John Caserta
Two thematically connected assignments that were interspersed throughout the 2019 RISD junior second semester studio, Design Studio 4. Can be adapted and used by any school or community. This page contains 742 words and is filed under teaching

How can I help?

“People are the solution to the problems that confront us. Relationships are all there is. We have to stop pretending individuals can go at it alone. We humans want to be together. When a community of people discovers that they share a concern, change begins.” — Margaret Wheatley

Learning objectives

  • To work quickly
  • To create work with a feedback loop
  • Test/activate skills learned so far (methods)
  • To cooperate and share ownership over work/ideas
  • To contribute to one’s own environment

This unit will be run as a series of one-day activities where students are asked to contribute to communities in which they belong.

Assignment 1: Make an offering

Make an offering to the RISD GD community — an investment of yourself to the group you are a part of to better connect you. It can be spatial, virtual, ephemeral, social or of another kind. Consider signs, food, digital connection,
space improvement, joy, humor, etc. An offering from you all to the greater group.


  • Kickoff lecture (see pdf)
  • Collect in groups of 2 or 3 (instructor will form)
  • List all the groups of which you’re a part of (including family and personal ones). Read your list to your groupmates and discuss how each of those groups is run and how you contribute to one of those groups.
  • Tour the building, come up with physical and digital ideas for what you could offer the GD Community.
  • Quick rapid fire share session at end of class.
  • Implement by Wednesday of next week.


Critique questions

  • How did you work together as a group?
  • Did what you made get seen? How did you make it seen? What were the reactions?
  • What did it offer? How did it affect relationships, positive will toward each other or other human benefits?
  • What would you change based on the feedback?

Assignment 2: Donate a service

How can you help someone else? This assignment asks you to offer a service to someone else. You will donate five hours of your time to someone else.

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. — Mahatma Gandi


  • Intro talk
  • In section, pair up and form a list of at least 25 things you can do to help. Form a list of at least 25 things of things you need. Note design/professional needs versus non-design ones.
  • Use the list as the source of a conversation. Create the parameters of your trade. How detailed should your guidelines be? Is the end goal the most important? What if it takes more time? Should the work be done together?
  • Trade five hours of your time in service of someone else.
  • Communicate the results of the trade to the class and in an archival manner for your teacher/reflective document

Learning objectives

  • Learn a new skill by having it performed for (with) you
  • Learn how to work in a client/service format
  • Learn how to express/communicate your needs, wants and shortcomings
  • Learn how to cooperate to achieve independent goals


  • Miranda July, Somebody app and film

Critique questions

  • How did it turn out? What was the gap between expectation and reality?
  • Did you put more time in? If so, why, and how much?
  • Did you learn something about your partner? <!–

Assignment 3: Design for conversation

–> <!– messages that connect to others. what is the accessibility of it. protest jacket is yellow if you want to lose weight, as me how. you don’t really talk to someone you don’t know. cara went to neighborhoods and asked them how much their pets weigh. engage over. how do you get at themes.

How can you help the world? One way to do so is by connecting with people you don’t know and talking. Design can be used to help start a conversation or form a conversation. Certain aspects of design may attract someone like yourself or attempt to change someone’s mind, but what message and applications might make those unlike yourself curious and open to talk? This assignment asks you to create a discursive wearable: something that appears on your body that would elicit a curious reaction or engage someone in conversation.


  • Ethan Zuckerman, Ted Talk on Xenophilia –>

Index of everything


Interim Dean of Architecture + Design and formerly Department Head of the Graphic Design Department at Rhode Island School of Design. Founded The Design Office, a workspace for designers, in 2007, and ran it until its closing in 2021. Hear an interview that covers my teaching and design career. Read an overview of my work from The Noun Project. This site is updated regularly and outputs to a book with Bindery. Get in touch via email.