Faculty Profile: Brian Rea

Faculty, Illustration

Brian Rea is illustrator, artist and art director, living in Los Angeles. He studied at MICA and worked for  5 years at the New York Times as an art director for the Op-Ed page. Brian now heads a boutique studio in LA, producing work for various clients in film, fashion, mural and installation, and newspaper and magazine.


1/ How did you get your start in social impact design.

I’ve come in through the back door on social impact design. The longer I worked at the newspaper, the more familiar I became with things outside of my work and as an artist. When I came to Los Angeles, Casey Caplow at GOOD Magazine asked me to come in and guest art direct on an issue or two. They’re all about social awareness and good causes around the world. Working with them is amazing. Obviously, it opened my eyes to a lot more opportunities for artists and raised my awareness to what’s going on in the world.

2/ Was there a moment, personally or professionally, that made you realize that design does indeed make a difference?

We have the opportunity to change the world every day in the design in our lives and in the way that we conduct ourselves as human beings. We make the mistake of patting ourselves on the back too often. We’ve been sold the term “design” for grand purposes. However, those people that are changing the world aren’t the ones posting their awards to Instagram or Facebook, they’re the ones in their studios, producing. Those are the people who should be commended. But they’re too busy working, so let’s not disturb them!

3/ How have you seen students change throughout the course of Designmatters studio? What have they taught you?

The client oftentimes places students in real-life scenarios, so students change their thinking and understanding of what’s possible and impossible. When a client changes their mind of something, or backpedals on something – those learning outcomes are really good.

The Designmatters classes, too, are really good for the teachers. It forces us to evaluate how they teach a class, and it gives us awareness of the dynamics of bringing in a client into an educational arena, where everyone has a different agenda. The majority of students have not been in that position before, and the teacher is almost art directing this team, making sure the clients expectations are being met while still upholding educational value. As the teacher, you choreograph that dance.

4/ Describe the students that participate in Designmatters – how are they similar, different?

The ideal student comes in with a lot of energy and excitement, with a willingness to try different things and a willingness to fail and fail big, but still recover and rebound and try to get to a place with their work that they’ve never been before.

5/ Designmatters is not a conventional classroom experience; does that make it easier or harder for you as an instructor to develop curriculum or create an overall lesson plan?

The best classes are where the teachers have managed to weave each assignment into the next assignment, so they learn something from each step and bring that to the next assignment they’re doing. The Designmatters classes, where you embed an assignment, are really effective. I think it’s best when the students can get charged about an assignment, topic or theme.

6/ What issues of social concern are close to your heart?

Probably anything that has to do with the ocean and the environment. I’m an environmental nerd! I grew up in New England – so for me, the environment is everything. It’s one of the main reasons I moved to Calfironia: I can live in this big city, and it’s a biodiversity hotspot! It has every kind of climate, all within a two-hour drive from LA.

7/ What is the key to truly embrace social responsibility and not just give it perfunctory lip-service?

There are so many committees and design groups that will put on a lecture, or film, or conference about this thing or that, and you wonder if any of it is actually effecting change. I think it’s more about how we behave and how we carry ourselves ,and the patterns that we live in our lives, than designing the best possible poster to raise awareness around an issue.

So many voices being thrown at us with opinions about the world that we become hardened and it all becomes advertising and lecturing rather than spurring behavioral change.