Project Osmosis and VSA encourage high school students to design their future

Vernon Lockhart summed up the purpose of this year’s Design Youth Forum in one sentence: “If design is truly a problem-solving tool, then everyone should have access to it.” As Executive Director for the Chicago-area nonprofit Project Osmosis, Lockhart has worked to provide design education to underserved minority youth across the city, most visibly in its signature annual event, Design Youth Forum. Last week, VSA Partners helped bring this year’s Forum to life.

Design Youth Forum is a one-day dive into design for high school students, held at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Art and Architecture Building. Students chose an immersive workshop in architecture, fashion design, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, multimedia or urban design through workshops based on a common theme; each is led by a professional designer or design instructor (Lockhart himself led the urban design workshop, and is pictured above with his group of students). This year’s theme, “What If?” encouraged participants to use their imagination to address challenges faced at the personal and global levels; this level of exploration provided students an understanding of the potential for design and designers to change the world. “It exposes communities and cultures to one another visually while empowering the human right to be creative,” added Lockhart.

VSA’s engagement with Project Osmosis began several years ago with sponsorship of its annual benefits, and providing what Lockhart called “support that helps young design hopefuls explore the profession through workshops, studio tours, scholarships, presentations and After School Matters programs. Our work would not be possible without the support of partnerships like VSA.” For 2014’s Forum, VSA signed up to be its lead sponsor, which included providing t-shirts for all 120 participants. Each shirt offered the central question for all students—“What if you could design your future?”—that they spent the day answering.

In addition to sponsoring the Forum, VSA presented the lunch keynote, with Senior Designers Val D’Antonio and Jimi Geiyer touching on their backgrounds, client projects, the creative process, VSA’s Chicago office and much more. D’Antonio spoke about growing up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh and not knowing about graphic design; Geiyer spoke about transitioning from a fine art program at Northern Illinois University into a visual communication program. Together, they reminded students that design opportunities exist in far greater numbers today than ever before, thanks to the technology and tools the students already use. Lockhart reported that the VSAers made a big impression on the audience: “Many of the students told us how impressed they were with VSA’s work and with Val and Jimi!”

“It was an inspiring and humbling experience to witness these students coming up with ideas to make the world better through design,” Geiyer said about the Forum. And D’Antonio shared this advice with the students: “Try to find something that you’re so passionate about that you lose yourself in it. What inspires you? Everything around me is inspiration and when I see good design, it makes me want to be a better designer. Collect gum wrappers if they have a cool pattern, take a promo poster from your favorite band’s concert. Surround yourself with inspiration and be passionate about it.”

You can get involved in Project Osmosis and next year’s Design Youth Forum by donating online, presenting at a school or upcoming workshop, sponsoring a program or instructing a program; applications to join their mentor program are available at their site as well.