Social Innovation Perspectives in Humanities & Sciences

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Susannah Ramshaw, Associate Director, Designmatters February 6, 2017

Designmatters has been fortunate to collaborate closely with the Humanities & Sciences Department at ArtCenter throughout our 15-year history at the College.

We have engaged remarkable faculty and guest experts in our signature Transdisciplinary Studios (TDS) to share their wealth of knowledge around design ethnography, research methods and historical and cultural context with our students.

In 2016, our goal as a department was to increase curricular programming with H&S to engage more early-term students in thought-provoking and academically sound courses with a social innovation lens. Thanks to generous funding from the Autodesk Foundation, our goal was realized, and then some: these popular courses are on track to become a part of the regularly-offered Designmatters Humanities & Sciences curriculum.


photo by Kate Manos

Building off the success of the Summer 2016 “How to Build a Social Enterprise Workshop,” Designmatters brought social entrepreneur and designer Matthew Manos on as faculty in Fall 2016 to pilot a 12-week H&S course focused on the development of social enterprises. In the course, students explore socially impactful business models, develop prototypes, validate their concepts, and encapsulate their findings into short, effective pitches.
brandmattersDesignmatters also collaborated with H&S faculty Sherry Hoffman to offer a new section of her popular Branding Strategies course, which altered its focus slightly to brand for mission-driven organizations. Students created “brand bibles” for organizations of their choosing, and the 12-week course culminated in a re-branding of the Chiapas Project, a social enterprise project run by high school students at the Oakwood High School with artisans from Chiapas, Mexico.


“By embedding a course on Social Entrepreneurship under the umbrella of the Humanities & Science department, we have been able to prove that the design of business is not just a job for traditional business schools. As a class, we discover the notion that success in business is not exclusively measured by financial return. Instead, inventing socially responsible business is a practice that can be a significant contributor to the cultural record.”

– Matthew Manos, Faculty, Humanities & Science,  Founder of verynice

“I am thrilled to be teaching Brandmatters! I went through a similar trajectory in my professional life, going from a purely commercial focus to a more strategic alignment between our corporate goals and those of society. By aligning my Branding Strategies class more closely with Designmatters, a sense of relevancy and importance has entered into the classroom, informing and deepening our conversations, and thus investing each of us more in the work. I now look at every aspect of the class through a lens of social impact or xyz “that matters”. For me, ultimately it is about holding both the realities of the world with the positive possibilities for the future.”

– Sherry Hoffman, Faculty, Humanities & Sciences

“As a Teaching Assistant, I was pleased to discover that my liberal arts degree in design and cultural anthropology was complementary to Sherry’s background in marketing and business. As we formulated assignments and planned classes, I saw more and more how vital these perspectives are to a social impact design education. I couldn’t believe more in the importance of borrowing frameworks from the humanities to bring criticality and context to the work we do as designers.”

– RJ Sakai, MFA Candidate, Media Design Practices / Field