Student Spotlight: Lori Nishikawa

Product Design

“Social impact is about being aware of of our boundaries and opportunities to start bridging the gap through a deeper understanding of other’s needs.”

Why ArtCenter? Why Designmatters?

What our world needs and what we design should always work in parallel. ArtCenter forces you to hone in on technical skills that I need for the industry while Designmatters helps me focus on applying my skills to these relevant problems that I believe are worth our time and effort.

This program is that catalyst that creates opportunities for me to collaborate with others of the same passion and different backgrounds to begin to understand and start to think about potential solutions to these wicked problems that we face.

Describe your design aesthetic. What makes your work unique?

My goal has never been about achieving any caliber of individuality or innovation. The principles that I have for the projects I work on looks to:

1. Solving problems worth solving.

2. Regarding the entire problem through the lens of others and the environment.

3. Understanding the levels of impact of the new design (affordability, scalability, etc.).

What makes the projects that I work on unique has always been the communities of people involved. The creative, positive and resilient attitude of each unique group of people and their need comes through and is unique to each project.

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

Social impact is about being aware of of our boundaries and opportunities to start bridging the gap through a deeper understanding of other’s needs. It means being aware of how we and what we create can affect something socially, economically and environmentally.

My goal is to learn how to leverage the process of social awareness to focus on real world projects in order to improve systems or products that no longer serve the people and environment of the 21st century. We are living in one of the most exciting and most devastating times where we will be forced to find a balance between humanity and the natural world we live in. Working towards improving the lives of the people and the environment that is by far the most fulfilling thing I could imagine spending my life doing.

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?

I’ve been lucky to have taken multiple TDS courses under Design Matters. I have worked on “The Nike Girl Effect” with a cross disciplinary team of two designers and two Yale MBA students. We explored opportunities to create innovative, affordable and accessible products and systems for impoverished girls across the globe.

One example was the Safe Ninos Project. For 2 weeks, I worked with an amazing group of 12 designers to co­create and learn from the children, parents, doctors and all stakeholders in Santiago, Chile.

­ “We lived and breathed the same space as the patients, their families and the doctors for two weeks. The deep immersion of culture allowed us to not only see how kind and sincere the COANIQUEM community was, but the nuances of how one small detail of an idea would affect their day to day activities. We were able to observe, co­create and actively learn from the people in COANIQUEM. We all had the same vision ­ to make COANIQUEM a better place. And because of that, we were able to engage on an extremely deep level and work together in a way I’ve never experienced before at ArtCenter. When it comes to social impact projects, understanding the people always comes first, especially working across cultures. The most difficult hurdle was understanding my limitations. Sometimes you have to ask yourself the hard questions, which might…”

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 have recently started to integrate myself into more community based projects. My partner in Safe Ninos, Alvin Oei, has created an amazing social impact club called ArtReach. The mindset of this club, is why wait? We are lucky and privileged enough to be equipped with skills and thoughts that we can start to use RIGHT NOW.

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?

Designmatters does a great job choosing the right partners who can allow us to create with more freedom and who are excited to co­-create with us along the way. I think that if there are more organizations that forces students to think about the environment as they relate to people and the environment then we can really start to head somewhere. We should have teachers like Heidrun come in and prompt us to think about how our execution can become more sustainable and use better materials. Maybe even policy makers come in and give us the more realistic view of how our projects would need approvals and what boundaries we need to work around. Often times we have a simple design brief and we can go out and imagine endless possibilities. ArtCenter studios have done an amazing job at giving us that creative freedom. But in social impact design of any sort I think we need to be educated on the realistic expectations of cost, environmental effects, phasing, approvals, grant opportunities and good design holistically.

In addition, I think that we should have a required Humanities class for Global Awareness that reviews all the major problems OUTSIDE of the design world ranging from economics, environment, social, politics and more. I think that we must try to eliminate as much assumption as we can by fostering knowledge and understanding of current events. We can only design for the things we are aware of. Designmatters team has done an amazing job fostering the relationships for the projects that are brought to ArtCenter, but it’s students who will have to be tapped into the network and create those connections once we graduate from school. Unfortunately, given the culture of ArtCenter, we are barely aware of what exists outside our own walls. I think that if students began to understand the issues going on today, then we can ask the difficult questions that change how ArtCenter students design, and who we design for.

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?

1. Makes you ask the difficult questions

2. Solve relevant problems

3. Like­minded people

If you sign up for a class that focuses on something you believe in and work with . We were able to engage on an extremely deep level and work together in a way I’ve never experienced before at ArtCenter.

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

Designmatters has allowed me to work on amazing projects with people who are open to letting us explore and reject the status quo.

I’m looking for opportunities at hybrid workplaces that have a strong diversity of people who are thoughtful creators and seek ways of helping others in the most impactful way. The best projects that I’ve worked have been in Designmatters transdisciplinary studios. Hopefully, my career post­ArtCenter will allow me to work with others from different backgrounds and who believe in the same purpose.