15 Years of Student Experience: Benjamin Weiss #DM15Yrs

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Benjamin Weiss February 25, 2016

Time to celebrate!


WeissCropBW_SMALLIt’s early 2016 and two fantastic institutions just turned fifteen years old. One is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. The other is Designmatters, the social impact design department at ArtCenter.

Designmatters has brought to my education what Wikipedia has brought to the internet: A whole lot of congenial and collaborative awesomeness that I would not want to miss for the world.

Designmatters’ trans-disciplinary studios foster a spirit of true inter-disciplinary collaboration, where people out of all different ArtCenter majors congregate into studio-classes to learn and succeed as a team. Students get to work off design briefs for actual, real world clients, who are serious about making a difference in the world.

For both students and faculty involved, I witnessed this process to be highly transformational and it provides a pretty adequate simulation of working at an actual design firm.

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Video Still from the “Where’s Daryl?” campaign film

Designmatters did two things for me personally: Not only was my Designmatters Concentration the ideal training ground to what seems to have become a successful career as a filmmaker, but also — and more importantly — I got to apply my talents to something that felt like it had real purpose and relevance.

I made a film about Where’s Daryl?, the gun violence prevention campaign at LAUSD, I worked on two visionary storytelling assignments for the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific and I got to make a film for Homeboy Industries, the world’s most successful gang-intervention program and probably the coolest social enterprise out there.

Better yet, all of those projects led to actual work after graduating from ArtCenter: I got hired to make six more short documentaries for Homeboy, I traveled the US to interview the world’s leading Ocean Explorers for the Aquarium, and the piece on Where’s Daryl? will be exhibited at the Smithsonian this year.

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Mind-mapping a campaign to raise awareness about ocean exploration during the TDS “Deep Future” Summer 2013

All of this would not have been possible without the amazing and unforgettable people who were part of Designmatters while I was there:

Congratulations to Marianna Amatullo, the department’s visionary founder, who — with a trademark mix of astounding generosity and insisting severity — is both a great institutional leader and an invaluable teacher. My heartfelt thanks go to the team at the Designmatters office, especially Helen Cahng, Jennifer May and Steven Butler for all the genuine dedication and impeccable work they have brought to the table. And last but not least I want to express my indelible and undying gratitude to Elisa Ruffino, the department’s former director, who has been an awesome collaborator, cherished benefactor and true friend. I can’t thank you enough.

It is through initiatives like Designmatters that the rubber hits the road and designers can actively take part in making the world a better place, one project at a time. One can only hope that more art and design schools around the world will have a department like Designmatters one day.

That said, I think it might be time for Designmatters to get a Wikipedia entry.

Here’s to the next 15 years!


Born and raised in Switzerland, Benjamin Weiss (BFA Film ’14) is a director and storyteller, who graduated with a Designmatters Concentration. During his final term, he was a Designmatters Fellow at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. Benjamin lives between Zürich and Los Angeles. His portfolio can be found here: www.mattogrosso.tv

Help us celebrate 15 Years of Designmatters by using the hashtag #DM15Yrs

Catch up on the entire campaign at  designmattersatartcenter.org/category/dm15 

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#DM15yrs campaign designed by Vina Rostomyan