15 Years of Alumni Accomplishments: Wendy MacNaughton

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Wendy MacNaughton April 20, 2016


WMac_0136_cropI loved my education at ArtCenter. But there was something profoundly lacking. I graduated in 1999 and during my 14 terms I don’t remember much discussion about how art and design can be used to promote social change. I don’t remember any talk about how we – as newly minted artists and designers – were in fact creating culture, and the responsibilities that came along with that. When I graduated, I had no idea that all the skills and thinking I’d learned could be used for anything else other than making things “new and improved.”

This was, of course, before Designmatters was created.

And so post-ArtCenter I found my own way to this understanding. Fed up with my job in advertising creatively selling beer and chicken, I quit and worked with non-profits and foundations in the US and internationally. I went back to school to get a masters in social work to learn the skills that this work showed me I was lacking. In a sense, I created my own social design education. When I heard about a fledgling program at ArtCenter called Designmatters, I immediately made an appointment to meet with the program’s leader Mariana Amatullo. Thus began an exciting, impactful and productive relationship that has lasted over 10 years and continues to this day. Together we have worked on health education projects in rural Northern Kenya, created campaigns to promote women’s reproductive health in Los Angeles, and most recently, helped introduce a new class in ArtCenter’s Illustration Department around graphic journalism.

© 2013 Wendy MacNaughton for LEAP Symposium hi res colordesignernotes

Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton for the 2013 Leap Symposium held at ArtCenter College of Design

I now go by the term “illustrator’ or “graphic journalist” but in fact what I do is a combination of art, advertising  and social work. I use tools from all of these fields to research and tell true stories in visual form. When they work, these stories cultivate interest, empathy and encourage connection. Designmatters and I share many ideologies and methodologies – ethnographic research, empowerment- based practice, advocacy and user-centered approach. Though the fields of design, art, social work, advertising and journalism use different languages to describe their process, when we’re at our best we’re all trying to accomplish something similar: with every creative act, we hope to push people in a purposeful, positive direction. We want to leave the world better than we started. In its fifteen groundbreaking years, with Mariana at its helm, Designmatters has most certainly accomplished this goal.



Wendy MacNaughton is an illustrator. She draws for publications like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Print Magazine. Her training and experience as both an artist and social worker helped her develop a unique form of visual storytelling: Documentary Illustration. Often drawing in places where cameras can’t go, she’s done in-depth stories on everything from underground gambling houses in Chinatown to music programs in maximum security Folsom Prison. An anthology of her work “Meanwhile in San Francisco, The City in Its Own Words” will be published as a book by Chronicle Books in 2014. She is also the illustrator and co-author of several books, including: Lost Cat, A True Story of Love, Desperation and GPS Technology (Bloomsbury); The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Wine Tasting (Houghton Mifflin); Pen & Ink, Tattoos and The Stories Behind them (Bloomsbury). She’s also a proud graduate of ArtCenter (FA99).

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

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#DM15yrs campaign designed by Vina Rostomyan