About Us




Designmatters at ArtCenter College of Design advances art and design as a force for innovation and social change. As an educational department within the College (non-degree granting), Designmatters collaborates with mission-driven nonprofit organizations, industry, and national and international development agencies resulting in immersive, impactful research and projects. As such, these partnerships act as conduits to local and global communities by providing meaningful and engaging opportunities that allow students to grow and learn while developing skills to help them master their craft and open the doors to meaningful educational and career pathways.

Designmatters is at the helm of a diverse set of initiatives comprised of the signature transdisciplinary elective courses offered each term, Designmatters projects; the Designmatters Minor for undergraduate students who choose to specialize in social impact design; the Designmatters Fellowship program and collaboration with all educational departments at the College to advise on classes, research and theses in design for social innovation.

In 2002, Designmatters established the significant and pioneering affiliation of the College as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with the United Nations. This designation has built a broad network of innovative collaborations that are like-minded in designing for a more humane and equitable future for all.

The Department continues to advance its approach by providing multi-part framework through five comprehensive themes. These five themes include Sustainable Development, Public Policy, Health, Social Entrepreneurship, and Social Justice. As we advance our work as equity-minded designers, these themes build on blending storytelling and skill-building, as well as exploring key concepts and concrete actionable strategies for students to increase their capacity to transform practices.




Designmatters projects and programs provide educational experiences that emphasize real-world issues impacting our local, national and global communities, teaching students to understand the complexities of working with diverse networks of stakeholders.

Designmatters follows a three-part pedagogical model to support social innovation outcomes:

  1. Integration of the College’s liberal arts curriculum: partnering with the Humanities & Sciences department to provide a strong foundation of ethical research, and historical and cultural context for topics explored in studio.
  2. Transdisciplinary and team-based collaboration: seeking innovation at the intersection of design disciplines and teaching students to be collaborative leaders
  3. Co-creation and participatory methodology: positioning community members as the experts of their own experiences, challenges faced and solutions needed.

Thematic Pillars



Designmatters organizes its educational initiatives under five key pillars to provide frameworks for individual projects and Designmatters’ overall portfolio of work; many projects may touch on more than one pillar. 

Social Entrepreneurship – Projects in social entrepreneurship explore how to design and launch organizations, systems, services and products that are driven by a social mission and operate within a broad range of innovative hybrid business models. 

Public Policy – Continuing and celebrating the long history of artists and designers in activism, projects under Public Policy explore how design and art can encourage civic engagement, elevate the voices of all people, and influence government policy towards fair opportunities and justice at the local, national and international levels.

Health – Health projects place a priority on improving physical and mental health outcomes and achieving equity and inclusion in healthcare services for all people worldwide, from the design of medical spaces and devices to the development of awareness campaigns and health interventions.

Sustainable Development – Sustainable Development projects directly address one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations, designing products, services and systems using local community resources. These projects focus on a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protections.

Social Justice – Projects in social justice focus on designing with communities and cultures to ensure equitable access, participation and rights for all people in economic, legal, political, health and social systems. The projects will use design to sustain, heal and empower communities through activism, advocacy and civic engagement while building sustainable communities.

Core Team

Jennifer May

Executive Director, Designmatters Department

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Joshua Halstead

Faculty, Social Innovation

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Garret Scullin

Senior Coordinator, Designmatters Department

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Dr. Mariana Amatullo

Co-Founder and Former Vice President, Designmatters Department

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