In Celebration of Wide Open Skies

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Elisa Ruffino July 14, 2015

In this short blog post, former Designmatters Director, Elisa Ruffino shares candid memories and insight on over a decade of experiences working with the Designmatters Department.

DM_5_update_source fileThere is nothing I will miss at Art Center more than the people: the wonderful community of creative types and outside partners who have both inspired and charmed me for the last 13 years. But second to this, I will miss a very specific magical moment that is inherent to the creative process—one which I have had the great fortune to enjoy a couple hundred times during these years. This moment usually happens during the initial meeting of a DM educational studio, when partners are first present—maybe it’s the USGS, Nike Foundation, UNFPA, Homeboy, or any one of the leading organizations with which I’ve had the privilege to work—when the agenda of the day is a download of expertise and examination of the challenge at hand. This moment—it’s not a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. This moment happens slowly. It unfolds, emerging only as the design brief comes to life. As the project’s parameters are being built like scaffolding, you begin to feel this moment approaching in an unmistakable way: the promise of infinite possibility has entered the room. Suddenly there is the palpable, intoxicating potential of “what could be.” The air is abuzz with an almost audible firing of synapses, and this is undeniably the most exciting thing for me.

Elisa at TomsThese moments feel a little like staring at a wide-open sky or an open road. The view ahead is expansive and vast, a blank canvas offering only possibility. This is where “what ifs” start percolating, where brilliant ideas can (and do!) take root; this is the moment (at least in the design process) which launches an arc that may conclude with seriously impactful, thoughtful, meaningful outcomes—and it is this moment, over and over again, that holds all the electricity. Particularly in an educational context, which is amplified by a spirit of experimentation and boldness, these moments—bolstered by project briefs from real-world partners who are tackling the world’s wicked problems—have weight and exhilarating potential that we don’t normally tap into in our day-to-day lives. Luckily for me, there has been no shortage of these moments, and the rush they bring, over this last decade. These moments are embedded in the DNA of what we do in Designmatters—and at Art Center as a whole—and if I could bottle them to keep as a talisman for lifelong fearlessness, I would.

There is an element, perhaps, in what I love about this characteristic that has emboldened me to embrace the great unknown ahead of me now. It’s true that the unknown can be unsettling, for sure, and sometimes scary. But let’s remember, it’s also where the magic is. So as I look ahead into the unknown, it is with a sense of excitement at the expanse of possibilities ahead of me. And as I embrace this, I salute my former colleagues and the fortunate community at Art Center as you enjoy and continue to thrive in these moments in the context of your daily creative lives.

With big appreciation and lots of fantastic memories, let’s all turn toward the next “wide open” challenge with great excitement for the potential of what could be…