Ducere/To Lead

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January 11, 2012

With the Designmatters December/January blog entry, it has become sort of a tradition to take a beat to reflect about milestones, while jotting down some thoughts about what may lay ahead with the start of the New Year.

Our graduation ceremony for the class of December 2011 triggered that reflective mode for me in a wonderful way.   Along with our graduating students, three individuals who have all contributed in special ways to Designmatters were honored that evening.

Dutore Poster by Wendy MacNaughton.

President Buchman led a moving tribute for alumna Wendy MacNaughton (FINE ART 99’), who was recognized with the Outstanding Service Alumni Award.  While some of the iconic images of Wendy’s expansive body of work flashed on the monitors on stage, many mental snapshots of our work and times together kept clicking by.  Among the most memorable, the first time we met, when she visited campus shortly after graduating from Columbia with her MA in social work and brought with her all of these extraordinary, full-size posters from the voting awareness campaign she had conceived for Rwanda’s first democratic elections.

And then, I could hear her screeching with delight all over again, as she had over the phone a few years ago, when I asked her if she would consider flying to Kenya with a couple of week’s notice to become part of our design team for the 2007 World Bank Development Marketplace competition. With Wendy’s fearless inspiration, that design for mobile health delivery project was a competition finalist and would go on to become an important milestone for Designmatters.   And I kept smiling—grateful–to count with Wendy as a friend and as a mentor to our students. “Designers make meaning–and that’s a lot of responsibility,”—is a reminder I hear her profess often.  As an artist, she imparts such a magical sense of urgency through her meaning—making.  And then there is whimsy, and joy, and a deep connection to that elusive humanity in all of us.

DM Fellow Jamie Lopez at PAHO.


Jamie Lopez, who just graduated with a BA as a Graphic Design Major with the Designmatters Concentration, received the Student Leadership Award. Jamie started her speech with the often-referenced quote below from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking:

“I am not telling you to do the world better, because I don’ think that progress is necessarily part of the package.  I am just telling you to live in it.  Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it.  To look at it.  To try to get the picture.  To live recklessly.   To take chances.  To make your own work and take pride in it.  To seize the moment.  And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave is a fine and private place, but none I think there do embrace.  Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children.  And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can, and good luck at it.”

Joan Didion smiles sketch by Wendy MacNaughton. http://wendymacnaughton.blogspot.com

DM Fellow Jamie Lopez design for PAHO “Faces, Voices and Places” country publications.

While it was touching to hear this stirring piece anew, it was Jaime’s powerful way of linking Didion with her own personal experience of leadership that resonated with me.  A past Designmatters Fellow with the Pan American Health Organization in Washington DC, Jaime embodies that full life force with everything she takes on.  In Jamie’s words, “when you believe in something, you can help but want to make it grow.  And that’s really where progress happens and leaders are created.  That’s how the kind of design that truly changes the world gets created.” Hers is a professional trajectory that will be exciting to track.

DM Fellow Jonathan Jarvis.

MDP alumnus Jonathan Jarvis (Graduate Media Design 09’), was recognized with the Young  Alumni Innovator Award.  Recruited right after his graduation to become one of the founding members of Google’s Creative Lab as one of the “Google 5” (see more at http://creativity-online.com/news/the-google-creative-lab/146084 ) Jonathan gave a grounding commencement address reminding everyone how confusing and exhilarating at once that new professional frontier ahead of you can be.   By then, my mind was simultaneously going back and forth.  Flashing back to Jonathan‘s days as one of the student leads immersed in the field in Suriname to interview youth journalists as part of the Digital Stories project we participated in with UNICEF, and later as a Designmatters Fellow working with the Innovation Team at UNICEF, with whom we are about to start a new collaboration in Uganda with the first Media Design Matters cohort this coming fall.

DM Fellow Jonathan Jarvis’ diagram for UNICEF Digital Stories website.


My own doctoral research these days has me delving deep into organizational change and leadership literature.  One of the fundamental definitions of the leadership process puts forth the importance of human relationships as the vehicle by which ultimately success or failure happens.  Leadership as this idea of collective accomplishment—which was so palpable at graduation and through the accomplishments of Wendy, Jaime and Jonathan.

Leadership “emerges out of a dynamic complex environment that always involves others” (Kilburg & Donahue, 2011).  As we get ready for a full 2012 spring term of courses and projects, I am looking forward to that collective leadership journey ahead.