15 Years of Faculty Engagement: Sherry Hoffman

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Sherry Hoffman March 11, 2016


Art-Center-Faculty-Sherry-Hoffman_hero_CC-150x150Through my engagement with Designmatters, I have collaborated with USGS (United States Geological Survey) in various capacities over the last 5 or 6 years. I have mostly played the role of lead facilitator and strategic partner for multiple DesignStorms, the ArkStorm Summit, and other creative workshops.

In multidisciplinary teams of students and scientists, we have explored ways to create and improve emergency messages for the forecasting of earthquakes, ways to communicate aftershock information, and ways to imagine future scenarios and strategies for a storm not experienced in the period of record. It is both a privilege and a challenge to work with scientists on such important and critical challenges.


#DM15yrs campaign designed by Vina Rostomyan

At a recent USGS workshop, we did the “30 Circles Test.” I had done this with Tim Brown and an audience of ArtCenter faculty, staff, and students at the 2008 Serious Play design conference in Pasadena. The directions are quite simple, as articulated by Tim Brown, “I want you to adapt as many of those circles as you can into objects of some form. So for example, you could turn one into a football, or another one into a sun. I want you to do as many of them as you can, in the minute that I’m just about to give you. So, everybody ready? OK? Off you go.” Tom and David Kelley explain the significance of the exercise in their book, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, “Look for the quantity or fluency of ideas. Next, look for diversity or flexibility in ideas. See if the ideas are derivative or distinct. Did anyone ‘break the rules’ and combine circles”? While designers certainly have a propensity or even predisposition for both fluency and flexibility, I have discovered that so do many of the rest of us! I believe that it is both nature and nurture. I am quite sure that I was one of those non-designer types in the audience back in 2008 that only filled out 10 out of the 30 circles and spent most of my time trying to remember the difference between a soccer ball and a basketball! I have been teaching now at ArtCenter for over 10 years and in that time I have been exposed to (and even led) the design thinking process, human-centered and collaborative, that comes quite naturally now and has shifted my approach and perspective forever.

I am excited to see how we might expand our thinking and our reach as we challenge what multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and experimental teams look like and how they act as a catalyst for social change. It is the “can do thinking” of our students, their immense capabilities, and these innovative partnerships through Designmatters that allow me to have an optimistic look at the next 15 years and the yet unrealized opportunities to be a positive force in society (#DMNext15Yrs). So with that, I join Mariana Amatullo with the resolution to “be open to the new, the different, and the true” about all that design for social innovation has to offer.


Sherry is the co-founder of March Studio, a collaboration of architects and creative marketing professionals. Previously she was a marketing executive at Y&R and Universal Studios leading major brands. Sherry developed the Branding Strategies and Advanced Branding Workshop at ArtCenter and facilitates DesignStorms with teams of designers and high profile brands. These skills enable Sherry to provide insight, critical perspective and a consistent strategic approach in the office and classroom.

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

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