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

How to Make a Sketchbook with Recycled Cardboard

As part of one of our early classes, our students tackled the task of assembling handmade sketchbooks from recycled cardboard.

We talked with our students about what it means to be a designer and a critical thinker- that you are always ready to be creative and constantly recording new ideas that may help you to improve upon your design thoughts. This is part of our circular design thinking process of:

Design Thinking

In their new-found role as designers, our students will use their sketchbooks to jot down ideas and sketches as they go through the lessons in our class, and will also record inspirations that they have outside of class. Long after YDS has wrapped up, our students can continue to use their sketchbooks as places to record their ideas and dreams, and use design thinking in their everyday lives.

In keeping with our philosophy of using recycled materials wherever possible, our covers were made from cardboard boxes gathered from grocery stores.

The covers were measured, marked, and then scored with X-acto knives so that we could fold them into a cover shape.

We folded stacks of A4 sheets of paper in half to create what are called signatures, the sections that are eventually bound into the sketchbook cover. Then we used a needle and thread to stitch the signatures securely into the cover to create the binding of the sketchbooks.

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If you are interested in making your own sketchbook, or sharing this exercise with others, you can find the full instructions  at

You can simplify this as necessary if you are working with younger people, for example by using string and tying each signature separately into the cover.

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While the technique was challenging, using a needle and thread helped our students to give extra security and structure to the binding of our sketchbooks. We discussed with students that this was the way that books used to be made by hand, before machines came onto the scene! Not only are they design thinkers, but they have also mastered the art of ancient book-binding!

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Our students were patient, exacting, and careful with their sketchbook binding, and created amazing results!

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Some of our crowdfunding supporters will also be receiving sketchbooks, so look for them coming your way soon!

Stay tuned to hear about other projects our students have been working on!  If you’re curious about the Youth Design Studio perspective on design and designers, check out our earlier blog post on what design is and who designers are.  These ideas have helped shape this class, and we hope they’ll get you thinking about your world in a new way as well!

September 3rd, 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

Youth Design Studio in the WDC2014 Pitch Session!

Hey there!

If you’ve been keeping up with us via Facebook, Twitter, or our blog, you know that we pitched Youth Design Studio to a crowd of participants, supporters and staff of Thundafund and the Cape Town World Design Capital 2014 back in February. In fact, we wrote a blog all about our experience putting together our Youth Design Studio pitch for the pitch session!

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Well, in case you were curious about how it turned out, we finally managed to get the video on here!! Our cameraman didn’t have enough time to set up properly, so the angle is a little weird and the focus goes in and out sometimes, but if you read our blog and want to see how the actual pitch went, or if you’re just curious about Youth Design Studio, check it out!  It’s a fun in-person overview of the project, with some one-of-a-kind flair thrown in (ie. Julie in the background, building the letters for “Youth Design Studio” out of low-cost and recycled materials)!



Youth Design Studio/Imagine More Cape Town World Design Capital Pitch Session from Imagine More on Vimeo.

May 7th, 2014 by imblog

Best Things Imagine More Learned Today

We at Imagine More just wanted to share with you the coolest things we came across today.  Just because any day can be awesome and full of new knowledge that is hilarious and fun.

1. Humulus lupulus: the impossible-to-say-5-times-fast scientific name of hops (the bittering agent in beer), named with the Latin word for “wolf,” because Pliny (a Roman historian) thought they strangled things like wolves strangle sheep.
2. Ottoman Turkish Empire Settlement Payment: something, according to Turbo Tax, that California would give me a tax deduction for, if it applied to me.

Learn new things EVERY. DAY.


imagine more san diego hops

April 1st, 2014 by imblog

San Diego: #1 BEST Place For Small Businesses (Forbes)

Hello, friends!

Having bid a tearful goodbye to Cape Town (only for a little while!), Julie and I (the Youth Design Studio team!) are back in our other-mother-cities, Stockholm and San Diego respectively.  As we continue to work toward making Youth Design Studio a cross-continental reality, we are so incredibly grateful for the support we have gotten and continue to get from our communities around the world!  And today we are extra proud of our San Diego community: San Diego was ranked #1 Best City for Small Business Startups in a recent Forbes publication!!   As a San Diego entrepreneur, I couldn’t be happier with this news!

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The Forbes study looked at the 50 most populous cities in the United States, assessing whether they are good environments for small businesses.  Billions of data points were analyzed to reveal whether those cities are friendly to entrepreneurs; are characterized by great community engagement; and have good access to resources.  These characteristics were evaluated based on a number of criteria: for example, the percentage of small businesses as a fraction of total businesses; percentage of small businesses in high growth industries; percentage of small businesses with Facebook pages and websites; and percentage of businesses with online reviews.  Denver, Austin, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco also made the top half of the list (Western state pride!).

Great job, San Diego!  We ranked in the top 5 in nearly every category to get into that top slot.  We have a heavy concentration of businesses in high-growth industries; we are very likely to accept credit cards and adopt social media; and our communities are very engaged with their small business neighbors.  Being a small business ourselves, we are thrilled with this news – and thrilled with the support we personally have received from people all over San Diego!  We definitely feel how lucky we are to be here.

So keep it up, San Diego!  If you’d like to read the full article, “The Best Places to Launch a Startup in 2014,” it’s available on the Forbes website, and if you want to learn more about Youth Design Studio, our project in Cape Town (and San Diego, hopefully!), check out the Youth Design Studio page on the Imagine More website!

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March 14th, 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