LEARNING FROM MOM AND POP: “MAKING DO” IN DESIGN

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 from the Southeast region of the US, including southern Appalachia, 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 material through manipulating and transforming what comes to hand.”[1]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.

[1] Cubitt, S. “Amateur Aesthetics.” Paper presented to the colloquium Beyond the End of Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melborne, Australia, September 2008. Online. Available at:(PDF) Amateur aesthetics | Sean Cubitt - Academia.edu(Accessed July 19, 2018).