Designmatters—Art Center’s College-wide initiative that explores responsible business practices and the social and humanitarian applications of design—began in December 2001, just a few short months after I arrived on campus. Those days, we were a small task force of about one dozen volunteers recruited from various College departments who met bi-monthly. Despite our modest size, during our first year we successfully laid out our program’s mission, which still stands today: “through research, advocacy and action, engage, empower and lead an ongoing exploration of design as a positive force for change in society.”
Fast-forward eight years, and Art Center is now a leader in the design community’s efforts to redefine socially responsible design, thanks to Designmatters’ unprecedented network of partnerships and a solid framework that allowed the initiative to anchor itself to the College’s educational fabric.
A significant body of critically acclaimed, social impact projects have been spearheaded through our initiative, and since its inception, alumni have been key to advancing our mandate. Singular contributions have ranged from helping define what the program should stand for during its task force phase (Parisa Ashrafi, GRPK ’99 and Adele Bass, NEWM ’01); acting as liaisons to the United Nations (Gala Narezo, PHOT ’01) and/or mentors to Designmatters Fellows (Stephanie Sigg, ENVL ’98); and offering expertise on a regular basis as lead or guest faculty in funded Transdisciplinary Studios with development agencies and corporate partners.
Many alumni have also led exhibition, publication and competition projects. A few such projects include: Nikolai Cornell’s (MDP ’04) CD jacket design for a soundtrack that raised funds for the Nyumbani Village Orphanage; Hoku Uchiyama’s (FILM ’04) documentary film about the first Art Center team of students and faculty who participated in the 2003 Department of Public Information /Non Governmental Organizations (DPI/NGO) Conference at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York; Eric Boisvert’s (MEDE ’04) documentary INDEX: Future Scenarios Project, about the studio that produced the exhibition designs for the inaugural INDEX: prize; Shawn Randall (MEDE ’05), John Emshwiller (GRDX ’06) and Sandor Pratt ’s (ENVX ’06) design for Action, a multi-media exhibit that chronicled our program’s early work with the UN; the brand developed by Atley Kasky (GRDX ’06) for YouOrleans; and, finally, the ongoing incubator project with Mpala/Nomadic Communities Trust in Kenya, which is bringing health education and a solar-powered mobility device for transport of medicine to the Kenyan bush (Wendy MacNaughton, FADT ’99 and Patrick Kiruki, PROX ’05). This partial list captures the depth and breath of the alumni work that has fueled Designmatters.
Several additional examples come to mind as I tally the increasing number of alumni whose professional paths are embracing the nonprofit and development sectors as spaces for innovation and creativity, and with whom we’ve had the opportunity to interface with on a variety of Designmatters projects: Justin Cram (ILLX ’07) of Doctors without Borders; Michelle Bonilla (ADVT ’03) with the American Cancer Society; Theo Alexopoulos’ (MEDE ’07) work with the US Geological Survey; and Daniel Lee’s work with UNICEF—to name just a few.
By educating creative leaders at the cutting-edge of design innovation and influence, Art Center has played a critical role in shaping the form and function of our culture for nearly 80 years. With the structural shift of Designmatters from a College-wide program into an educational department earlier this year, the College is not only demonstrating its strong commitment for the continued growth of our initiative, but is also embracing an exciting agenda for social responsibility and cross-cultural relevance.
It is my objective to continue leading Designmatters with a pioneer-like impetus to partner across sectors and disciplines, and to enrich our curricula with educational projects that address the wicked problems of our planet with design solutions for a more sustainable future.
I say here’s to our collective accomplishments, and to those ahead of us, as we catalyze social change with a healthy dose of optimism and design ingenuity.
For questions, comments, ideas and engagement, connect with Designmatters through InCircle.