Youth Design Studio Photography in Nature of Cities Roundtable


Recently Julie Goodness, one of the architects of Youth Design Studio, participated in a round table entitled: “How can art (in all its forms), exhibits, installations and provocations be a better catalyst to raise awareness, support and momentum for urban nature and green spaces?”  This event was hosted by The Nature of Cities, a collective forum on cities as ecosystems, as both designed and natural human habitat intimately connected to resilience, sustainability and livability.  The text of Julie’s contribution to this round table can be found below!  For the full article, including the commentary of other participants, visit

So excited to be taking Youth Design Studio around the world!!


I can still recall my first encounters with street art when I became a New York City resident; these small urban interventions of images or words always seemed like a personal entreaty, an invitation to reengage with an urban fabric made momentarily unfamiliar. I am still struck by the unique energy they generated within me; there was a sudden flash of inspiration to think differently about my role in the city or even take some kind of alternative action. Indeed, as Pippin Anderson details in this roundtable, I likewise think that urban graffiti and street art is one of the more provocative and universally accessible mediums through which we can engage our urban citizens.

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Andelwa, a learner at Ikamva Youth, practices with a camera during the photography workshop. Credit: Julie Goodness

Lately, I’ve grown interested in how to propagate this feeling of inspiration and rousing call to action that I’ve found so satisfactorily embodied in street art. How can we spur our fellow city residents to make their own creative expressions and entreaties about their hopes for the city? One interesting possibility is participatory art, in which people can interact with and/or add to an existing installation, or are provided with instruction and materials to become the makers themselves and carry out their own artistic ventures. This is by no means a new concept, and may range from collaborative murals to data-driven exchanges (a favorite New York City example isAmphibious Architecture, which communicated information about fish presence and water quality in the East and Bronx rivers via SMS conversation).

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A learner at BEEP demonstrates what it feels like to reach the summit of Table Mountain as part of an environmental camp excursion. Credit: Zikhona & Qhama, learners at Beyond Expectations Environmental Programme (BEEP)

In my own exploratory attempt at participatory urban engagement, this year my colleague Katie Hawkes and I designed and pioneered Youth Design Studio, a sustainable design class for high school students that leads them through the process of how to research, design, and build projects for their community.

Hosted with groups of students in Cape Town, South Africa, the class was a project of the 2014 Cape Town World Design Capital, a year-long programme dedicated to exploring design as a medium for creative social transformation.

One of our lessons was a hands-on introduction to photography, in which we taught basic technical skills and demonstrated how the artistic medium could be used as a communication and storytelling tool. An ambition to have our students document the challenges in their communities (and therefore begin to explore their visions for possible creative intervention projects), led us to take a step back and give a more straightforward assignment:

Tell the story of your day-to-day life through the people, places, and things that are important to you.

What came back to us was truly powerful: beautifully composed images of family, friends, and objects of importance, but also very interesting depictions of connection to the urban nature of the city: the beach and ocean waves captured through a window of the schoolbus, or the sunset over a wetland in the informal settlement. One of our students expressly told us that his photographs told the story of his connection to nature and township life; a photo of a plant springing from a concrete wall (with the student’s shoe captured in the edge of the frame) spoke both of personal strength and of unexpected green flourishing in even the most challenging of urban environments.

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“I chose this picture because I love nature and it also symbolizes nature and township life.” Credit: Athandile, learner at Ikamva Youth Makhaza Branch

With another group, whose prompt was to convey how they felt when they summited Table Mountain in Cape Town on their camp trip, we received images of both victorious exaltation atop tree stumps, and quiet peacefulness nestled amongst vegetation.

While this exercise with our students just began to scratch the surface of what kind of stories they could tell through photography, it was an important proof of concept: even our youngest urban residents can use artistic expression to articulate important parts of their identity, and connection to both people and places in their community. While our students’ images do not explicitly advocate for urban nature and green space, I think they demonstrate the great potential available when we’re given the tools to convey what’s important to us in our urban worlds. I would argue that the first step towards raising awareness, support and momentum for urban nature will start with broader opportunities to equip and empower urban citizens with the tools (particularly artistic ones) to figure out who we are and probe our relationship/connection(s) to our urban environment. It is only through the critical reflection process involved these artistic explorations that we may eventually be inspired to become advocates and perhaps find new ways to communicate our visions for future cities of social and ecological well-being.

Thanks to the learners at Ikamva Youth Makhaza Branch, Muizenberg High School, and Beyond Expectations Environmental Program (BEEP), who shared their experiences through photography!

November 5th, 2014 by imblog

Youth Design Studio Photography & Community

As part of teaching our students about the “ideate” phase of being a designer in Youth Design Studio, we led a lesson on photography, with the help of our Cape Town-trained film friend, Aurora Drummer, who was on-hand to give expert visual insights and career tips.

We discussed that in order to be a good designer and problem-solver, you need to be a detective! You need to be able to show what is going on around you. You can do this by:
Telling – through asking questions and recording observations
Showing – through drawing or photography

In this class on photography, we explored how you can use photos as a communication and storytelling tool.

We experimented with photography as a method not only for taking nice pictures, but as a way to tell stories, and to learn stories about the people and places you photograph. We used photography to explore our ideas about ourselves, our identities, and our communities, both human and non-human.

For our students who were experiencing photography for the first time, we ran through a set of basic concepts to note, including light, motion, subject, shapes, and space. We also introduced techniques, including framing, distance, level, angle, focus, leading the eye, and the rule of thirds.

In preparation for taking our own photographs, we practiced first with paper frames, testing views from different heights (level), angles, and distances.

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We also examined some examples of famous photographs and well-composed photographs in magazines.  We analyzed them for the techniques they used, and how we could tell what kind of story was being told.

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Once we had mastered the basics, we moved on to using real cameras! Thanks to an AMAZING group of friends from both the USA and South Africa who donated cameras, we had 11 digital cameras available for our students to use.  We explained the parts of the camera and proper handling, safety, and maintenance.

Before we started taking photos, we introduced the idea of community and got our students to brainstorm ideas about who is included in their Ikamva Youth or Muizenberg High School community. They shared a broad and insightful list, including students, teachers and tutors, parents, and building/groundskeeping staff.

Our first in-class activity with the cameras was to take photos that:
(1) represented or showed the community around them
(2) represented what the community meant to them

Here are one group’s photos about their community at Muizenberg High:

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After discussing the community photographs, we gave our first take-home assignment: to take a photographic autobiography. The photos they took needed to tell the story of their day-to-day life, and depict people, places, and things important to them, positive or negative. They were tasked with taking 10-15 well-composed photographs, using the techniques we covered in class.

Here is a sampling of the incredible results!

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As we move forward with Youth Design Studio, we have continued to use photography as a tool to tell stories and learn stories.  Stay tuned for more! Curious about how we get our students moving, creating and designing at the start of each class? Check out our post on Youth Design Studio Creativity Exercises!

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September 9th, 2014 by imblog

Youth Design Studio Creativity Exercises

When we were putting lessons together for Youth Design Studio, we came up with the idea of starting classes with quick (10-minute or so) creativity exercises to get our learners moving, creating, and problem-solving in real time.  In these exercises we use mainly recycled materials (waste cardboard, plastic bags, anything else we can get our hands on) occasionally supplemented by a few bright or versatile additions (pipe cleaners, tape, colored paper, markers, etc).   Each assignment has both creative and problem-solving elements, so our students have to think like real designers.  We always knew our learners would surprise us with their creativity and ingenuity, but every time we’ve been blown away by what they produced!

In one exercise, high school learners at Ikamva Youth Makhaza were asked, in groups of three or four, to create something that (1) could be used in everyday life and that (2) was both functional and beautiful.  Their responses were incredible – everything from matriculation (graduation) gear to fashion accessories!


In a similar excercise at Muizenberg High School, learners were asked to create something that could be worn on the body (clothes, accessories, anything they wanted to come up with).  The results were both incredible and entertaining!

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Another of these exercises at Ikamva involved a number of large pieces of cardboard (actually a giant cardboard box from a supermarket, cut into large irregular pieces).  Three groups of three students each were tasked with creating, out of cardboard and tape with the help of scissors, the tallest tower possible.  However, in addition to simply being tall, their tower would have to support a small but significant weight: in this case, the weight of a point-and-shoot camera.

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Each tower was impressive and vastly different from its neighbors, but they were wonderful in another way as well: each group of students, unprompted, picked up materials from the ground around them and incorporated them into their designs.  A brick, a length of wire, an extra piece of cardboard – everything nearby immediately became a tool to improve their structures.   One tower even doubled as a carrying case!  It was problem-solving and creative design in action, even more effectively than we could have imagined!!

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If you’d like to see more photos of these classes and some of the projects they’ve been working on, visit our Facebook page at, and keep up with us as we move forward!

August 27th, 2014 by imblog

Definitions of Design

What is design?  In an Imagine More blog post earlier this year, we discussed the definitions of “design” that we had encountered throughout the World Design Capital 2014 activities that we had visited.  We also added our own definitions of design, which have been a big part of our inspiration for creating Youth Design Studio.

Now that Youth Design Studio is up and running, we can add a third perspective: our students!  On the first day of class, we asked all of them to write down their answer to the question: What is Design?  Here are some of the incredible responses we received from one class, high school learners at Ikamva Youth Makhaza.  We hope they get YOU thinking about design, what it means, and how it can be a part of your life, no matter who you are!

Design 1 design 2design 5 design 3 design 4


August 22nd, 2014 by imblog

Cardboard Nutella, Lonely Bricks & Miracles: (Mis)Adventures in Design

“I don’t think its theirs,” I said.

“But they’re homeless, what if they need it?” countered my partner-in-crime.

“If they needed it, don’t you think they’d have taken it by now?”

“Maybe it’s like, in their territory!”

“It’s just sitting there, and it’s not like it’s right in their camp, it’s a ways away. Besides, there are plants growing up through it.  I don’t think it would have been sitting there that long if they needed it.”

The object of our discussion sat, tranquil and clearly long-undisturbed, a few meters away, blissfully unaware that it was the subject of a nearby heated debate.

I laughed suddenly, breaking through our pensiveness.  “Can we just pause for a second and reflect on the fact that we’re sitting in our car by the side of the road, at 7pm on a Monday on some random street in Cape Town, arguing about whether an abandoned tire belongs to the nearby population of homeless people?”


It had all started a few days before when, cracked-out and sleep deprived, I arrived in South Africa after 37 hours of grueling travel from San Diego. Through one of those miracles of the universe that sometimes happen, our organization, Imagine More, had recently received just enough funding to get me to Cape Town, South Africa; I was here to work on Youth Design Studio, the project that my best friend and colleague, Julie Goodness, and I had been putting together at a furious pace since we were accepted into the Cape Town 2014 World Design Capital last November.

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Despite my sleep deprivation, we got straight to work.  There was a LOT to accomplish in the month before we both left, and things were getting busy right away.  “We need to get our Thundafund campaign up,” Julie said, referring to the South African online crowd-funding platform that had partnered with WDC2014, “so that when we give our pitch to the World Design Capital people and other possible collaborators in a couple days, it’s already up and running.”

“We can definitely do Thundafund, but what is the pitch supposed to be?” I asked.  Julie had attended a “grooming session” several days earlier, where World Design Capital representatives had given advice to project organizers on what to expect from the pitch session, and how to go about forming their pitch.

“We’ll be…performing, I think?” Julie said, still a bit puzzled. “We’re supposed to be entertaining.”

“…Perform?” I asked, skeptical.  “Like….what? Sing and dance?  I don’t think I understand. So we’re….not talking about Youth Design Studio?”

“No, we are, we just have to do it in a way that’s entertaining. I’m not sure. I don’t think I completely understand either. Let’s go back over my notes.”

A half hour later we still had very little idea of what we were supposed to put together for our “pitch;” we just knew we would be up in front of 200 people from organizations all over Cape Town, with 4 minutes in which to explain our project (ok, cool) and ask for money (this makes us want to die).  Hmm.

We focused on getting our Thundafund campaign running; we wrote our script, tenaciously memorized, filmed, re-memorized, re-filmed, and tried to keep from losing our cool and laughing hysterically when the cat would wander into the shot and jump on our laps. We filmed praise-worthy design locales in Cape Town, taking touristy photos to keep the security guards from baselessly harassing our resident cameraman and tech guru (aka Julie’s boyfriend, Andy) while he took shots of the scenery.  Things were exhausting, but going well.

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 Thanks to a last minute push by the fantastic Thundafund crew, we eventually got our Thundafund campaign up and running! But the pitch session loomed.  We still had no idea how to sing/dance/entertain our crowd into not falling asleep while we simultaneously talked earnestly and beseechingly about Youth Design Studio. It was the afternoon before our pitch session, and things were looking bleak.

youth design studio WDC cape town

The thing is, how do you get up in front of a room full of people and do a whole host of things that are wildly unlike you (occupy a stage, perform to a crowd, ask for money) while still remaining fundamentally yourselves?

We went back to the drawing board.  What are we good at?  Having fun, hahahaha! Ok ok, no, just kidding.  Well actually…yeah but, seriously…we are REALLY good at having fun, like possible minor superpower level. Anywhere and everywhere and at all times, no matter what we’re doing.  Maybe this is something we can work with.  And what is Youth Design Studio about? Well, it’s about creativity.  It’s about EVERYONE being able to access design, and creativity they might not even know they have, with resources they might not even see around them, but that are there.  Where can we go with this?

An idea started to emerge.  Youth Design Studio is all about making, and building…What if we MADE something on stage, over the course of those 4 minutes?  But what would we make?  Well…what about the words “YOUTH DESIGN STUDIO” themselves? WE could the beginning “Y” and finishing “O”, YMCA style! But what will we make the rest of the letters out of?  Um…How about…..trash??? And anything we can buy for under 10 Rand ($1)?

A frantic scavenger hunt began. By the time we’d come up with our idea, it was already evening and shops were closing, so we had only visited one destination before being greeted at the next with iron bars and a CLOSED sign.  Crushed, we pulled over to the side of the road to regroup.  We revisited our plan, trying to rework our idea and figure out where we would get the remaining materials, with no idea where they might be and no time to spare.

That’s when I saw it.  A few meters from the road, just above a homeless camp further down the hill. I mentally assessed.  Could we use it? Put something in it? Build something with it? No…it’s too big. The way we had conceived our letters so far, it would be 2-3 times as large as the rest, and incongruous.  No. Sigh. I returned to our brainstorming.

But I had momentarily forgotten that my partner on this project also happened to be my best friend. I remembered when she, completely independently and after I had already considered and disregarded it, suddenly interjected: “Hey….so….do you see that tire over there….?” Hahahaha! I told her I had had the exact same thought, but figured it wouldn’t work.  She was more adamant.  If we did the letters this way, instead of that way, it would only be a little bigger…we could roll it on stage.  It could be the “O” in “Youth.” It would be HYSTERICAL.  I gave in.

But what if it belonged to the homeless people?  It seemed unlikely to me, sitting there alone and unloved. We debated.

“Well…Ok,” Julie finally conceded.  “But maybe we should ask first.”

“Ok.  I’ll go get it.  You stay here. Open the back of the car and I’ll be right back.”

I darted out and, after asking the men sitting on the sidewalk if it belonged to them, picked it up and delivered it to the trunk of our waiting vehicle.  The camp down the hill didn’t object, clearly not knowing or caring what the crazy American girls were up to.

I jumped back into car, arrested by a sudden thought. “But what if it rolls? How will we keep it from moving? We need something heavy.  Do we have….I don’t know…a brick?”

Julie pondered until, abruptly, her face lit up in delight and disbelief. “You mean like…THAT brick??” She pointed.  And indeed the universe, having blessed us with our letter O, had further graced us with a way to keep it steady.  Miracles.  I sprinted across the road, grabbed the lone brick, and tossed it in the back with the tire.  We pealed out, onto more adventures.  This alley next to that closed shop had been MORE than productive!

Not being familiar enough with South Africa to know where to locate the one or two rather obscure items on our list, we decided the best place to try (with shops we knew would be open) would be the nearby mall.  But we hit another snag: lost at night in the complicated mall entry, we accidentally wandered into the loading dock.  We had no idea how to get into the mall proper.  The parking lot was deserted and the entrance to the loading dock gaped, abandoned, dimly lit like the green-tinged maw of a great cavernous beast.  It was a little unnerving, to say the least.

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But as we peered in, we struck gold. HEAPS and PILES – MOUNTAINS of discarded cardboard!!  Mounded next to a dumpster ten feet high and thirty feet long, packed to the gills with more cardboard.  One solitary member of the cleaning staff swept quietly several feet away, her steps echoing in the huge room.  “Is it ok if we take some of this?” we asked.  She smiled and nodded, and pointed out another pile we hadn’t seen.

We went wild.

imagine youth design studio cape town  youth design studio world design capital

 (And when I say wild I mean wild.  We were more than a little exhausted and off our rockers).  Julie grew very deeply attached to a giant cardboard picture of Nutella.  I tried to dissuade her from bringing it – we couldn’t use it in the presentation – but I could tell her heart would be broken if she left it behind.  It came home with us.  Abandoned milk crates and broken shipping palettes from the loading dock joined our pile of booty.  The back seat bulged with our pilfered plunder.

In the end, we found most of the things we needed, but had to painfully let go of some things that just don’t happen here in Cape Town (apparently glitter is an imported luxury item? And pipe cleaners just don’t exist, at least not where we were looking!). But we adapted and improvised, and made it work.  We wrote the accompanying speech the morning of, and I frantically tried to memorize it.

Our pitch came.  We took the stage.  I talked to the room while Julie assembled letters.

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She cut, pasted, screw-gunned, penned and pinned.  I forgot my lines, laughed, flourished; remembered, laughed, continued.  Some brave and enterprising volunteers created works of art while we spoke, and won prizes for their ingenuity.

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In the end, we didn’t win the prize for best pitch.  But we finger painted and threw confetti.  We laughed and loved life.  We were thoroughly ourselves, and the wonderful responses we received that night – and in the days that followed – were, and continue to be, an incredible and humbling delight.  People have volunteered to speak to the Youth Design Studio class, offered us materials, and connected us to other groups and projects conducting amazing work all over Cape Town.  Every day Youth Design Studio comes closer and closer to reality.

So what’s the lesson here?  I don’t know, I guess there are a few.  Work with your bestie, if at all humanly possible.  Accept miracles from the universe that come when you’re at a loss by the side of the road. Have new experiences, even if they’re terrifying.  And above all: have fun, and create.  Because that’s what it’s all about, right? 😉


February 22nd, 2014 by imblog

Youth Design Studio: Project Inspiration

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Because very few of you out there have actually read our project application for the Cape Town 2014 World Design Capital, you may be wondering why we’re doing what we’re doing.  In case you’re behind the times and have no idea what we’re doing at all: Youth Design Studio is a sustainable design class that will teach secondary school students in Cape Town to research, design, and build a project of their choosing that will  benefit their whole community.  In the process, they will talk to their neighbors, city officials, university students, local professionals, and other people who will teach them about the world beyond their classroom.

Now that we’re all caught up, we’d like to share with you what inspired us to embark upon this journey.  Our story starts over the year and a half or so that Julie Goodness, the main project proposer, spent in Cape Town working on a Fulbright Grant.  Over the course of her Fulbright work, which focused on urban biodiversity in Cape Town, she had the opportunity to interact with and learn from people all over the city, all from different communities, backgrounds, fields, and perspectives.  Here is part of her narrative on what inspired her to create Youth Design Studio:

“In 2011, I spent several months interviewing City of Cape Town elected city councillors in a project regarding their knowledge of environmental issues and integration of these matters into their work. In addition to the information that I was seeking, I gained a deeper, richer perspective into Cape Town’s history, people, culture, challenges, and opportunities, as narrated by the people who are working to improve the city every day.

In one conversation, I spoke with a leader in the social development portfolio committee, who described her work with many of the poorer, more resource-pressed communities in the city. She often gives lectures and church sermons in these neighbourhoods, and frequently engages the young people in conversation. She asks them about their thoughts, hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Once, in a community located within sight of the air traffic of Cape Town International Airport, she asked a boy what he wanted to do someday.

“Someday,” he responded timidly, “I want to ride in a plane.”

The official told me that she was heartbroken.

What I want to hear him say,” she said, her eyes sparkling with hope and energy, “ is, ‘Someday, I want to FLY a plane.’”

In this spirit, I have been inspired to create Youth Design Studio. It is to help Capetonians grow wings.”

February 18th, 2014 by imblog

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Dear Wonderful Friends,

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from Imagine More!  Valentine’s Day is actually my favorite holiday, because it’s always been an excuse for me to tell all the awesome people in my life just how incredibly awesome they are.  In that spirit, we at Imagine More would like to take this opportunity to thank EVERYONE who has been a part of Youth Design Studio as we work to make it a reality.  To all the people who have given us support, feedback, advice, and helped us navigate the challenges of working in a foreign country with many systems unfamiliar to us, THANK YOU!!!  We are so awed at the overwhelming response and positivity we’ve gotten from all of you, and we are truly thankful for you every day.   And a SPECIAL thank you to everyone who has contributed to our Thundafund campaign!  We hope you feel the full weight of the fact that you are changing lives for the better.

If you want to get involved, visit our website at to learn more about who we are, what we do, and why!  If you want to read more about Youth Design Studio, our current project in Cape Town, South Africa, visit the Youth Design Studio project page on our website. And while you’re at it, check out our Thundafund campaign at!

Thank you again, and we hope your day is full of affection & appreciation!


Imagine More 🙂

February 14th, 2014 by imblog

Big News from Imagine More!


Here we are in Cape Town, working furiously toward making Youth Design Studio a reality!  Last night we pitched our project to the World Design Capital crowd, including potential investors and collaborators.  We’ve already had some wonderful feedback, including several people who want to volunteer to speak to the class.  We’re so excited that people want to be involved, and so awed at all the incredible, life-changing projects we saw last night!

More on that to come – our own pitch was a hilarious ton of fun, and we’ll tell you more about it when we can get some pictures and maybe a video up!  But in the meantime, our BIG news is that OUR THUNDAFUND CAMPAIGN IS LIVE!! If you’re not familiar with it, Thundafund is the South African version of Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform for budding enterprises.

You can find our campaign here:  BONUS: the World Design Capital organizers will MATCH our funding when we reach our first milestone of 10,000 Rand! (for our American friends, this is just under $1000).  We would love you to get involved!! Feel free to email us at with any questions, comments, or just to say hi – we’d be so excited to hear from you!

Let’s make Youth Design Studio a reality, together!!


February 12th, 2014 by imblog