Storyboard: Matt Ravenelle

Serving humanity through design

I grew up in a family of physical therapists. My brother and I, being creatives, were the odd ones out. And yet, there was always a shared understanding that whatever we did as a family was intended to help people.

In certain areas of the medical profession, there is an emphasis on nurturing as a cognitive tool. I believe the same is true in design. Ultimately, we’re making things for human use. Seeing my parents’ commitment to their occupation impacted me deeply at a young age. In that regard, I wasn’t exactly going against the family profession. I was still helping people out – just in a different way.

My parents were always understanding of the dreams my brother and I harbored. My mother in particular is one of the most loving individuals I’ve ever known. Knowing that they never wanted to be as restrictive as their parents had been, my mom and dad gave my brother and me free reign to pursue our creative interests. We were definitely the black sheep of our clan, but they supported our aspirations even when they didn’t totally comprehend them.

I always understood that creative work – drawing, designing, etc. – is and was a foundational stepping-stone for greater things. During the latter half of high school, I started taking ArtCenter Saturday High classes, after my cousin told me about their Product Design program.

The notion of helping people has always been at the core of my artistic philosophy. I want people to be able to flourish and thrive through what I create. A lot of that has to do with my faith. I’m a Christian, and my values have always informed my work. I became a Christian after high school and the idea of “servanthood” always stuck with me – serving a higher power and contributing to the greater good of humanity – is something I try to embody through the way I carry myself and the type of work I do.

I began taking Product Design classes at ArtCenter in addition to a couple of Transportation credits. Quickly, I realized I didn’t want to pursue a career in Transportation Design. After all, there were only so many cars I could sketch a day. Product Design, on the other hand, was a medium through which I could affect other people’s relationships to the world we all share.

ArtCenter encourages its students to go against the grain, which is important in any creative medium. For me, that means focusing on the human aspects of design equally if not more than “pragmatism” or “efficiency”. Our values should dictate what we create. Practicality isn’t the only thing we should be designing for. There are other “needs”: designing for inspirations sake, arts sake, or beauty's sake, for cultural stewardship, or for people’s emotional needs. There are many other human needs that go past our physiological needs that are equally important to be designing for.

I feel as though pragmatism has brought us – to some extent – into a fragmented society. I was cognizant of the divide that technology could create even as a child. Growing up, my family had two gigantic flat screen TVs in my conjoined living room/dining room. They were on all the time, even during meals. It’s painful to consider the memories we could have made, had the TV not been on in the background. This is an example of design that deepens the gap between us, as opposed to bridging it. With my work, I aim to do the opposite: everything I touch is meant to enrich our inherent humanity, not dissociate us from it. 

We live in a world where we are growing more disconnected from one another with each passing day. It has become easier to numb, escape, or distract ourselves from what’s most important in our lives. Smart phones and social media have been a pervasive part of our cultural fabric for some time now. The designed nature of social media means the user exists in a bubble. Granted, I don’t want to burst the bubble. I just want to implore people to resist abusing emerging technology and not forget the essentials of what makes us human.

Matthew Ravenelle
BS 18 Product Design
Industrial Design Contractor

Servanthood – serving a higher power and contributing to the greater good of humanity – is something I try to embody through the way I carry myself and the type of work I do.

Matt Ravenelle
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