship.  Dean Whitney, a mentor from Continuum, sums it up nicely while speaking of his intern Carlos Cardoso, when he says,

“Carlos came to us without all the baggage about what can and can’t be done in design.  He inspired me to look at things differently, too.”

I’m sure the fresh eyes and young ideas of these students are more than valuable to the organizations involved and have reminded many of these seasoned designers where their passion began.

What left the biggest impression on me, however, was the strong sense of community among all the people involved in Youth Design.  I recently wrote a post where I mentioned that one of my least favourite parts of US culture is the exaltation of individualism.  One of the most heart-breaking parts of my move home has been leaving my community in Barcelona.  But seeing an organization like Youth Design in action has quelled any fear I had about the lack of community ideals in Boston.  Korn herself puts it best in this interview for

“[Creating Youth Design] was my way of using what I knew as a designer to propel impactful change to the next generation of designers in our communities… Youth Design is a labor of love and commitment to the next generation.”

The program strives to inspire urban kids to attend college and pursue majors in creative fields, while at the same time building community and business awareness of the value of design and its importance to the regional economy.  The mentors, design firms, board members, and volunteers are making an investment in the next generation and I have no doubt that many of the students in the program will return to one day foster the talents of those coming up behind them.

2011 Design by Marietta Esquerdo

Another important element that cannot be overlooked is Youth Design’s focus to create diversity in the creative workforce.  It was something that board member Robert Lewis, Jr. spoke about in his speech at the graduation and a goal Korn discussed in a 2011 article in Stuff Magazine.

“It’s a diverse group of kids, and one of my goals is to change the face of design and add to the diversity of designers.”

This diversity translated impressively into a variety of ideas present in the 2012 competition, “Take Action.”  The purpose of the competition was to create a design that would inspire and move people to, as the title states, take action.  The entries ranged from such social issues as HIV, xenophobia, domestic violence, bullying, economic inequality, and homophobia.  (click on images to enlarge)

2012 Design by Daisy Mejia

2011 Design by Ena Kantardzic

2012 Design by Malcolm Davidson

The images are powerful and all the more impressive when you remind yourself they were created by teenagers.  As a non-designer, until this day I had never really reflected specifically on the importance of design in terms of motivating and inspiring people.  There are many social issues that are important to me and being a person of words and of discourse I tend to gravitate towards those forms of expression.  But seeing the work of the Youth Designers I was reminded just how much certain visuals and symbols have resonated with me without me even consciously thinking of their power.  I thought of my old favourite, Rosie the Riveter, and all that she meant to me as I formed my identity as a woman and a feminist.  And I reflected on the Obama “Hope” image that I began to see splashed in random places around Barcelona in 2008.  I was a disillusioned young American who had left her home country in 2006 and was struggling with what being an American meant to me.  Seeing that image evoked a surge of a pride in my nationality that I had not felt for many years.

Kathryn was right- I was inspired.  The excitement and ambition of these talented young people has reignited my own drive.  Seeing the support and empowerment that the volunteers, mentors, and all others involved with Youth Design are giving to the next generation has introduced me to a side of Boston that is focused on community and collectivism.  I don’t think I’m out of the woods yet with my culture shock, but I think I’m at least one step closer to feeling at home.

Visit Youth Design’s website at to learn more about mentoring, sponsorship, donations, and volunteer opportunities.


One Response to “The Power of the Image: Youth Design Takes Action”

  1. Kathryn September 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    Lindsay, Thank you for being another advocate and for taking to write this amazing reflection of graduation and our program. Go Youth Design!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: