15 Years of Partnerships: Reflections from a Designmatters Case Study Writer

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Brenda Rees, writer March 28, 2016


brenda reesAs case study writer for Designmatters, I am in a unique situation to observe how students and instructors grow creatively and professionally during the 14 weeks of a typical Designmatters studio. I’m on site at the beginning, middle and end of the course, witnessing the milestones that both students and instructors achieve. In a way, I’m like the grandparent that only comes to the family for those big occasions, leaving the parents (instructors) to do the day-to-day work of imparting wisdom, encouraging reflection, advising on details and overseeing progress.

I’m cautious at the beginning (“How are the students going to tackle this issue/problem?”), curious at the midterm (“Wonder what big ideas will be presented today?”) and then amazed at the final (“Wow! How did they come up with that?”).

While each studio presents a distinct design challenge, what impresses me most is the overall optimism that exudes from Designmatters sponsors, students and instructors. Not Pollyanna pie-in-the-sky cheeriness, but rather enthusiasm that stems from a firm belief that even big crises have workable solutions and that nothing is impossible if you dive deeply into the issues, effectively collect and interpret data, and surround yourself with creative people.

This is human ingenuity at its finest and celebrated every time a Designmatters instructor reveals a new curriculum and when light bulbs turn on for students eager to make a difference. My “visits” to the Designmatters classrooms are reassuring to me on many levels, especially in our often fragmented and easily disenchanted society. Entering a Designmatters classroom is a reassuring peek into the possible future where human, plant and animal life will indeed be allowed to thrive because young people are willing and able to put creative thoughts and actions together for a common cause.


Brenda Rees is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Pasadena Magazine, Arroyo Monthly Magazine and Westways among others. She enjoys writing about art, architecture, gardening, offbeat locations and people as well as wildlife on her blog, Southern California Wildlife.

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