Student Spotlight: Connie Bakshi

Environmental Design

“…it is crucial for any designer to learn how to translate design intent into tangible action.”

Why ArtCenter? Why Designmatters?

Before enrolling at ArtCenter, I’d already obtained an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and was working as an operations manager for design and advertising firms. For fun, I took a few environmental design classes through the ArtCenter At Night program and fell completely in love with the intersection of design thinking, brand strategy and spatial experience design that I discovered there. I enrolled in the Environmental Design program soon thereafter, and was later introduced to the Designmatters department through my environmental faculty. The Designmatters experience opened my eyes to the idea that all design problems are human problems at the very core. And while ArtCenter’s curriculum is one that is human-centric in its approach, DM provided the opportunity to design for human ecosystems and for a different kind of scale.

Describe your design aesthetic. What makes your work unique?

I don’t know that I have a particular aesthetic, but the common thread between most of my projects is a systems-based thought process tied in with ruthless experimentation and evocative communication. This design work is flavored by the life and professional experiences I’ve collected along the way, which include an engineering education, a business management background, and years of training as a classical musician.

What does social impact design mean to you? And why is it important to your overall design work?

Social impact design is an ecosystems-driven philosophy and process for approaching human problems. Design can’t operate in a silo. We live in a world of ripple effects, which means that for any given design proposal, we need to identity and address all stakeholders, assess both short and long term impact, and then fully understand intended and unintended consequences of our work. Because of the magnitude of process and outreach, social impact design means finding and collaborating with the right partners who share the same vision.

Designmatters TDS courses, which have you taken? And what was the biggest takeaway from those experiences? Has your design process changed since participating in a TDS studio?

Through the Safe Agua Colombia project, I found an inspiring intersection of design innovation, entrepreneurship, technology and social change. During this experience, I learned the rigorous process of inquiry that is necessary to identify the root of any given problem and then to recognize the stakeholders of the problem and the global context in which it exists. But more importantly, I found that our primary role as design entrepreneurs is that of facilitation–the dots exist between people and organizations, it is our job to connect them. This collaboration-driven approach has colored the way I work with teams and my community at home.

Besides your ArtCenter class work, have you been involved with any Social impact projects outside of the educational arena? If so, describe the work and how your social impact design education has helped you along the way.

I recently co-organized and co-led the TEDxACCD “Systems by Design” conference at ArtCenter, which focused on the very nature of collaborative design and systems thinking to create new ideas and resounding impact. The conference was organized through a student-designed TDS with twenty-three students and two faculty advisors. From the studio design to speaker curation to event design, it was an exercise in breeding cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary collaboration, and then synthesizing disparate ideas to create a unified design solution. As one of the leaders, I incorporated much of what I learned about collaborative design from my DM experiences to drive the teamwork, the process, and overall project.

Safe Agua tackled the issue of water safety, The Uncool Project was about gun violence awareness, what other issues would you like see Designmatters’ classes address? What organizations do you think we should partner up with to provide a unique TDS experience?

As an environmental designer, I’d love to see how DM classes could address issues of urban plight at home–for instance, ways that we could reinvigorate areas of the LA community through adaptive reuse of historic architecture. The Los Angeles Conservancy could be a good partner in that regard.

If you wanted to inspire a new ArtCenter student to become involved with Designmatters, what are the top 3 reasons you would give him or her?

First, new students should recognize that we are seeing the evolution of design as a practice. Social impact and sustainability are not catchphrases to be attached to projects, but are considerations that must now be fully integrated into any given design problem.

Second, it is crucial for any designer to learn how to translate design intent into tangible action. Project management, entrepreneurial leadership, teamwork, and designing for scalability–these are only a few of the skills that you inevitably develop through involvement with the program.

Last,  Designmatters classes pull you beyond your 15” monitor and virtual bubble to design for very real people and with very real stakes. This will challenge and stretch you beyond what you think you’re capable of, but you’ll become a stronger, more empathetic, and more effective designer because of it.

How do you imagine Designmatters impacting your career post-ArtCenter?

Through Designmatters, I’ve met an incredible group of like-minded people and organizations with whom I know will continue to work with post-ArtCenter. In addition, the skillset that I’ve developed through DM gives me a unique social perspective to design which I believe will be an attractive trait to future employers or clients.

Any final thoughts about the Concentration, instructors, field trips, your overall ArtCenter experience,  etc…?

The faculty and staff that DM has curated is empathetic and passionate about the issues at hand and inspire really great work out of the students. I’m ridiculously grateful to have the chance to work with the program and its projects.


To learn more about Connie and her work, please visit —>