A Decade That Matters:
Leading the Way in Social Innovation
Awards, Accolades and Riches
Since its founding, Designmatters projects have produced dozens of award-winning results—from Student Clios and Cannes Young Directors distinctions to Red Dot and Core 77 awards. And in May, based on the Department’s entire body of work, co-founder Amatullo received the inaugural Dell Social Innovation Education award. As an initiative, Designmatters itself has received accolades unparalleled in the academic sphere: In 2003, in recognition of Designmatters’ service to society, Art Center became the first (and remains the only) art and design school granted Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) status by the United Nations. In 2005, Art Center became the first art and design school affiliated as a Civil Member of the Organization of American States (OAS), and also earned NGO status with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Designmatters, with its innovative model for participatory design and community engagement that uniquely enhances student skill sets, gives designers tools to generate more resonant and insightful outcomes—in any context. It also provides priceless advocacy and tangible assistance for the subjects of its diverse portfolio of projects. Yet the richest outcome of any Designmatters effort is always the feeling of accomplishment in the students. Maria Moon GMDP 08, a graphic designer whose first involvement with Designmatters came as a fourth-term Graduate Media Design student, voices a common sentiment when asked about her experiences. “The projects that I have participated in have been immensely rewarding on a personal level, and have contributed significantly to my career and outlook on design.”
Now a senior user experience designer for Samsung Design America, Moon lives in New York but has remained involved with Designmatters as an alumna. In her most recent project, she collaborated on “Uncool,” an anti-gun violence campaign created and planned for implementation in the Los Angeles Unified School District within the next year. As for why she maintains ties to Designmatters after graduation and from across the country, Moon is unequivocal: “Once you understand that you can make a difference through your work, the challenge to have a positive impact in the world is too strong to ignore.”
Those are welcome words to Elisa Ruffino, who began working with the Designmatters team early on, first as coordinator and later as project producer. Now she is the Department director, with a unique perspective on this decade of growth, as well as on what the future holds.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve had a laser-like focus on the student experience,” says Ruffino. “Working within Art Center’s model of transdisciplinary studios, involving the talent of some of our highest-caliber faculty, and building a record of intensive engagement in this space over a decade has been unique and rewarding. But looking ahead, we will be building a bridge to the strong community of recent graduates and alumni who value this type of work, not just as a satisfying educational exercise, but as a professional calling.”
Ruffino plans to work closely with Alumni Relations Director Kristine Bowne to connect with alumni who are working in this space—noting that many have been doing so since before Designmatters existed—in order to extend the reach of the program and foster its goals. But she is confident that even without a formal architecture, because of their involvement at Art Center, Designmatters veterans will continue to pursue responsible, innovative and human-centered strategies that organically expand the web of social impact design.
“For many students,” says Ruffino, “these experiences take art and design practices beyond what they have meant before. It becomes like a light switched on, and many students become so intensely focused that from then on they only want to practice design in this context.”
Perhaps because, as President Kennedy believed, they have recognized design’s—and their own—greater purpose.