Not Another Year in Review

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December 31, 2010

As I sit down to write the final blog entry of the year, I am making a conscious decision to resist compiling another trite “year in review” about what we have been up to with Designmatters at Art Center.

The truth is that the collective milestones we hit in 2010 are many in number, vast in scope, and often pretty extraordinarily consequential in impact.  When I run through a mental log of individual student journeys, staff, faculty and alumni accomplishments, presentations, publications, exhibitions, and project outcomes implemented with our partner organizations, I am quickly overwhelmed and humbled by the sheer power and complexity of it all.

What dwells on, as I look forward to the year to come, are two key and interrelated concepts that were ubiquitous throughout the year, and in turn inform everything we are about: optimism and relevance.  As I attempt to anticipate what new opportunities we might embrace, and what challenges we might fence off, these come up again and again.

Optimism–which is an idea so deeply entrenched in the definition of design itself–I always like to refer to Herbert Simon’s profoundly significant framing of design in The Sciences of the Artificial: “devising courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.”  And relevance–which is a concept so influential when you are striving to drive educational projects that are imbued with both at once a pedagogical and social impact mission.

I was taken by an insightful editorial in a recent issue of The Economist about Globalization entitled “The Redistribution of Hope,” that canvassed some of the major forces at work in the world today.  It captures how “optimism is on the move—with important consequences for the hopeful and the hopeless” and goes on to expose how much more vital it is turning out to be in emerging economies where it challenges the status quo, rather than in our more cushioned “1st world” societies.  The piece includes a testimonial by Nandan Nilekani who now heads India’s government technology committee and was the inspiring chairman of Infosys. He comments on the greatest achievement of his company being not that of producing technology but “redefining the boundaries of the possible.”

Here’s to us all having the strength and courage to pursue that impetus of shattering boundaries in 2011.  Certainly for us with Designmatters at the college the stakes are high: we are entering into the 10th year of this college-wide program, we are embarking into the 1st full year of granting our undergraduate students the option to pursue a course of study for The Designmatters Concentration in Art and Design for Social Impact, and we will welcome the 1st and early cohort of students for the new Media Design Matters Track MFA by fall.   So here’s also to optimism, full on!