Visual Communication Student Projects on Homelessness

Posters displayed in the SUB

Student projects displayed in the Student Union Building

ART 4207: Information Design, Winter Quarter 2015

Each year, senior students majoring in visual communication are required to take a class on information design which involves print and motion graphics. Students in this upper-level class study quantitative and qualitative data alongside personal observations. Personal data includes audience surveys, professional interviews, and empathetic investigations ― walking alongside those who are part of the story. This type of research enables the students to better grasp the topic (what story needs to be told), and the needs of the audience (what story is relevant to them).

The topic of homelessness was not only timely but easily accessible for the 19 students in the Information Design class, as the roving homeless community of Tent City 3 was living in the middle of campus throughout Winter Quarter. 

For the study of homelessness, Professor of Art Karen Gutowsky-Zimmerman says it was important for students to have a real sense of the narrative they were going to depict. Students met with Tent City 3 residents and talked to them about the complicated circumstances surrounding their situations. “Working with Tent City 3 residents enabled students to relate more fully with the data and the hard facts of homelessness,” she explains. “The idea of this particular project was to frame homelessness in the context not only of Seattle, but also of other cities relevant to the students. The question we wanted to address was, ‘Is Seattle’s homeless population as bad as other cities that are part of our lives?’”

The original intent was to have students research Seattle, another national city that was personal to them, and an international city they have visited on a mission trip. Many of the students looked for national cities with comparable populations to Seattle’s, such as Denver. Unfortunately, many international cities did not have supporting data on homelessness, but students did find comparable information for Tokyo, Seoul, and Paris.

The results led to lively discussions in the classroom on how one sees and forms data. How does one develop a narrative that is compelling to the reader? What is similar or relatively equivalent data? For example, Tokyo has a very low homeless population. One of the reasons based on the data is that more families live together longer, and Tokyo provides places such as “capsule hotels” for those without financial resources.

Gutowsky-Zimmerman says the questions continue, “but the development of these information graphics create a framework of thought and response, enabling us to engage in the issue of homelessness in our city, and across the world, with a broader perspective.”

Student projects
Blake Quackenbush Poster

Posters by Blake Quackenbush 

Kristi Holley Poster

Poster by Kristi Holley

Sarah Hunt Poster

Poster by Sarah Hunt