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Lisa Abendroth

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Lisa Abendroth

MSU Denver Professor

Designer. Community Builder. Roadrunner.


For Lisa Abendroth, the practice of community-based design asks a fundamental question: How can we facilitate transformation in times of need?

To do this, the communication design professor and program coordinator empowers her students to act as change agents in coursework like CDES 4100: Community-Based Design I. Together they employ a public interest design framework to find solutions to real-world problems.

“It’s an issue-based approach, where we translate local challenges into the global conversation,” Abendroth said “Our world is exceedingly complex. Public interest designers are uniquely positioned to solve the world’s most critical problems.”

This broad application opens up a host of opportunities for students and communities alike to become engaged in mutually beneficial projects that empower and build collective knowledge.
Incorporating economic, environmental and social considerations into a triple bottom-line perspective grounds each challenge. Working in collaborative contexts, her students get an applied approach to project-based learning.

And according to Abendroth, this involvement is what makes all the difference.

“Today, public interest designers are leading a movement of inclusive design activism. This form of design practice recognizes the value of stakeholder expertise as a fundamental asset,” she said.

It matters because historically, not everyone has had a seat at the table, with design decision-making often catering only to corporate entities or clients with substantial resources. The approach Abendroth and her students adopt help change this.

“Questions of equity come through that lens,” she said. “What happens when you consider the needs of stakeholders without the same access to design usually as a result of socioeconomic conditions?”

The result, she detailed, is a disruptive approach to applying design from a grassroots level. It’s evident in the collaborative partnerships Abendroth continues with the Social Economic Environmental Design (SEED) Network, and strategies for local stakeholders proven to work for both nonprofit organizations and bootstrapped start-ups.

Comprehensive change creation works because it starts from within communities. And as Abendroth noted, the reach can extend far beyond a single project.

“Because social, economic, and environmental issues are so interconnected, in solving one, we have the potential to create broader systemic change that impacts quality of life,” she said.

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