We are elated to have had an opportunity to host the fine folks of Camp Firebelly for a tour, workshop, and competition on Saturday, 28 June. For the unfamiliar, Camp Firebelly is an intensive apprenticeship for 10 talented folks who are looking to break into the design profession. The summer camp is hosted by Firebelly—some of our favorite do-gooders.
The day began with a brief, private tour of Starts/Speculations, and an informal discussion about the history and trajectory of the Chicago Design Museum. Next, campers were assigned a task: raise awareness of our institution by persuading individuals to come into the space.
We divided the campers into five groups of two, and sent them into the loop armed with low-tech tools—a dry-erase board and markers. We gave each group a stack of flyers to distribute. The duo who sent the most people into the space would win $200 of merchandise from our store. (Note: we’re not monsters. All participants were given a poster from the let’s do something impossible series, as well as a ChiDM tote bag, a hearty thank you, and pizza.)
In 90 minutes, the campers managed to send us 90 new patrons. That’s one a minute—record attendance for us!
The exercise was inspired by a fictional assignment in Chip Kidd’s The Cheese Monkeys, wherein a professor tasks his students with persuading cars to pick them up on a desolate highway near a state hospital for the criminally insane using only a poster board and permanent marker. Each car that passed the student dropped their grade by one letter.
In our real-life, less risky version, one group trekked to the Cultural Center, put down the white board, and learned that direct, honest communication with a similar audience was much less frustrating than yelling into the void on Michigan Avenue. Another learned to incentivize the campaign, by purchasing and raffling a poster from our store to patrons that dropped off a flyer in person. A third learned that personality and approach had a huge impact on whether people will take the time to listen to your message. Most groups learned that the general public responds very well to the fact that we are a small, local, free museum.
All told, this was more than a moment of increased patronage for us. It was a moment of encouraging persuasive content over the form that is usually emphasized. It reminded us that what you say is sometimes more important than how you say it. It took designers away from their desks and challenged them to interact directly with their intended audience. Lastly, the dry-erase boards allowed for rapid ideation and continuous refinement.
As an institution, we learned that a visit can be deeper, more collaborative, and more beneficial than a simple tour on a Saturday morning.
Many, many thanks to the folks who represented ChiDM, and went into the world with the campers: Alex Gilbert, Mike Joosse, Roman Titus, LeAnne Wagner, and Tanner Woodford. And, of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without the campers themselves, or their fabulous leaders: Dawn Hancock, Nick Adam, Ross Burwell, and Will Miller.
If you’re interested in more, head on over to campfirebelly.com for Jeremy Leung’s recap on the experience.