Learning from Mom and Pop: "Making Do" in Design

Main Article Content

Kelly Celeste Porter
Melanie B. Richards

Abstract

There is an art in “making do.” Making do is a vernacular phrase heard frequently in the Southeast United States, especially in lower socioeconomic households. It means “making ends meet” when money is tight by using the resources on hand. We investigate the design of making do by small businesses in such contexts by analyzing their business signage. A trained designer may pass by these “mom and pop” shops and find the signage to be merely novel, but we find that there is much more to learn. We complete a case series analysis of mom and pop signage using in-depth methods, including autoethnographic accounts of each author’s lived experience with mom and pop signage
and a subsequent content analysis using visual grounded theory methods in a highly reflexive approach. We discover three main themes in play: “radical resourcefulness,” “authenticity/humanity,” and the “amateur aesthetic.” Radical resourcefulness is a dramatic shift in use and reuse of materials. A design may be considered “authentic” or have a visible connection to “humanity” when viewers can see evidence of the human hand or human decision-making in the design artifact. Amateur aesthetic, is a term applied to untrained "designers" who transform readily available materials to achieve their design goals. Each of these themes is especially relevant to disciplines such as communications and marketing, illuminating possibilities of community partnership and collaboration. At the same time, approaching the significance of mom and pop signage in this way provides insights for the professional design discipline as a whole, presenting opportunities for new interdisciplinary research, teaching, and service.


 


 

Article Details

Section
Articles
Author Biographies

Kelly Celeste Porter, East Tennessee State University

Kelly C. Porter, M.F.A.  joined the faculty of East Tennessee State University in 2014 as Assistant Professor. She earned an M.F.A. in Studio Art, Graphic Design, from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a B.F.A from the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg in Graphic Communication. Before switching to academia, Kelly worked as a designer and design researcher with Ryobi Power Tools, and with clients such as the B.B. King Museum, Mississippi Delta Tourism and the Mississippi Blues Trail. Kelly teaches graphic design and visual communication courses and works with other departments, colleges and within the community to create cross-disciplinary, real-world, and service learning experiences for her students. Her work in identity design, sustainable design and photography has been recognized and awarded in local, regional, national and international design competitions. She is currently working in the collaborative intersections of environmentalism, sustainability and design.

Melanie B. Richards, East Tennessee State University

Melanie B. Richards, PhD works as an Assistant Professor of Media and Communication at East Tennessee
State University. She is mentor for the graduate student agency, BucDigital, and supervises the Brand and
Media Strategy Master’s capstone project. She teaches Audience and Brand Insight and Analytics at the
undergraduate and graduate levels, among many other courses.  Frequently, she partners with other
departments across campus including Graphic Design, Digital Media, Management and Marketing,
Institutional Research, and Math and Statistics on digital and data-driven organizational projects.

Prior to her current role, Melanie worked in the research, analytics, and account planning world helping
Fortune 500 companies and international nonprofits achieve organizational goals for over 15 years. She
continues to consult in this space today through her company, Thought Catalyst.

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