Change to spare: Art Center students develop social innovation campaign to ease homelessness

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August 27, 2014


In this repost from Art Center’s Dotted Line, the Real Change Movement campaign is currently being implemented throughout the City of Pasadena. Developed in the Fall 2013 Welcome Home studio class, students sought ways to harness the community’s compassion into long-term design solutions to mitigate panhandling and address homelessness in Pasadena by designing a transmedia, public awareness campaign in conjunction with City of Pasadena leaders.

Art Center College of Design student work will gain valuable widespread exposure as the citywide Real Change Movement initiative rolls out with a comprehensive social innovation advertising and public relations campaign. Real Change is a strategic initiative aimed to activate support for tangible, self-sustaining low-cost housing solutions to end homelessness and mitigate panhandling in Pasadena.

The Real Change Movement is the first initiative of its kind within Los Angeles County, to help provide homes for the homeless with funds generated by the coin and credit card donations made through uniquely designed meters. The goal is to install 11 bright orange meters throughout the city at heavily trafficked locations such as the convention center, shopping malls and parking structures. Campaign elements include a website, brochures, power bill stuffers, bus shelters, bumper stickers, elevator door signage, print ads, video and radio public service announcements. For more information, visit


The primary focus of the efforts by the city leadership is to provide “housing first” to individuals and find permanent solutions to prevent homelessness. A key message within the campaign emphasizes compassion for members of the community who are homeless. The target audiences include business owners, residents and visitors to the city.

The creative strategy and original designs for the project were created by Art Center students in a 14-week class led jointly by the Designmatters and Graphic Design departments.  The Designmatters department at Art Center puts knowledge into action by providing students with opportunities to apply their art and design education to real-world challenges. Students who pursue a Designmatters Concentration connect their educational studies to design explorations centered on critical issues affecting people all over the world. These students are prepared to become future creative leaders with commitment, aspiration and know-how to influence change.

“We’re pleased to see that the Real Change campaign is being implemented because it showcases the innovative thinking that can result from important partnerships like this one between local civic leaders and the design education community,” says Mariana Amatullo, vice president and co-founder of Designmatters.

“Unlike a traditional campaign for a commercial brand that uses a really simple strategy based on existing desires, designing a social change campaign is much more difficult,” says Graphic Design instructor, Guillaume Wolf, who mentored the students. “The challenge: How do we get our audience to pay attention to our message and take action (donate to a cause— a selfless act)—when their mindset is focused on something totally different (shopping—a hedonistic act). How do we get them to care and act?”

“Our team researched the human experience around giving and explored how to influence behavior and move people who may be solely concerned with shopping to consider giving,” explains Wolf.  “This principle is really the ‘Big Idea’ at the core of the campaign, to inspire the community to think about giving and how it leads to happiness in a more active way, and to view the act of giving as an uplifting, positive experience.”

This approach to harness the power of the community is embodied by the tagline for the campaign: Homes for the homeless. Powered by change. “The implementation of the campaign is a powerful endorsement of the quality talent among our students as designers in the social innovation space,” said Wolf.

Art Center is the only top-ranked art and design college that offers students such a robust social impact curriculum and the option to pursue specialized studies in the field through the Designmatters Concentration. Designmatters projects have tackled a diverse range of social issues including water poverty in South America, gun violence prevention, earthquake preparedness, low-income housing in India and health education campaigns for HIV-AIDS, cervical cancer and arthritis.

“This collaboration with our hometown is especially gratifying as we continue to expand our reach into the community with the growth of the South Campus and the recent acquisition of the Mullin Building at 1111 South Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena,” said Amatullo.

Perhaps no one has been more gratified by the process and the results of this, um, meter-ioric success than the Art Center students who developed the idea. “As to the pride of seeing our work on the streets, I know I can speak for everyone who worked on the project and say there’s nothing that feels better,” says Advertising student, Elizabeth Levin. “It makes all the hard work worth it.  This also gives us students a rare chance to test it out and see how the public responds.”