The Center for Urban Pedagogy
Know Your Lines
The Center for Urban Pedagogy
Know Your Lines
A beautiful example of how social activism can be brought home to ordinary citizens on issues that affect them directly.
Know Your Lines
Know Your Lines goes behind the scenes of the largely invisible redistricting process in which politicians often get to choose their voters, instead of the other way around. Who’s actually drawing the lines? What does the shape of a district mean? What does a good redistricting process look like?
CUP collaborated with the Brennan Center for Justice and designers We Have Photoshop to produce Know Your Lines, a fold-out poster on the ins and outs of redistricting and how to make it work better. If you care about political power, representation, or public policy, then you care about redistricting.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you? Who is the at-risk population, and what behavior do you seek to change in this population?
Members of Congress, state legislators, and many local public officials are elected to represent districts. Once per decade, the district lines are redrawn, block-by-block. In most cases, incumbent legislators draw the lines themselves, behind closed doors.
The system creates major incentives for those in power to preserve that power, rather than to give meaningful representation to communities of voters. Incumbents carve the citizens of their state into districts for maximum personal and partisan advantage: neighborhoods are split, competing candidates are drawn out of bounds, groups of voters are “cracked” or “packed” to stack the deck.
Districts — and the maps that show their boundaries — lend themselves to visual representation. But the images can be misleading. Geometric districts that look pleasingly regular may seem to solve the gerrymandering problem, but may also distort meaningful representation: neighborhood housing patterns rarely follow Platonic geometries, and districts drawn in neat squares and circles will often divide real communities that should be kept together.
Most citizens — even grassroots leaders, who can mobilize broader support — do not understand how redistricting works, why it matters, or what is possible beyond the status quo. To effect change, advocates must make the redistricting process accessible during the short window of time, every ten years, when it’s possible to make real change. Education about the redistricting process requires images clear enough to convey the problem in straightforward fashion and powerful enough to counter what often seems like the most straightforward solution.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
The Brennan Center for Justice has been working on redistricting and other voting and civic engagement issues for years, but they have struggled to make their work accessible to a broader audience. Through our partnership with the Brennan Center and We Have Photoshop, we were able to open their thinking to new modes of communication beyond the 100+ page reports they typically created around these issues. As project partner, Erika Wood told us during the project, “We lawyers think with the left sides of our brains, and the designers think with the right sides of their brains. But CUP knows how to use both sides, and you helped us speak the same language to make this project.” Another staff member, Myrna Perez said “Everyone [at Brennan] appreciated that you all approached it in a very different way.”
Though the organization had worked with designers before, according to Perez, “They produce maps or tables to help explain some data. But [with this project] we were trying to tell a story. It was very different than making a nice map for a report. When we work with the designers for the reports, it’s not about asking ‘How do we depict this visually? How do we tell this story?“4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
CUP selects Making Policy Public (MPP) participants through an open call for proposals, disseminated nationally through CUP’s mailing list and press outreach. Advocates or community organizations are invited to apply by submitting a policy “brief” that details an issue that is critical to their constituency, why it would benefit from a visual explanation, and a description of the potential audience and distribution network. A jury composed of local leaders in design and policy/advocacy fields selects four advocates whose briefs are posted in an open call to designers and other visual artists. The designers submit a portfolio, CV, and statement of interest in response to one of the briefs. The jury then selects four designers to work with CUP and the advocacy partners in teams.
MPP is focused on advocacy groups struggling to convey complex policy issues to the individuals most directly impacted by those issues. These organizations often lack the infrastructure to engage the design community, or the skills and resources to productively manage a design process. By linking them with talented designers, and providing extensive assistance with policy analysis and art direction from CUP staff, MPP gives advocacy groups a way to harness the communicative power of good design to increase their capacity as organizers and advocates.
During the collaborations, CUP provides art direction, project management, and policy research; structures the collaboration process; and oversees production. We play a large role in helping the designers to learn how to collaborate with advocacy groups, which is often a new experience. The design process is a deeply collaborative one. Designers are asked to dig deep into the information and really understand the issue so that they can push the visualization to a higher level. We also help the advocacy partners to productively engage in design critique, which can be challenging for them. We help them build a vocabulary around design and by the end of each project, their capacity to collaborate with designers has increased dramatically.
Because we partner with groups who work directly with the impacted constituency, we have access to the end-users throughout the process. They provide direct feedback on how to make the most successful and accessible communication tool possible. The final design is very much influenced by this feedback.
Issues of Making Policy Public are distributed directly to the constituents who need them by the advocacy partner. CUP provides 1,000 copies free to the group; the Brennan Center ordered an additional 4,000 to distribute through their networks of grassroots organizers. CUP keeps 1,000 copies of the publication to be sold in bookstores as a source of revenue for the organization, which is a nonprofit.
Know Your Lines is aimed at helping communities and advocacy groups across the country to understand how they can play a role in making the redistricting process fairer, more transparent, and more accountable to the public. CUP and the Brennan Center launched the project with an event for “grasstops,” the leaders of community groups who are now using this information in their organizing.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
Know Your Lines came out as 2010 Census data (which would form the basis of the next redistricting process) was being released to the states. Grassroots groups were eager to address redistricting but, because the process occurs only once a decade, few of them understood what actually makes for a good district or how to organize for meaningful community involvement in the process. The poster takes you behind the scenes of the largely invisible redistricting process, details the ins and outs of process, and looks at how to make it work better.
The collaboration stretched across the fields of graphic design, education, public policy, and civic community organizing, creating a framework to make these partnerships possible and visible. By the end, the graphic design collaborators were reading white papers and the advocacy organization took on a whole new appreciation of how ‘visuals’ are created.
The Know Your Lines poster directly engages public policy and makes it accessible and interesting to non-experts. In this sense it makes make public policy truly public: accessible, meaningful, and shared. The public response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, demonstrating a real need for this kind of socially engaged design.6. How can you be sure that the values you are advancing are desired by the community you are working with?
CUP projects produce visual tools designed to be used by constituencies that can most benefit from the information. These audiences include community organizations, who use the products in their own organizing efforts; educators, who use the products in their classrooms; and other constituencies addressed in particular projects, who request visual break-downs for the grassroots issues they are working on.
Making Policy Public projects are select by a jury, composed of prominent design and public policy experts, who pair designers and advocates into collaborative teams.7. How will your project remain economically and operationally sustainable in the long term?
The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) has been a nonprofit since 2002. We’ve been steadily growing by creating programs, like Making Policy Public, that create real opportunities for groups that need to gain access to art and design in productive and effective collaborations. Our projects have been successful and more groups want to use visual explanations for their issues, we are increasing our capacity as an organization to build support for this kind of work, both within our organization and in the broader design community.