Puerto Rico 2054: Design Pedagogy in a Time of Crisis

Jury Commendation for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Maria Mater O’Neil, Adjunct Professor, Interamerican University, Fajardo Campus & University of Puerto Rico (Rio Piedras and Carolina Campus)

Lesley Ann Noel, Professor of Practice in Design Thinking, Tulane University

This article describes the conversation and process between two Caribbean design educators, one from Puerto Rico, and one from Trinidad and Tobago, as they co-developed an appropriate design class for students who were experiencing a catastrophic event. The curriculum built on a design curriculum, developed by the latter for children in a rural village in the English-speaking Caribbean that focussed on promoting equity and empowerment through reflections and critical discussions by the participants. The curriculum was adapted by the former, using her resilience thinking toolbox with her undergraduate students in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane María. The aim of the curriculum was to help the Puerto Rican communication design students move beyond merely coping with the impact of the natural disaster, to action and thriving through design. Students were led through several design stages that included reflections, critical discussions, brainstorming around future utopian or dystopian scenarios and proposing solutions. The students were expected to focus on a Puerto Rico in the year 2054 as a strategy of resistance visualization. In this paper, the authors describe the four phases of implementation of the curriculum, as well as the reflections of the students and their own reflections on the collaborative process and its significance.

Featured work by students Yamilex Rodriguez Mojica, Adriana Guardiola, Kathia Carrion. The majority of photos should be credited to Yamilex Rodriguez Mojica from the project Apagados. The notebook and photo by the waterfront is is part of her preliminary work. Adriana’s project was a visualization kit for creating small scale models of possible reuse of fallen trees. Kathia’s project was an ‘Emotional regulator’ a folding poster with different lists of hurricane preparedness tasks. It is meant to be used for families and groups, so tasks can be assigned to each member. 

Dr. María de Mater O’Neill is the Head Researcher and Creative Director of Rubberband Design Studio, LLP and a Fulbright Specialist Roster candidate. She is the recipient of a Round Four of the Presidential Design’s Federal Design Achievement Award for Catalog Design (United States), and II Iberoamerican Design Biennal’s BID Prize for Exhibition Design (Spain). Her practice-based doctoral research initiative “Developing Methods of Resilience for Design Practice” is a design model intended to improve real-time resilience thinking for designers working under a variety of types of economic and socio-cultural stressors. O’Neill is a cultural producer; last project was research and exhibition of participatory and community design in Puerto Rico. “Listening to their Voices” research was published in Dialectic (2018, Michigan Publishing) and the project won an honorary award from the 15th Biennial of Architecture in Puerto Rico.

Dr. Lesley Anne Noel is Associate Director for Design Thinking for Social Innovation and a Professor of Practice in Design Thinking at the Tayloe Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking at Tulane University. In 2018–2019 she was a Teaching Fellow / Lecturer at d.school and Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. She has a Bacharelado (equivalent to bachelor’s degree) in Industrial Design from Universidade Federal do Paraná and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of the West Indies. She completed her doctoral studies in Design at North Carolina State University.

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

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.

Cocktails Against Cancer

Service Award Winner

Katherine Mueller, Assistant Professor, Temple University

I have volunteered my time and provided pro bono creative services since 2014 to Cocktails Against Cancer, a 501(c)3 organization that raises money to benefit quality-of-life programs for people battling cancer in the region. Each year I create a unique identity and promotional campaign for the annual event. The project generates awareness of the charity event, promotes ticket sales, and otherwise supports fund raising efforts. The scope of the project includes event naming, identity design, poster, flyer, webpage, organic and paid social media, press kit, sponsorship kit, program booklet, event signage, and various event decorative elements.

The significance of my impact may be judged by the many ways the event has thrived since I became involved. Attendance has increased by 45% since I assumed my role as creative director in 2014. Alongside my fellow board members, I have helped to elevate the event from a simple community center gymnasium, to the premier Loew’s Philadelphia Hotel, where it is held today. During this period, we have raised almost $70k for our beneficiaries.

Our efforts have an impact at the individual level in our community. The mission of the organization is to support quality-of-life programs for people and families battling cancer in the region. Raised funds are donated to three beneficiaries. At Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, every $500 sends a child with cancer to camp for a week; Our funds help provide healthy living classes and counseling programs at Cancer Support Community of Greater Philadelphia; And through Breathing Room Foundation, our funds help families pay their everyday bills, such as groceries and utilities.

The work I’ve produced for this annual project has been repeatedly peer reviewed and recognized for its importance and excellence. This body of work has garnered 14 juried awards, including a How International Design Award and Graphis Design Awards. Posters from the campaigns have exhibited internationally in juried exhibitions, showing in Italy, Spain, Netherlands, India, China, and the U.S. Most recently a poster showed in the AIGA Philadelphia Design Awards Exhibition. Alina Wheeler wrote a 400+ word case study on Cocktails Against Cancer for the current edition of her book, Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team, a best selling global resource for branding. In 2017, the branding project was awarded a grant from Temple University.

I am incredibly proud of this body of work, and the impact it has had. I am pleased to model for my students a productive pro bono relationship that includes both creative satisfaction and social impact. I am honored that Noopur Agarwal nominated the project for a Communication Design Educator Award in the category of service. Thank you to the jury for your time and consideration.

Kathy Mueller is an Assistant Professor at Temple University Klein College of Media & Communication, where she teaches courses related to art direction. She is an active member of the design community in Philadelphia and sustains an award-winning creative practice. She has volunteered on various committees with AIGA Philadelphia, and served a two-year term on the board as Programming Chair. Most recently she was a 2019 Design Incubation Fellow. She holds a MFA graphic and interactive design from Tyler School of Art & Architecture. Kathy’s creative work has been recognized in the ADC Annual, TDC Annual, How International, Print Regional, and appeared in Harper Design, Wiley, How Books, and Rockport publications.

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.

Perspectives Vancouver

Teaching Award Winner

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

Perspectives brings together Communication Design students and residents of long-term care homes, creating a platform for meaningful intergenerational exchange and social interaction through the co-design and co-creation of mini-publications that express residents’ stories through writing, photography and other art media.

It’s not uncommon for residents of long-term care homes to face issues of social isolation and diminishment of personal identity, with opportunities for genuine creative and personal expression being limited. Residents can feel like they no longer have anything to contribute, that their story has closed, they’re unchallenged which often leads to cognitive decline. Design students tend to have limited life experience and are unsure about what direction they want to take in life. Perspectives explores the benefits of a reciprocal relationship between the two, engaging participants in a mutual exchange of experiences.

First, students and residents engage in “Getting to Know Me” sessions, during which they share information about themselves and learn about the other participants. Students then design activities using the limited knowledge they have about residents to uncover stories and points of interest they can explore during the Content Generation sessions that follow. This series of student-designed Content Generation sessions include creative approaches such as; storytelling, games, quizzes, drawing and collage. These activities act as creative probes to generate thematic starting points for narrative analysis and conceptual development, with emphasis placed on the mutual participation of students and residents.

A common observation is that the design students take non-linear approaches to storytelling, with content generation topics ranging from the importance of respect, to opinions on sharks to activities that focus on residents dreams and future aspirations. This leads to a diverse range of publications, with one telling the detailed story of a resident’s life as an animal trainer for 1950s TV and film, another focused on residents’ preferences for sensations such as taste and smell, and a third, comic book publication in which residents were represented as superheroes.

Students take material generated in the sessions and create initial editorial designs to be taken back for residents to review. Residents express their preferences on concept, copy, layout, typography, colors and composition. Following the review, students create multiple copies for a final sharing session. In this session all participants engage in a storytelling and sharing activity, with individual groups deciding how to share what they have made together, which often results in students and residents sharing stories together. These sessions are often highly emotional, with much laughter, and some tears, from all parties. Multiple copies are given to residents to allow them share their story with other residents, their families and care staff.

In the summer of 2018, funding was awarded from the Centre for Aging Brain and Health Innovation (CABHI) for an observational research study to investigate the impact of the project upon residents. The study concluded that the experience was an overwhelmingly positive experience for both residents and students. One resident, when asked about what they gained by participating in the program, explained, “Another look at the younger generation, what is going on with them and to see that they are with us, there is no separation between the ages, we are all the same.”

Anecdotal feedback from the care staff told of how residents would share their stories with carers and physicians who were able to gain a better sense of the resident, which could ultimately inform their care. A concern when starting the project was the lasting impact on the residents once students had left. We discovered that the project connected residents in new ways, forming new connections and friendships, while many residents began to engage with other programs in the home, becoming more social. When interviewed following the completion of the project, one member of staff said, “it brought some of the residents more social engagement. There were a few residents that stay in the room all the time. So, one particular resident was coming to see you guys in the group and they love telling their story.”

The benefits of the project extended beyond just residents, with the benefits for students also visible. Students participating in the project are in their third year of a four-year degree program, possessing strong design skills, but lacking experience of using those skills beyond a classroom environment. In a post-project survey one student noted, “It was really incredible to be able to spend time with seniors in the way that we did. I think there’s something really special about the bond between elders/youth.”

It’s not uncommon for many students approaching their final year of university to have something of an existential crisis, trying to find where they fit in the world as a designer. Perspectives engages the students in designing for an aging population for the first time, with many expressing an interest in revisiting that problem space in the future, something that is especially timely as the Canadian government recently announced its first Dementia Strategy. One student observed, “Western care homes are more often than not very cold and clinical, and in general not a very comfortable place to live. Designers have the skill set creativity and knowledge to help rectify this.”

Following three successful incarnations of Perspectives, in two different care homes, a “How to Guide” is being developed for other schools and care homes to run the project. A new application for funding has been made to CABHI to fund the publication of the How to Guide and I am currently in discussions with academic institutions, both national and international, about implementing the project and piloting the guide. The project has been presented at DementiaLab 2018 (United Kingdom), Design4Health 2018 (United Kingdom), the Canadian Gerontological Nursing Association 2019 and the Canadian Therapeutic Recreation Association Conference 2019, with papers currently being finalized for DementiaLab 2019 (the Netherlands), International MinD Conference 2019 (Germany) and the Canadian Frailty Network conference 2019. In April 2019 an article on Perspectives was published in the journal Design for Health (Volume 3, 2019).

Jon Hannan is Assistant Professor of Communication Design, having previously held the positions of Senior Lecturer of Graphic Design at Manchester School of Art and Senior Lecturer of Fashion Communication and Promotion at Nottingham Trent University. He holds an MA and a BA (Hons) in Design & Art Direction from Manchester School of Art, a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from Huddersfield University and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK). Alongside teaching, Jon founded and ran Manchester-based design studio, OWT, for six years. OWT started as an experimental and collaborative publication before growing into a fully-practicing design studio. His research has been featured in international design publications, journals and online platforms such as Design for Health Journal, IdN, Computer Arts, the Guardian and CNN.

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, www.motionresource.com, contains the actual motion based visual examples described in the text. The Forward and First Chapter are available for review on Amazon.com.


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.

http://www.modesummit.com/2019/ + https://tinyurl.com/yb6tdwj5

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.

Visible Language Special Issue on the History of Visual Communication Design

Scholarship: Published Research Award Winner

Dori Griffin, Assistant Professor, University of Florida (Editor)

The history of graphic design as expressed in survey texts is well-known for being overpopulated by white Euro-American men. I believe that escaping this disciplinary echo chamber requires active, intentional effort from scholar-practitioners within the discipline. My own position as a design scholar and educator is one I’m determined to operationalize for inclusion. Therefore I was excited when Mike Zender, editor of Visible Language, invited me to guest-edit a special issue devoted to the history of visual communication design. As the longest-running peer reviewed journal of visual communication design research in the United States, Visible Language has played a significant role in both constructing and deconstructing a canonical notion of graphic design history, a subject I examined in the journal’s fiftieth anniversary issue (Griffin 2016). In cultivating submissions for the history issue, I was determined to facilitate as global and diverse a range as possible. It was vital for the issue to contribute to the ongoing work of building a more inclusive history of graphic design. Part of this work relies on an active critique of the power structures which have led to a canonical history based on exclusions around race/ethnicity, gender/sexuality, class, professional identity, and geography. And part of the work requires intentionally and explicitly inviting as-yet unheard voices to contribute to the disciplinary dialogue. Though the term “decolonization” is often used to describe such efforts, I’m cautious about its application. In the words of Tuck and Yang (2012), “Decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools.” Instead, I’d describe my editorial goal as recuperative, opening up the dialogic spaces of design-historical discourse to include individuals, ideas, and practices too long excluded from that narrative.

It’s a truism that graphic design history is predicated on a shallow understanding of stylistically conceptualized movements and that the discipline lacks an evidence-based, critically-informed history (e.g. Blauvelt 1994-5; Woodham 1995; Triggs 2009, 2011). Yet as I worked on this editorial project, I became convinced that this conceptualization is invalid. As I noted in the introduction to the special issue, it is not the case that histories of visual communication design, beyond style or connoisseurship or visual data, do not exist. Rather, they inhabit spaces conceptualized as external to the core of our discipline. There are scholars and practitioners already at work conducting historical research which significantly expands familiar, survey-text style notions of graphic design history. Their work may be published in adjacent fields in the humanities and social sciences, rendering it less familiar to design educators. Or historical research might undergird a contemporary studio design practice rather than a scholarly publishing practice, and thus it escapes representation in the formal literature of design history. It is vital to make room for these voices within our field. As I shaped the history-themed issue of Visible Language, I actively cultivated participation from both kinds of researchers. Including their voices within graphic design’s established communities of dialogue greatly enriches the conversations which can take place in these spaces.

The four authors whose articles were selected for publication through the journal’s double-blind peer review process expand the narrative of graphic design history through specific case studies. Each illustrates the complexity of our discipline’s historical narratives. Collectively, the authors’ research speaks to the intersections between canonized Euro-American design conventions and the diverse ways design practice occurs and is understood in a wide range of local and global contexts. The authors’ contributions to the dialogic disciplinary narratives of graphic design history are the most important outcome of this project. In “The Implications of Media,” Islamic art historian Hala Auji undertakes a close contextual and material reading of the Nafir Suriya, a series of Arabic-language broadsides originally printed in Beirut in 1860 and re-issued in 1990. In “Ismar David’s Quest for Original Hebrew Typographic Signs,” practicing designer Shani Avni contextualizes David’s design process for the David Hebrew type family (1954), documenting David’s negotiation of the tension between tradition and innovation through a research-based design process. In “Mana Mātātuhi,” practicing designer Johnson Witehira documents Māori visual culture’s incorporation of Latin-alphabet lettering and typography into culturally specific ways of seeing, knowing, and expressing. In “Lower Case in the Flatlands,” design historian Trond Klevgaard explores the adaptation and application of Avant Garde Modernist strategies in locations traditionally defined as “peripheral.” The abstracts for all four articles are included in the “evidence of outcome” section.

Serving as guest editor for this special issue of Visible Language led to an invitation to join the editorial team as the associate editor for statements of practice at Design & Culture, the journal of the Design Studies Forum. The July 2019 issue is the journal’s first issue under the direction of its new editors in chief, who describe their “conscious formation of an editorial and advisory board of accomplished scholars who work beyond the silos of their disciplines and who hail from regions not always represented in design’s dominant canons and conversations.” They note that they “are also attentive to the politics of citations and are committed to broadening the scholarly dialog to include voices too frequently dismissed or engaged only at the margins” (Adams, Keshavarz and Traganou 2019, 154). Within this conceptual framework, the issue’s statement of practice is by Nadine Chahine, whose insightful essay discusses her work as a designer of Arabic typefaces and the complex role typography plays in a diverse range of Arabic cultural and political expressions. I’m honored to contribute to this ongoing work of diversification, in however small a way. It’s thrilling to collaborate with practitioners and scholars who prioritize a global, participatory, and inclusive notion of design history and praxis. Editorial work is not glamorous. But approaching it with a passion for cultivating diversity and inclusion holds the power to shape future histories of graphic design into narratives more representative of all peoples and practices within the domain of design. [989 words]


Adams, B., M. Keshavarz and J. Traganou. 2019. “Editorial.” Design and Culture 11:2, 153-6.

Blauvelt, A. 1994-5. “New Perspectives: Critical Histories of Graphic Design.” Visible Language volumes 28.3, 28.4, 29.1.

Griffin, D. 2015. “The Role of Visible Language in Building and Critiquing a Canon of Graphic Design History.” Visible Language 50:3, 6-27.

Triggs, T. 2009. “Designing Graphic Design History.” Journal of Design History 22 (4): 325–40. https://doi.org/10.1093/jdh/epp041.

———. 2011. “Graphic Design History: Past, Present, and Future.” Design Issues 27 (1): 3–6. https://doi.org/10.1162/DESI_a_00051.

Tuck, E., and K. Yang. 2012. “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1:1, 1-¬40.

Woodham, J. 1995. “Resisting Colonization: Design History Has Its Own Identity.” Design Issues 11 (1): 22–37. https://doi.org/10.2307/1511613.

Dori Griffin is an assistant professor of graphic design in the University of Florida’s School of Art + Art History. Her research centers around two interrelated areas of inquiry. Her historical research expands the narrative of graphic design as it has been practiced and consumed in the past, with particular focus on how popular visual artifacts and print media shape national and international dialogues about culture, politics, and identity. Her pedagogical research explores how to develop globalized curriculum and diverse, learner-centered practices for design history pedagogy, particularly in the context of studio education. She is a frequent contributor to the peer-reviewed scholarly dialogues of the discipline, with publications in Dialectic, Visible Language, Design & Culture, the Journal of Communication Design, and the Journal of Design History, among others. Currently, she serves as the associate editor for statements of practice at Design & Culture.

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

Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Design

Scholarship: Published Research Award Winner

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

I have taught courses in, and done research on sustainable design for over ten years. Throughout that time I was dedicated to pushing the notion of sustainable design beyond individual products to wider, systems perspectives where designers would be able to make more impactful changes in the future. While creating products from recycled materials or more “eco” options is a start, to make real change designers need to look at how to change consumption behaviors not just on individual levels, but as communities and a global society. This type of research goes beyond thinking about design as “object” to design as “experience” and requires using systems thinking, ethnography, future casting and other methods of critical inquiry. Having previously published in Routledge’s Sustainability Hub, and after serving as a peer-reviewer for the publisher, they approached me to develop a book on the topic for their handbook series on the topic of sustainable design.

The wicked problems we face in the climate crisis require more solutions than any one person can harness. Collaboration, interdisciplinary, and dialog are urgently needed. Part of my research portfolio is not just creating my own work as an individual researcher, but also working as a thought leader who organizes, curates, and facilitates the work of others working in sustainability to advance the field of sustainable design as a whole. This was my goal in deciding to edit and produce a new handbook.

In 2018, I published the Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Design, making a significant contribution to the field of sustainable design and design pedagogy. Rather than produce an anthology of previously published work or repeat static ideas on sustainability in design, I took the opportunity to push the field to include this more expansive, systems thinking approach to sustainability. My proposal went through a double blind international peer review. As editor of the book, I took special steps to broaden the topics framing, and outline a new way of considering design for sustainability. My work became somewhat curatorial in developing a group of contributors whose collective strength would be more powerful than individual ideas. I sought authors beyond the design community, and those who represented international and diverse voices, coaching each contributor on how to fit their work into the overall narrative I constructed. I made a conscious effort to have more than half of the book be made of up women and people of color – something not seen in traditional academic design publications. Given that designers need to work beyond their own discipline chapters were also included from other disciplines including Environmental Science, Politics, Philosophy, Engineering, and others. The 36 chapters in the book represent an array of powerful voices and ideas, which collectively seek to address how designers can take critically and proactively take on design for sustainable change.

In addressing issues of design for global impact, behavior change, systems and strategy, ethics and values, the Handbook of Sustainable Design presents a unique and powerful design perspective.  The handbook has been well received in Europe and in the US, with testimonials from prominent researchers in the field. The book is used by students and scholars in universities around the world including Carnegie Mellon University, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), UC Berkeley, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, Oberlin College, Loughborough University UK, Cranfield University UK, University of the Arts London, University of Brighton, University of Oslo, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, TU Delft, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Queensland University, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and of course the University of San Francisco.

Because of my role as editor and producer of this book, I have been asked to present and speak about the book and its concepts at conferences and events, attesting to its impact. This included: organizing and moderating Being Human in the Anthropocene: Understanding the Human in our Impact as part of Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit, organizing and producing the Compostmodern event series with AIGA SF, speaking on the panel Social Design in Tumultuous Times: Why and How to Publish About it at the AIGA MAKE Design Educators Conference, presenting Sustainability in the Visual Arts, Design, and Creative Fields at the national AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) conference.

See also:


Rachel Beth Egenhoefer is a design professor, artist and writer, whose work integrates technology, craft, and design. Her current focus is on sustainability and systems thinking as related to behavior change. Egenhoefer is currently the Chair of the Department of Art + Architecture, Program Director of the Design Program, and an Associate Professor in Design at the University of San Francisco, where she has taught since 2009. Egenhoefer is the editor of the Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Design and a contributor to Routledge’s Sustainability Hub Believing in the power of education to move sustainable action forward, she has been a part of ASHEE’s Sustainability Across the Curriculum Program, and presented her work on sustainable design education at the AIGA Design Educators Forum, PALS (Partnership for Academic Leadership), the School of Visual Arts in New York, San Francisco Art Institute, and others.


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 (AgeOfHumility.com). 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 AgeOfHumility.com, 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: https://ageofhumility.com/#/

Age of Humility on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ageofhumility/

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. (remadeco.org) 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 saveur.com [https://www.saveur.com/cheese-book-university-of-michigan]. 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.

Five Oceans in a Teaspoon

Scholarship: Creative Work Award Winner

Warren Lehrer, Designer, Professor, SUNY, Purchase  (visualizations)

Dennis J Bernstein, Poet, Executive Producer, Flashpoints Pacifica Radio (poems)

Five Oceans in a Teaspoon is a book and multimedia project written by journalist/poet Dennis J Bernstein, visualized and structured by designer/author Warren Lehrer. A large collection of short visual poems, Five Oceans consists of a 300 page book (Paper Crown Press), animations, a traveling exhibition (premiering at City Lore Gallery, NYC), and reading/performances. Steven Heller wrote the introduction to the book.

In 1979, Dennis J Bernstein and I began working on a book of poems, originally titled Stretch Marks. Instead of completing that book, we leapt into writing our first play together, and over the intervening years we collaborated on three books, including French Fries (1984), which has since been written about in scores of textbooks on visual literature, typography, graphic design and artists’ books. A few years ago, we began collaborating again on visual poetry, bringing together Bernstein’s words and my typographic visualizations. Forty years after our original effort we completed the project, now titled Five Oceans in a Teaspoon. Like with many of my previous works, this book sits at the center of a multibranched project.

Bernstein’s poetry, like his investigative journalism, reflects the struggle of everyday people trying to survive in the face of adversity. Structured like a work of music, the book (and exhibit) is divided into eight movements spanning a lifetime: growing up confused by dyslexia and a parental gambling addiction; graced by pogo sticks, boxing lessons and a mother’s compassion; becoming a frontline witness to war and its aftermaths, to prison, street life, love and loss, open heart surgery, caring for aging parents and visitations from them after they’re gone.

My methodology for this project: I selected the poems—out of thousands of Bernstein’s short poems written over 45 years—and arranged them into the book which can also be seen/read as a memoir in short visual poems. Each poem lead me to a composition. The ideas within the poem, its themes, metaphors, allusions, double meanings, ambiguities, subtexts, conflicts, voices, structure, rhythmic cadences, pauses and silences, underlying intent—were all grist for the mill. Many of the compositions give form to the interior, emotional underpinnings of the poem. Many compositions engage the reader to become an active participant in the discovery, navigation, puzzle, and interpretation of the poem. Some compositions allude to figuration or landscape, while others work more abstractly. At their best, the typographic compositions help create experience—within and across the pages of the book and in the animations. In a poem about Alzheimer’s, letters struggle to become words, search for memory; thoughts halt, rotate and stretch in a confusion of pleasure, frustration, habit and empathy. In a poem seen through the eyes of a child, letters and words form a colony of ants inspecting and devouring a discarded piece of candy. Other poems function diagrammatically, tracing patterns of relationships, war and peace, and struggles for human and civil rights.

Most of my previous projects embrace complexity, polyphony, and are longform works such as the 4 volume 1000+ page “Portrait Series” documenting American eccentrics, or my illuminated novel A LIFE IN BOOKS: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley, containing 101 books within it embedded within a fictionalized memoir. For Five Oceans, I made dozens and dozens of iterations of each poem until a visual setting felt right—like it couldn’t be any other way. In his introduction, design historian/critic Steven Heller writes, “some of the compositions seem so simple and transparent resulting in self-evident grace and revelation.” This was the challenge of this project, to distill (like the writing does and the title suggests) a wide swath of experiences and emotions into a small space with minimal means: a seven inch square book, black and white, just using one type family throughout for the central voice of each poem, engaging the emptiness/fullness of the off-white page or screen.

Animations allow for a different kind of typographic realization/performance of select poems via time, kinetic typography, and soundtracks scored by composer/performer Andrew Griffin. Animations are featured in the live performance/readings, in the exhibition, public screenings and projections, and online. The exhibit also features prints of select poems from each movement.

Regarding impact and contribution to the field: As I write this, Five Oceans hasn’t even been published yet, officially. Yet there are indications that it will be impactful and receive critical attention. After reading an advance copy, Johanna Drucker, perhaps the foremost scholar of Visual Literature, writes: “In the long history of graphic word works, few, if any, have this range and repleteness.” In her forthcoming review in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Drucker calls Five Oceans an “engaging masterwork that has only a handful of precedents in literary and design history.” Bob Holman, leading chronicler of contemporary poetry writes, “Five Oceans re-envisions a poetry memoir via a textual kaleidoscope… Bernstein and Lehrer are the Rodgers and Hart of Visual Poetry.” Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker calls Five Oceans “Brilliant and Beautiful.” Gail Anderson and Steven Heller’s recent book “Type Tells Tales” includes three sections on my work, one devoted to Five Oceans as a work-in-progress. Tim Samara’s new edition of Making and Breaking the Grid analyzes select poems from Five Oceans as exemplars of “verbal deconstruction/ narrative allusion/ pictorialization.” An article on Five Oceans just came out in Creative Review; others are due out in AIGA’s Eye on Design, Afterimage, Electric Book Review, JAB and other media outlets. Debbie Millman is interviewing me in October about Five Oceans and my work for her Design Matters podcast, and Dennis and I will be presenting this work at Letterform Archive in San Francisco, at the NY Art Book Fair, City Lore, and other locations around the US. 

Warren Lehrer is a writer, designer and book artist known as a “pioneer of visual literature and design authorship.” His books and multimedia projects attempt to capture the shape of thought and reunite oral and pictorial traditions of storytelling in books, animations, performance and installations. Awards include: The Brendan Gill Prize, IPPY Outstanding Book of the Year Award, Innovative Use of Archives Award, International Book Award for Best New Fiction, three AIGA Book Awards, Media That Matters Award, grants and fellowships from NEA, NYSCA, NYFA, Rockefeller, Ford, Greenwall Foundations. He is a 2016 Honoree of the Center for Book Arts. His work is in many collections including MoMA, Getty Museum, Georges Pompidou Centre, Tate Gallery. A frequent lecturer and performer, Lehrer is the Leff Distinguished Professor at SUNY Purchase, a founding faculty member of SVA’s Designer As Author MFA program, co-founder of EarSay, a non-profit arts organization in Queens, NY.

Dennis J Bernstein is a poet, investigative journalist and award-winning host/producer of Flashpoints, syndicated by the Pacifica radio network. Recipient of many awards and honors, including Pulse Media’s Top Global Media Figure, Pillar Award in Broadcast Journalism, Artists Embassy International Literary Cultural Award. He founded the Muriel Rukeyser Reading Series in Brooklyn, NY. Books include Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom, Particles of Light, and three books with Warren Lehrer including French Fries, considered a seminal works in the genre. His poetry has appeared in New York Quarterly, The Chimaera, The Progressive, Texas Observer, ZYZZYVA, and numerous other journals.

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