15 Years of Impact: The Designmatters Initiative “In the World”

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Adele Bass April 7, 2016

Designmatters was founded in 2001 with a college-wide task force of staff, faculty, and alumni. Its launch was part of a vision to bring a renewed infusion of innovation and global engagement into the fabric of the college during the administration of President Richard Koshalek. Co-founders Erica Clark, ArtCenter’s former Senior VP International Initiatives and Mariana Amatullo, Designmatters current VP of Designmatters, worked with a rotating group of colleagues who volunteered their time to define a vision, mission statement and framework of initial activities. The task force was dissolved once the program got off and running.


It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since the inception of the Designmatters program. In the wake of the World Trade Center bombing, everyone was scrambling for a way to respond to the new cultural climate and improve the human condition. Coincidentally launched a few months after the tragedy in December 2001, I believe that the Designmatters initiative represented ArtCenter’s timely response and a way to effect positive change worldwide.


photo: Mayte Delgado

As an alumni twice over at ArtCenter, undergrad and grad, as well as a teacher here, I’m proud to have been a part of the Designmatters initiative. I’ve always had a desire to make a positive impact in the world, and I jumped at the chance to participate in ArtCenter’s process. There was intense competition to be a part of this historic committee, and I was honored to be accepted as a founding member.

Preliminary findings of a student survey we conducted in 2001, found that 80% of students wanted to participate in national and international design projects with a social and humanitarian focus. That’s a big leap from ArtCenter’s original mission. Edward “Tink” Adams was an advertising man and he founded Artcenter to supply workers to industry and employ veterans returning from WWII. Since that time, design has become more than just a tool for advertising. We’ve been a leader in the field since we opened our doors over 80 years ago, so it’s no surprise that this institution would also lead in it’s new vision for the future.

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ArtCenter students creating a stop motion animation in the 2003 Graduate Media Design Dept. United Nations Studio

The first task of the committee was to name and define the role of the Designmatters initiative. I was tasked with creating and maintaining the timeline and calendar for the project. The working title was “In the World”. Over the next two years we worked to create a program that would make design a leading component in socially responsible projects and sustainable practices throughout the world. I’ve watched this initiative grow into a philosophy and concentration that allows designers to offer answers to complex problems on a global scale. In this increasingly interconnected society, we need creative solutions to the world’s problems more than ever. The Designmatters program is the beginning of a new age of creative thinking to benefit society worldwide. It is a goal worthy of our mission: Learn to create. Influence change.



Adele Bass has been a professor at the ArtCenter College of Design for the last 25 years while heading a successful communication design practice. She joined the ArtCenter faculty in1990 specializing in Typography and Lettering. She was recently featured in an article titled 15 Noteworthy Art professors in Los Angeles.

A New Yorker by birth, Adele earned a B.A. in Psychology at Binghamton University, worked at Benton & Bowles, N.Y. and completed an Executive Training program in Boston before coming to California to earn a BFA  in Graphics/Packaging at ArtCenter.  She opened AB&CoDesign in her last semester of school.

Adele later earned an MFA in Media design at ArtCenter and has added website development to her diverse business offerings. Her new company, Adelévision, (pronounced like television) continues to design award-winning work for clients such as The Los Angeles Zoo, the City of Pasadena and The Aids Project, LA.

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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