This summer, I spent 8 weeks working with the Work Department, a women-led design and innovation group focused on facilitating social impact in communities in Detroit and beyond. I had the opportunity to research and document the history of a long-term partnership that has been integral to the history of the Work Dept. For more than a decade, the Work Dept has collaborated on projects with Allied Media Projects, a Detroit-based organization focused on shaping more accessible and inclusive media strategies world-wide. Their partnership has taken shape through the founding of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition, facilitating creative neighborhood strategies in North East Detroit, prototyping and implementing community wireless network systems, and shaping the growth of the annual Allied Media Conference among other projects.
I had a chance to attend the Allied Media Conference, held in Detroit in mid-June, and was inspired by the scale and diversity of the conference. More than 2,500 attendees from all over the world participated in sessions on the intersection of design, media, data, identity, community, politics and more. I felt the current and power that grassroots mobilization can have to redefine cultural and political norms and to promote justice and equality for underrepresented communities. The Allied Media Conference is but one representation of the impact these organizations have on communities all over the world. In exploring internal project documentation and external media coverage of both organizations, I discovered that both the Work Dept and AMP have shaped culture through that can’t always be measured by quantifiable metrics. Their focus, instead, manifests through empowering individuals and communities to shape the structures that we all interact with in daily life.
As Nina Bianchi, co-founder of the Work Dept, expressed regarding the aspects that make this partnership successful, “designers inherently approach problems and partnerships with a collaborative, systems-based approach.” Intersectional design systems are increasingly valued and implemented in Detroit, and the Work Dept and Allied Media Projects have contributed significantly to the foundations of this design culture based in equity and grassroots mobilization. The power of this partnership lies in the agency it bestows on communities to transform their own structures; Allied Media and the Work Dept are facilitators who empower communities to re-think their own worlds through adapting, flexing, and translating systems-based processes.