Todd has over 15 years experience as an Interaction Designer and Strategic Design consultant including positions as Creative Director at Disney Mobile, Designer at Walt Disney Imagineering R&D, and consultant for a wide range of clients. His projects have included UI design for streaming music and video services, Mobile Application Design, UI/UX design for games and online services designed for families. His current and past clients include: Disney, FUEL Industries, Mattel, DreamWorks Animation and IKEA.Todd graduated with a B.S. Product Design from Art Center College of Design in 1996.
1/ How did you get your start in social impact design.
I am an ArtCenter alum with a degree in Product Design and have been teaching part time for approx. 12 years. I worked on traditional product design projects for the first few years of my career but then began to focus on digital interface work as Interaction Design became an emerging field. I’ve been working in Interaction Design, as opposed to physical product design, for at least 16-17 years.
With regards to social impact design; I think many designers have an idealistic side and want the projects they work on to make a difference in the world. This was something that was of interest to me during my student days at ArtCenter. Designmatters did not exist at that time. If the program had been around, I would have definitely wanted to participate in Designmatters studio projects. My professional work has not had a strong social impact component in the past. However, I would love to be involved in more projects that do. My experience working on the Blue Hope project with the Designmatters Dept. and the Aquarium of the Pacific was very rewarding.
2/ Was there a moment, personally or professionally, that made you realize that design does indeed make a difference?
I’ve always believed that design can make a difference, going back to my time as a student at ArtCenter. However, having kids and watching the way they learn and experience the world has made the importance of good, thoughtful design seem very tangible. You realize that everything a child encounters can be designed thoughtfully – or poorly – without regard for the impact on its end-user. This can make a difference in someone’s life.
3/ How have you seen students change throughout the course of Designmatters studio? What have they taught you?
Designmatters studios allow students to learn in a very direct way, by observing first-hand the impacts of their creative work on “real” people. This helps Designmatters students stay very engaged with their projects throughout the class and push hard to deliver the most meaningful finished work. The subject matter and the lessons learned are likely to form a lasting impression that will (hopefully) influence the way students work after their time at ArtCenter is finished. As an instructor, any time you have a high-energy class full of motivated students, you can’t help but be inspired to learn along with the students in the class.
4/ Describe the students that participate in Designmatters – how are they similar, different?
The students that participate in Designmatters studios have made a decision to take the class, so they are a self-selecting group of students who show up to class interested in making a difference and ready to get to work. The level of dedication and interest seems pretty consistent regardless of the student’s major or prior background.
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?
In my experience with the Blue Hope project, our sponsor was very engaged and worked closely with the studio. The lesson plan and schedule needed to be able to adapt a little bit as the class progressed. However, we discussed so many substantive issues, and received so much valuable input from our partners, that I wouldn’t say creating a curriculum was more difficult. It was a very positive and engaging experience.
6/ What issues of social concern are close to your heart?
I have 2 young kids and as a result have been focused on early childhood education. Watching children develop and learn, you can’t help but see the opportunities for design to provide a benefit in all aspects of their life. Bad design can be harmful, or at least it can be a missed opportunity.
One thing I think about a great deal is the increasing loss of connection with the natural world during childhood. This starts early in child’s life if they are surrounded by too much screen based media and structured learning at an very young age. Young kids today seem to spend a lot more time in front of screens, and less time outside exploring and playing than was the case when I was young. I think the topic of inspiring childhood development and creative learning could inspire countless design projects.
7/ What is the key to truly embrace social responsibility and not just give it perfunctory lip-service?
In the Interaction Design Program, we run a class each year called Play Studio. The goal is to create interactive experiences that keeps user’s engaged a playful way. (Social Responsibility is not required in Play Studio, but it is obviously welcome.)
The great thing about the format of this class is that student’s have to play test their projects in front of users early and often. There is no way to fake or intellectualize “Play.” The projects either work or they don’t. Either way, students learn something valuable.
I believe the Designmatters studios have a lot in common with this approach to learning. If the projects created in a Designmatters studio make a difference, their impact can quickly be observed by the students that created them. For designers, seeing first hand the impact of your creative work is extremely motivating. I think being able to see the impact that creative work can have on “real people” – as opposed to reading or talking about it as an abstract concept in the classroom – is key to getting design students to embrace the concept of socially responsible design.