Riley Gish


“I find myself constantly trying to incorporate my passion for social impact work into my pieces and I believe searching for those avenues is what makes my work unique.”

Why ArtCenter? Why Designmatters?

When I was in high school my counselor set up a meeting for me to chat with Nicola Vruwink, it was there she told me all about ArtCenter and more importantly, Designmatters. I new I wanted to incorporate my art with social impact work. I just never thought a program so perfectly specific to that existed, so I knew ArtCenter was for me.

Describe your design aesthetic. What makes your work unique?

At this stage in the game, I wouldn’t say I’ve developed a unique personal style quite yet. However, I do believe I have the ability to stretch my thinking beyond the realm of illustration, whether that’s with odd and eccentric media like hair and dirt or creating a plush cabbage that teaches about photosynthesis. Even within my normal classes I find myself constantly trying to incorporate my passion for social impact work into my pieces and I believe searching for those avenues is what makes my work unique.

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

Social impact design is aesthetic problem solving which provokes positive change or impact on an individual, community or society ultimately resulting in positive change or provoking individuals to step up, creating their own positive impact.

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?

To be honest I haven’t had the opportunity to take any TDS courses. I’m still pretty new to the Designmatters concentration but I’m really looking forward to experiencing what it means to collaborate with other designers in the hopes of creating something that can provoke real change or awareness.

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.

Prior to ArtCenter I went to Guatemala for two weeks with a group of people my age and some mentors. There I stayed with a host family and partnered up with other people my age that lived in Guatemala. We all volunteered at a hospital for mentally disabled individuals, harvested coffee from my host family’s coffee farm and completed a series of reforestation projects. The most important thing I gathered from that experience, and something I have learned through my Designmatters studies at ArtCenter, is that it wasn’t about us helping them. It was about learning from the Guatemalans about how we could listen to each other, bind our liberation, as Lilla Watson says, and promote change by working together.

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?

I would love to see the Designmatters concentration target the issue of poor self esteem in young girls and women. Having struggled with this since adolescence, I think it is an issue in America that is being vastly overlooked and I believe it affects a lot more individuals than our society realizes. I decided a year or two ago that I was going to dedicate myself and my art to creating a world in which girls feel liberated and confident with who they are and can be role models to future generations of girls in the hopes of raising a society of healthy and successful women.

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?

The compassion and the high of a truly altruistic action is one greater than I have ever experienced. It provides your designs with meaning and substance, which will set you apart from every other designer. And last, you will make connections with people that far surpass a depth and meaning you’ve ever thought possible and experiencing those interaction will become addictive and help you understand your own reason and place in this world.