Co-Creating Compassion: Engaging the Alzheimer’s Community in Social Robotics for Caregiving

A robot for individuals grappling with Alzheimer’s disease that offers companionship, support, and aid in various caregiving tasks

Kimberly Mitchell
Assistant Professor
University of Tennessee-Knoxville

By 2025, the number of people aged 65 and older with Alzheimer’s + dementia is projected to reach 7.2 million — an 11% increase from those affected right now. By 2060, this number is projected to reach 13.8 million. This deeply affects our caregivers – In 2021, family members and friends provided more than 271 billion dollars of unpaid care to people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. While technology will never replace human touch and person-centered care–technology can enhance caregiving–especially with routine tasks like organizing appointments, and medication reminders. 

Mitchell Mitchell is a graphic designer with a background in gerontology who is co-leading a multi-year, multidisciplinary project aimed at developing a social robot for Alzheimer’s caregiving by harnessing the collective expertise of undergraduate and graduate students spanning diverse fields such as engineering, computer science, architecture, and graphic design. Together, they are collaborating with the local Alzheimer’s community to conceptualize and co-design a friendly robot. This innovative project aims to develop a socially interactive robot tailored to assist in easing the challenges of dementia caregiving.

Mitchell’s design expertise bridges the gap between technical functionalities and user experience. She ensures that the technology developed aligns with the needs and expectations of the Alzheimer’s community. Mitchell’s additional expertise in gerontology enables a deeper understanding of the needs, behaviors, and limitations of Alzheimer’s patients. This insight informs the design process, ensuring that the robot’s interface, visuals, and interactions are tailored to the specific needs of the end-users. 

Originating from a collaborative endeavor between faculty members in biomedical engineering and design, Mitchell assumed the role of project oversight. Her responsibilities encompassed the development and leadership of two Institutional Review Board (IRB) studies. These studies incorporate user testing methodologies and participatory focus groups to glean invaluable insights directly from the Alzheimer’s community.

By leveraging this diverse pool of talent and engaging directly with the end-users, Mitchell and her team aspire to create a socially adept robot. This robot aims to offer companionship, support, and aid in various caregiving tasks for individuals grappling with Alzheimer’s disease. The inclusive and collaborative nature of this project underscores its commitment to addressing the real needs of those affected by dementia, empowering them through innovative technological solutions.

By involving the local Alzheimer’s community in all aspects of the project, the team ensures that the robot’s development is grounded in real-world scenarios and feedback. This participatory approach fosters empathy-driven design, making the technology more relevant and impactful for end-users.

The project’s outcomes, such as award-winning publications, peer-reviewed funding, undergraduate research awards, and acceptance in the local Alzheimer community showcase the effectiveness of integrating a gerontology-informed graphic design approach within a multidisciplinary context. 

The unique perspective Mitchell brings as a graphic designer with a gerontology background enriches the project by emphasizing user-centered design, ensuring that the social robot developed for Alzheimer’s caregiving is not just technically proficient but also deeply empathetic and effective in meeting the complex needs of the patients and caregivers.

Direct Outcomes

Mitchell, her students, and her research partner, Dr. Xiaopeng Zhao, have co-authored three peer-reviewed international publications – two of which she was the lead author on, and both received awards for “best paper” and “honorary mention.” Additionally, the project has had exposure nationally and internationally, where she has presented different facets of the project at 4 national and 2 international conferences. Finally, one of her undergraduate graphic design student researchers received first place at the University of Tennessee’s “Exhibition of Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement” (EuRECA) competition.

  1. Mitchell Mitchell, Robert Bray, Ella Hosse, Matt Rightsell, Luke Macdougall, Xiaopeng Zhao, “Co-designing a friendly robot to ease dementia,” a peer-reviewed paper accepted in Advances in the Human Side of Service Engineering book, July 2023, Best Paper Award (Honorary Mention), 2023
  2. Mitchell Mitchell, Luke Macdougall, John Hooten,  Robert Bray, Xiaopeng Zhao, “Designing a multi-disciplinary class to create a social robot for Alzheimer’s,” a peer-reviewed paper accepted in Advances in the Human Side of Service Engineering book, pp 33-40, July 2022, *Best Paper Award (2nd place)
  3. Robert Bray., Luke MacDougall, Cody Blankenship, Mitchell Mitchell, Fei Yuan., Silvia Cerel-Suhl, & Xiaopeng Zhao, (2023, February). “Development and assessment of a friendly robot to ease dementia,” a peer-reviewed paper in Computer Science vol 13818. Springer, Cham (pp. 381-391).
  1. “Using design to empower students to be a force of change: designing interdisciplinary experiences to address the needs of ad and dementia patients,” Gerontological Society of America, Indianapolis, Indiana, November 2022, A presentation showing how an interdisciplinary class was created to solve problems related to Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias.
  2. Designing a multi-disciplinary class to create a social robot for Alzheimer’s,” 13th International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics, virtual, July 2022, Presented the collaborative role and responsibilities of undergraduate and graduate students in the design of a social robot.
  3. “Using design to empower students to be a force of change,” Emerging Technologies in Aging & Dementia Conference, Knoxville, TN, June 2022, A presentation showing how to use human-centered design to solve real-world problems related to dementia care.
  4. “Design and validation of a social robot for Alzheimer’s disease,” American Society on Aging, April 2022, Presented initial data on the design and user testing of our prototype robot.
  5. “Designing socially assistive robots for people with Alzheimer’s and related dementia,” Gerontological Society of America 2021 Scientific Meeting, virtual, November 2021, Presented a research paper explaining the demand for additional help in caring for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
  6. “Addressing dementia disparities using socially assistive robots,” 2nd Latinos & Alzheimer’s Symposium, virtual, May 2021, Presented collaborative research with the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering and the School of Design in the creation of a low-cost social robot.
  • Human Side of Service Engineering paper, Honorary mention, 2023 
  • Eureca, 1st place undergraduate researcher in division, 2023 
  • Human Side of Service Engineering paper, 2nd place paper, 2022 
  • Undergraduate Research Funding award, $3,000 (2023), $1,500 (2022)
  • 2023 Alma and Hal Research Award, $10,000

This project was the 2023 Design Incubation Educators Awards runner-up recipient in the category of Scholarship: Publication.

Kimberly Mitchell is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. She holds her BFA and MFA in Graphic Design and a certificate in Gerontology. She is an award-winning designer and researcher who focuses on understanding and improving experiences that support the health and well-being of underserved populations, particularly among older adults. Her multidisciplinary research focuses on the social impact of design, and how by creating awareness, a designer can improve a community’s quality of life. Her work bridges design and gerontology. Her most recent project involves co-designing with the community an AI robot interface as a conversational partner and monitor for individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias.

Decipher 2018

Service Award Runner Up

Kelly Murdoch-Kitt, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan
Omar Sosa-Tzec, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

Decipher 2018 Design Educators Research Conference represented a significant effort to create an inclusive, equitable, and intersectional space that brought together students, educators, researchers, and practitioners to discuss and advance design research. Our nomination in the category of Service is for executing this vision of a hands-on, activity-oriented, inclusive design research conference. Decipher successfully brought together 228 people from 12 countries.

The conference was hosted at the University of Michigan’s Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design in September 2018. Decipher united two major and distinct design organizations: AIGA Design Educators Community in partnership and the DARIA Network (Design as Research in the Americas). Decipher 2018 was organized around five crucial themes of defining, doing, disseminating, supporting and teaching research in design disciplines.

To ensure participation from different types of designers with different levels of academic, industry, and/or research experience, we developed an innovative structure for the conference, which comprised the following modalities:

Activity Group: an intensive hands-on session in which all participants collaboratively discuss and ideate on a specific topic to discover emergent themes and issues, develop best practices and guidelines, and gather resources.

Conversation: a relaxed environment to allow participants to discuss the intersection of facilitators’ and participants’ interests through the lens of the conference topics as well as the AIGA 2025 trends (now Design Futures).

Workshop: a more traditional learning session in which one or more facilitators lead participants to engage in a topic within the conference themes. As in a classroom environment, workshop facilitators had specific learning outcomes in mind for participants and were expected to lead the entire session (in contrast to the more collaborative activity group or conversation formats).

Besides these three participation modalities, the Decipher conference included a poster session of research work, a graduate student colloquium, and provided several spaces for networking and discussion.


People interpret the word design in many ways; when research is added to the mix, the ambiguity increases. Although research has become a critical component of most design faculty’s tenure and promotion requirements, the design research issues addressed at Decipher are still rarely discussed and often misunderstood. Due to a dearth of research discussion and pedagogy in most MFA and similar terminal degree programs in the design disciplines, some experts estimate that close to 90% of those currently teaching design in the U.S. have little or no background in research.

By instigating conversations around these issues, Decipher aimed at causing a ripple effect to advance research agendas for the approximately 11,500 (full- and part-time) university-level design educators in the U.S. Thus, Decipher convened design researchers, practitioners, and educators at all stages in their careers to explore the fusions of research and practice through the ways we accomplish, talk about, and teach design research.

*An Inclusive Submission Process*

We offered a number of submission and participation formats to engage people at different stages and degrees of comfort with design research. Each Decipher attendee submitted one of two types of written contributions: the first was for facilitators, those interested in leading an engaging session for conference attendees around a particular design research subject; the second was for participants, those who wanted to be involved in sessions while bringing a particular research interest into discussions among all attendees.

During the conference, Decipher provided a digital draft of the proceedings that included all facilitators’ and participants’ submissions in order to guide session selection and promote conversations and networking during the conference. Likewise, everyone at the conference, including keynotes, facilitators, and participants had their headshots and biographical descriptions included on the conference website. Due to the democratic nature of our submission process, we wanted these final proceedings to be a permanent record of the various voices of Decipher 2018.

The conference regarded all contributions, regardless of length, of equal value. Because publication is a critical component of academic research, we did not want to restrict publication opportunities to session facilitators alone, as is customary with most other academic conferences. Therefore, the final proceedings, to be published by Michigan Publishing, will include the juried written submission from participants and facilitators alike. In the spirit of equanimity. The forthcoming proceedings will be available online as an open-access publication, and in a print-on-demand format.

Decipher also supported equity and inclusion by offering 10 Scholarships for attendees who identified with backgrounds historically underrepresented in academia. After we conceived of these scholarships, we advocated for them, and obtained funding to support them from Stamps School of Art & Design. We hope that these scholarships will establish a new precedent for future design education and research conferences.

*What we accomplished*

Compared to similar conferences (e.g. Cumulus, A2RU, Design Research Society), Decipher broke the mold with its immersive, hands-on teaching and learning experiences rooted in the five conference themes. We asked facilitators to make all sessions accessible to a wide range of expertise, and did not assume that all attendees came with high levels of design research experience. We also asked them to make the sessions engaging in order to motivate and excite people to engage with design research more deeply while teaching them different ways to foster exchange of ideas and knowledge. This requirement made the sessions not passive as it usually occurs in traditional academic conferences.

Our PDF expands on this overview and includes images and links to additional supporting resources, such as an outcomes video documenting the attendee experience.

Kelly Murdoch-Kitt, Assistant Professor, Stamps School of Art and Design, University of Michigan

Prof. Murdoch-Kitt is drawn to design through her keen interest in people, systems, and interpersonal interactions. She strives to create effective, socially responsible, and delightful concepts and solutions. Her work and teaching integrate visual communication, interaction, user experience, and service design with behavior change and social engagement. Her current research, in partnership with Prof. Denielle Emans of VCU School of the Arts Qatar, examines and develops design-based methods and tools to promote effective intercultural collaboration, and how related tangible activities and outcomes increase trust and commitment in digital interactions. Murdoch-Kitt and Emans recently coauthored Intercultural Collaboration by Design: Drawing from differences, distances, and disciplines through visual thinking. This book of design-based methods that support intercultural communication and collaboration will be published by Routledge in Spring 2020.

Omar Sosa-Tzec, Assistant Professor, Stamps School of Art and Design, University of Michigan

Omar Sosa-Tzec holds a Ph.D. in Informatics with a focus on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Design, a MDes in Information Design, and MSc in Computer Science. Prof. Sosa-Tzec has been involved in design practice, teaching, and research for more than a decade. His research lies at the intersection of HCI, Information Design, Semiotics, Rhetoric, Argumentation, and Happiness Studies. Within this space, Prof. Sosa-Tzec studies how the hedonic and eudaimonic qualities of interactive and informational design products shape people’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. At Stamps, Prof. Sosa-Tzec teaches Studio 2D, Methods of Creative Inquiry, Sign and Symbol, and Information Design. His practice focuses on communication design, information design, and interaction design.

Recipient of recognition in the Design Incubation Communication Design Awards 2019.

Woodhill Homes―Design for Experience

Teaching Award Runner Up

Woodhill Homes Needs Assessment
Introduction and Bird’s Eye View Summary of Results

In early 2018, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) was awarded a Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI) planning grant to begin a two-year planning process at Woodhill Homes. While the Woodhill homes neighbored world-class institutions, the poverty rate for this specific community was four times that of the rest of the region. Not to mention the housing renovations for residents were outdated and insufficient. As a part of this process, a needs assessment was conducted. We were asked to address specific pain points in the resident (user) experience by Utilizing customer empathy, experience mapping, and other Design Research methods.

Student Learning Goals and objectives: 

  • Gain valuable insights into the principles, constructs, and application of Human-Centered Design (HCD) and Design Thinking (DT)
  • Hands-on practice applying DT, HCD and competitive analysis to your course project
  • Through user, research and analysis create user personas and user journey maps
  • Conduct a thorough task analysis and define an actionable platform strategy for your product and service
  • Prototyping your product and service
  • Conduct usability testing—working with test subjects, analyzing test results, making improvements, and planning future testing
  • Create a visually appealing and portfolio-ready presentation

Project Goals and objectives – Inspired by the needs assessment

  • Use design thinking to create a prototype that will facilitate central points of community interaction.
  • Find a solution that will encourage literacy among pre-school age children, as well as kindergarten readiness.
  • Find methods that could improve communication and relationships between Property Managers, Police officers, and Residents.

Research Findings and results

The ethnographic study showcased that residents lacked a comfortable central location to assemble. Having a location resident could come to dialogue was a high priority, especially for elderly residents. A chair was designed for residents to shit, which would carry the community brand. The back of each care would also function as a communication piece, highlighting community events/priorities from property managers, Introductions to local officers, as well as a surveying system where residents would get a better opportunity to communicate — their experiences.

School readiness was also voiced as a priority in the resident needs assessment. A game was created, which could be played between parent and child to improve age-appropriate literacy. While prototyping this game, education models from three states, including Ohio, were used to measure outcomes. These measured outcomes were used as a rubric to measure the effectiveness of the game during user testing.

The final results were then presented to stakeholders at CMHA, and aspects of our proposals will be submitted to HUD as a part of the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI) planning grant.

Omari Souza is a design researcher whose work focuses on the intersection of African American history and Advertising. He teaches design research methods at Texas State University, while also advocating for design for social good.

Recipient of recognition in the Design Incubation Communication Design Awards 2019.

The Theory and Practice of Motion Design

Scholarship: Published Research Award Runner Up

R. Brian Stone, Associate Professor, The Ohio State University 
Leah Wahlin, Senior Lecturer, The Ohio State University, Editors

The Theory and Practice of Motion Design: Critical Perspectives and Professional Practice is a collection of essays offering an expansive, multi-platform exploration of the rapidly-expanding area of motion design and motion graphics. It takes into account both theoretical questions and creative professional practice. The contents of the book span interaction design, product interfaces, kinetic data visualizations, typography, TV and film title design, brand building, narrative storytelling, history, exhibits, and environments. Comprised of an interdisciplinary academic essays and professional interviews – together form a dialogue between motion design theory and professional practice. Written for both those critically engaged with motion design as well as those working or aspiring to work professionally in the field, the book features a range of international contributors and interviews with some of the best-known designers in the field, including Kyle Cooper, Karin Fong, and Jakob Trollbäck. The Theory and Practice of Motion Design seeks to illuminate the diverse, interdisciplinary field of motion design by offering a structured examination of how motion design has evolved, what forces define our current understanding and implementation of motion design, and how we can plan for and imagine the future of motion design as it unfolds.

An accompanying online resource site,, contains the actual motion based visual examples described in the text. The Forward and First Chapter are available for review on

AIGA Fellow Hugh Dubberly writes,

“Stone and Wahlin have produced the best book on designing for motion since Peter von Arx’s classic Film Design. Their new book The Theory and Practice of Motion Design should be required reading for anyone concerned with how words and information move on screen and how movement contributes to meaning.”

Notable Yale University Professor Christopher Pullman writes

“Instead of a how-to book, this is a ‘how-to-think-about’ book that delivers on its title, combining the history and intellectual underpinnings of motion design with the insights of contemporary design professionals… a thoughtful response to the profession’s shift from the mute flat-land of print to today’s rich, multi-dimensional options for communication.”

Outcomes: The Theory and Practice of Motion Design: Critical Perspectives and Professional Practice is collection of essays offering an expansive, multi-platform exploration of the rapidly-expanding area of motion design and motion graphics. It takes into account both theoretical questions and creative professional practice. The contents of the book span interaction design, product interfaces, kinetic data visualizations, typography, TV and film title design, brand building, narrative storytelling, history, exhibits, and environments. Comprised of an interdisciplinary academic essays and professional interviews – together form a dialogue between motion design theory and professional practice. Written for both those critically engaged with motion design as well as those working or aspiring to work professionally in the field, the book features a range of international contributors and interviews with some of the best-known designers in the field, including Kyle Cooper, Karin Fong, and Jakob Trollbäck. The Theory and Practice of Motion Design seeks to illuminate the diverse, interdisciplinary field of motion design by offering a structured examination of how motion design has evolved, what forces define our current understanding and implementation of motion design, and how we can plan for and imagine the future of motion design as it unfolds.

R. Brian Stone is an Associate Professor of Design at The Ohio State University, USA. His award-winning work and teachings are centered in the areas of motion design, interaction design, information visualization, and user experience. Professor Stone is the co-organizer of the Motion Design Summit conferences [MODE] and is editor of a collection of essays entitled, The Theory and Practice of Motion Design: Critical Perspectives and Professional Practice published by Routledge (2018). Professor Stone has held visiting appointments at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial (ESDI) in Brazil, and Universidad Americana Managua, Nicaragua (UAM). Apple Computer recognized Professor Stone’s teaching with the Apple Distinguished Educator award. He is also a recipient of the Ratner Distinguished Teaching Award, The Ohio State University Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching, and the Order of Omega Faculty Recognition Award. +

Leah Wahlin’s background in English Literature and composition pedagogy is layered with extensive professional experience in content development, copywriting, and project management. She brings her interest in the intersections of technology, visual design, and strategic communication to the classroom, creating assignments and activities to help students develop the professional communication skills that are most relevant in today’s workplace. She has led development of two e-textbooks currently in use in the Department of Engineering Education, and she co-edited a collection about Motion Design with R. Brian Stone.

Recipient of recognition in the Design Incubation Communication Design Awards 2019.

Age of Humility

Scholarship: Creative Work Award Runner Up

Design Team

Rebekah Modrak, Professor, University of Michigan
Jamie Lausch Vander Broek, Librarian, University of Michigan
Sam Oliver, Designer, Shaper Realities

The Age of Humility project asks: can we reinvigorate humility from seeming like an archaic virtue studied by scholars and clergy to a living value, practiced in every workplace, from hospitals to courtrooms, and relevant in all realms, informing our choices as friends, colleagues, parents, and citizens? This project involves multiple work products—from a collection of essays to a series of researched posts distributed via social media—all with a centralized base: the Age of Humility website ( In designing the website and social media pages, our goal was to support the project and to inspire interest in humility as a value during this time in which political boasting and status-seeking are pervasive, and humility is rarely discussed.

In designing, we understood that exploring humility through scholarly research and anecdotal/personal narrative would not be served well by the current commerce-based paradigm for web design, which emphasizes self-promotion and facile consumption of information. Literary promotional websites, by default, have a self-congratulatory aesthetic. Their goal is to impress visitors. Critics’ praise, flattering headshots, and authors’ accolades take center stage in an effort to persuade would-be readers into making a purchase. We wanted to design an alternate approach.

We entered into the design process with several questions:

  • If humility involves a capacity to acknowledge error and learn new perspectives, how can the website design communicate and enact this openness to change?
  • How do we encourage users to see our contributors as an extension of their own community, and how can we prioritize ideas rather than promote people?
  • Can we approach web design in such a way that we encourage users to slow down and take time processing complex insights about humility?

Using a collaborative process, we developed several design strategies meant to engage visitors in conversation:

  • The meandering line — a line of curiosity that leads users from thought to thought.
  • The hand-drawn curlicue frame — a momentary pause to consider an idea or image.
  • The gradient — communicating the fallibility of represented perspectives.
  • The animated ink cloud / moving field of pigment — indicating that thought is not static. The ink cloud also conveys emotional content to indicate elation or turbulence.

All elements mimic organic movement to defy the flat space of the digital screen and the grid-based template of much web design.

The Age of Humility website and social media use this visual language to create contemplative space within a traditionally fast medium. The home page introduces viewers to diverse dialogues around humility. We intentionally avoid the primacy of the cursor’s point-and-click as the method of interaction. Instead, the main activator on the site is the imperfect, hand-drawn winding line that coils around quotations and entices users to scroll down the page, reading ideas that come politics, consumer culture, psychology, and other perspectives. The line and animated ink cloud all indicate that thoughts are pliant and yielding and prompt an introspective, gentle tempo for navigating the site. We use two complimentary fonts filled with a watercolor texture as a way of implying a spoken voice that fluctuates in timbre, and as a means to emphasize key words within that speech. The home page uses these designed tools to emphasize thoughts about humility rather than specific people.

The site’s navigation menu leads users to the contributors page where we replaced the traditional headshots with watercolor portraits so that contributors are seen as approachable, and to convey the idiosyncratic nature of the project. The watercolor medium treats contributors as characters on the page within a book of tales about morality and ethics. None is more important than another and, collectively, they build a broad, diverse understanding of humility. On the individual profile pages, we again emphasized excerpts and perspectives over biographies.

As contemporary social media is synonymous with self-promotion, Instagram presented a more severe set of challenges. We designed a strategy here of featuring one discipline or perspective for a two-week sequence of posts. For example, humility and mathematics; humility and Black girlhood; humility and aging. Working with two-week increments, we developed the website’s toolkit to be dynamic and compelling for fourteen days. We developed multiple variations of hand-drawn coiling frames and ink clouds. The hand-drawn curlicue frame transferred well to social media, providing a recognizable and consistent hallmark and a border for logos, photographs and other content that we want to absorb onto our site. We extended the hand-drawn meandering line into fully drawn illustrations; each two weeks of content are illustrated by five or six whimsical drawings, rendered carefully but without hard lines. The color watercolor portrait of the contributor who has inspired the series begins each two-week period. And because putting a face to people is so important to us, we create black-and-white portraits of guest social media contributors as a way to distinguish them from long-term contributors.

The resulting Age of Humility website and social media sites avoid the tropes of vanity websites and become both a preface for and visual extension of our exploration of humility. The site launched in January 2019 and we are excited to note that the audience is growing every day, both through the mailing list and social media. We’ve just passed 4500 followers on Facebook. After viewing the Age of Humility sites, the literary agency Dunow, Carlson & Lerner offered us a contract to represent our forthcoming book, citing the compelling way we’ve created a conversation around humility on the website and social media. Most importantly, the site has set up a platform for us to connect with communities across the world. We recently hosted a week-long series about humility from the perspective of residents of Ishinomaki, Japan; we partnered with author Rob Walker for a series of joint posts in which our contributors commented on excerpts from his book Art of Noticing; and we provided a forum for artists working on issues of free speech and democracy to share their work.

Age of Humility website:

Age of Humility on Instagram:

Rebekah Modrak

Rebekah Modrak is an artist and writer who practices at the intersections of art, activism, discursive design, and creative resistance to consumer culture. Her net-based artworks critique brand appropriation. Re Made Co. ( takes the form of an online “company” to parody actual company Best Made Co.’s appropriation of working-class imagery and values for leisure consumption. Rethink Shinola analyzes a complex and patronizing agenda of marketing the White savior myth. Modrak’s writing, published in such journals and books as Consumption Markets & Culture and Afterimage, analyzes the links between design, education, and brand marketing. For the past three years, she co-built and directed the site Age of Humility, bringing together dozens of diverse participants representing fields such as philosophy, the arts, law, race theory, and business, to reflect upon humility. Rebekah is a professor at the Stamps School of Art & Design at University of Michigan.

Jamie Lausch Vander Broek

Jamie Lausch Vander Broek is a Librarian for Art & Design at the University of Michigan. This summer, she bought a book made of cheese for her library. You can read about it on []. She holds a tailored Master’s degree from the U-M School of Information in Art and Art Museum Librarianship, and received a B.A. in Art History with a minor in Italian Studies from Wellesley College. Since arriving in Ann Arbor, she has been active in the local art and book communities, and is currently on the board of the Ann Arbor District Library.

Sam Oliver

Sam Oliver is the founder of Shaper Realities, a product and interaction design studio based in Brooklyn. He founded the studio as a rebuke to the industry standard separation of design and development. Shaper Realities strives to combine the two practices within a single process. The members of the studio are all technical, and have ownership of projects from conception through launch. The studio works primarily with startups using bleeding edge technologies and artists reimagining the future implications.

Outside of his studio practice Sam Oliver remains an active part of the Hacker community. He believes strongly in the virtues of creative ownership within any maker practice, and works within the community to promote whimsical, non-commercial applications of technology.

Recipient of recognition in the Design Incubation Communication Design Awards 2019.

The 2019 Design Incubation Educators Awards

Announcing the recipients of the Communication Design Research Awards in Creativity, Publishing, Teaching, and Service

Design Incubation and the Awards jury is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2019 Design Incubation Communication Design Educators Awards. We sincerely thank all who nominated colleagues and the design educators who entered the competition. As the 2019 jury chair, María Rogal, writes,

“We reviewed rich, diverse, and inspiring contributions from educators in the US and abroad. This excellence prompted us to offer more awards, including two winners in each of the scholarship categories. In addition, the jury identified  an additional work for commendation—specifically attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We hope these works informs design educators and the field.” 

We also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank Steven McCarthy for his vision and service. Steven writes,

“After founding the award with Design Incubation, we’ve recognized some impressive work and have elevated the teaching, scholarship, creative practice and service of deserved colleagues. Of this I am proud!” In 2020, Audrey Bennett will serve as the awards jury chair. Finally, we express our thanks to Teal Triggs and Saki Mafundikwa and Design Incubation chairs, Aaris Sherin and Dan Wong, for their support of the 2019 Awards program. 

Congratulations to these 2019 awardees: 


WINNER: Chicago Design Milestones

Sharon Oiga, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago;
Guy Villa Jr, Assistant Professor, Columbia College Chicago and
Daria Tsoupikova, Associate Professor University of Illinois at Chicago (with Jack Weiss, Chicago Design Archive;
Cheri Gearhart, Chicago Design Archive;
Wayne Stuetzer, Chicago Design Archive;
Krystofer Kim, Lead Animator, NASA; and
Ali Khan, Animator, University of Illinois at Chicago)

WINNER: Five Oceans in a Teaspoon

Warren Lehrer, Designer, Professor, SUNY, Purchase

Dennis J Bernstein, Poet, Executive Producer, Flashpoints Pacifica Radio

RUNNER UP: Age of Humility

Rebekah Modrak, Professor, University of Michigan;
Jamie Lausch Vander Broek, Librarian, University of Michigan; and
Sam Oliver, Designer, Shaper Realities


WINNER: Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Design

Rachel Beth Egenhoefer, Associate Professor, University of San Francisco, Editor

WINNER: Visible Language Special Issue on the History of Visual Communication Design

Dori Griffin, Assistant Professor, University of Florida, Editor

RUNNER UP: The Theory and Practice of Motion Design

R. Brian Stone, Associate Professor, The Ohio State University  and
Leah Wahlin, Senior Lecturer, The Ohio State University, Editors


WINNER: Perspectives Vancouver

Jonathan Hannan, Assistant Professor, Emily Carr University of Art + Design

RUNNER UP: Woodhill Homes―Design for Experience

Omari Souza, Assistant Professor, Texas State University


WINNER: Cocktails Against Cancer

Katherine Mueller, Assistant Professor, Temple University

RUNNER UP: Decipher 2018

Kelly Murdoch-Kitt, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan and
Omar Sosa-Tzec, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

JURY COMMENDATION for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Puerto Rico 2054: Design Pedagogy in a Time of Crisis

Maria Mater O’Neil, Adjunct Professor, Interamerican University, Fajardo Campus & University of Puerto Rico (Rio Piedras and Carolina Campus) and Lesley Ann Noel, Professor of Practice in Design Thinking, Tulane University


Audrey Bennett
Professor of Art and Design
University of Michigan

Saki Mafundikwa
Founder and Director
Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts

Steven McCarthy
Professor of Graphic Design
University of Minnesota in Minneapolis/St. Paul

Maria Rogal (Chair)
Professor of Graphic Design/Design & Visual Communications
University of Florida

Teal Triggs
Professor of Graphic Design
School of Communication, Royal College of Art