What is Design [Today]?

Preview of MICA’s latest collaboration between faculty and grad students: Graphic Design Thinking (click arrows to scroll and click to view full screen).

The first day of grad school (round 1, 2004), my professor told the class that for years to come we will be trying to explain to friends and family exactly what it is we do as graphic designers. For me it’s a bit like explaining rowing/crew to people – you either get it or you don’t. Often we see the world around us and take it for granted and don’t think about the process of what it took to get there. Over time my friends (many lawyer, financial, business types) have gained an appreciation of what it is I do thanks to my blog. I’m still the “artsy, creative, culture friend” but I’m happy to fill that role.

After I receive my latest diploma next week (Global Communications), my goal is to take design in yet another direction. This inspires me greatly, but seems to yet again complicate my explanation to friends and strangers as to exactly what it is I do. My current interest in design lies beyond just graphic design (think: logos, layouts and words with images), or my experience in wayfinding/signage (think: how you get around a metro station) design, to something beyond the visual form. My own work stems deeply into online worlds and the formation of communities thanks to this blog and my work for Design*Sponge, and I like to think of myself as a bridge between these words, as well as across disciplines. My current area of interest incorporates all these ideas, tying in nicely my background in Anthropology as well, with a human-centric and experiential aspect that is often termed “design-thinking” or “design for social change.”
IDEO has long been at the forefront of design-thinking and human-centered design. (Read CEO Tim Brown’s Change By Design and don’t miss his TED Talk on “Creativity & Play“). This fall they are launching IDEO.org, a non-profit wing that will work within the social sector with a team of senior IDEO designers as well as four fellows from the design, business, and social sectors. There was a nice piece recently on Design Taxi looking at IDEO.org and How Design Can Change the World.
Another endeavor that recently caught my eye was MICA’s [Maryland Institute College of Art] newest program, Social Change Through Design focusing on social responsibility and community focused art. With projects like Open City, where the Exhibition Development Seminar reaches beyond the classroom to explore Baltimore in a public form to Ellen Lupton‘s collaborative book with grad students, Graphic Design Thinking (see sample pages above), MICA is always doing interesting–and engaging–things. More than ever I think it’s important to put students into real-life scenarios, and MICA is doing just that, and with organizations who can benefit from it the most.
One of my favorite things coming out of this movement are the new collaborations across different boundaries. This Thursday, May 12th, GOOD is teaming up with the Academy of Art University’s School of Graphic Design for a special event where design students will tackle problems facing the Bay Area. In the spirit of open sharing and collaboration, those in the area are welcome to join, and you can purchase tickets here.

What other interesting projects are happening these days?


  • love the post, lots of great links
    i’m not a graphic designer myself but as a media student i like to think i’ve got a lot of appreciation for the art, although i know among my friends and family there are many who just don’t get it

    good stuff :)

  • Wow, thanks for some background!
    I know that whenever I pass a nice-looking office (big windows, interesting tables, whatever) I automatically assume that it’s a graphic design firm. And IDEO sounds incredible! Do you think you’ll stay in Paris or go back to the States?


  • I have such admiration and respect for people who find a way to do what they love no matter how difficult it is to explain/justify to others. The field of graphic design is definitely taken for granted… many of us don’t understand how much aesthetics influence our lives!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *