USA, Pasadena, Designmatters at Art Center College of Design

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Starts: 22 March, 2016
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Instructors: USA, Pasadena, Designmatters at Art Center College of Design
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Desis Lab: Designmatters at ArtCenter College of Design

City: Country: United States of America

Coordinator: Jennifer May, Director, Designmatters Department,

DESIS Designmatters Lab cofounder: Mariana Amatullo, Associate Professor, Management and Design Strategies, Parsons, The New School. 

Operational Manager
: Susannah Ramshaw, Associate Director, Designmatters Department,

Address: 1700 Lida Street, Pasadena, CA, USA, 91103
Tel: +00 1.626.396.2462, Fax: +00 1.626.396.2339

Hosting Institution: ArtCenter College of Design
1700 Lida Street, Pasadena, CA, USA, 91103
Tel: +00 1.626.396.2418, Fax: +00 1.626.396.2339

Background and Objectives

Designmatters is where art and design education meets social change. Since 2001, Designmatters at ArtCenter College of Design has afforded the college’s degree students meaningful opportunities to apply their creativity and tool-box of skills to address some of the most pressing humanitarian and social challenges of our time with empathy, discipline, and unwavering optimism to effect change. Through Designmatters, ArtCenter students, faculty and alumni participate in trans-disciplinary studio courses, special projects and international internships that are defined by aesthetic value, business acumen and an expansive agenda for social innovation.

The Department helps conceive an average of three original transdisciplinary elective courses every academic term; manages the Designmatters Fellowship program; oversees the Designmatters Minor for undergraduate students who choose to specialize in social innovation design in close collaboration with chairs; and collaborates with the Media Design Practices Field Track chair and staff in managing the UNICEF Innovation partnership that informs the field experience offered within this MFA curriculum.

In its 16-year history, Designmatters has seen significant growth in its scope, reach and activities. It evolved from a program comprised of an initial satellite set of highly curated courses, publications and special initiatives investigating the intersection of art and design education and societal issues, to a fully-integrated academic department at the college, one that 5% of the undergraduate entering student body cites in admissions surveys as a differentiator in their decision to choose the College for their education.

Primary Research Areas and Activities 

The Designmatters portfolio engages all of the disciplines taught at ArtCenter under the mantle of a definition for design that always presupposes an actionable, positive outcome. Designmatters collaborates closely with partners, faculty, and students to use the power of art and design to address complex challenges in the areas of:

  • Sustainable Development
  • Public Policy
  • Global Health
  • Social Entrepreneurship

These areas of broad inquiry present four organizational lenses that were established early in the history of the Designmatters to consider a diversity of areas of study and research with fields of knowledge that present unique potential for innovation at the edges of many disciplines.

List of Projects and Research

Recent projects of significance have included:

  1. Safe Niños, 2016. Funded by Coaniquem, Venturewell, and the Autodesk Foundation
    Designing innovative, engaging and healing environments to reinvigorate the 6-acre campus of Coaniquem, a pediatric burn treatment facility in Santiago, Chile, that would be welcoming and therapeutic for patients, their families, doctors and staff.
  2. Communicating the Wellbeing of a City with Santa Monica, 2017. Funded by Office of Civic Wellbeing City Manager’s Office, City of Santa Monica
    This community initiative developed innovative transmedia design campaigns that would communicate a shared understanding of the community’s strengths and needs, encourage collaboration among city leaders and local organizations, and improve a collective sense of wellbeing for all citizens of Santa Monica.
  3. Aquarium of the Pacific: Resilient Cities, 2017. Funded by National Endowment for the Arts and The Aquarium of the Pacific
    An engaging educational exhibit that was designed to effectively communicate a call to action for the residents of Long Beach and other coastal cities for resiliency in the face of climate change.
  4. Where’s Daryl? Educational System, 2013. Funded by Sappi Fine Paper
    An anti-gun violence educational toolkit for educators and middle-school youth. The program emphasizes prevention and asks youth to consider their assumptions about guns and discuss the real negative impacts they can have on their lives and goals.

Please see the full portfolio of Designmatters past and present projects at


Project partners and funders include a broad scope of international development organizations such as UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and the American Red Cross, government agencies such as the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, industry leaders such as GE Healthcare, and national foundations such as the Lemelson Foundation, the Surdna Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts. Cross-sector academic alliances facilitated by Designmatters have involved the Engineering Department at Princeton University, the Mechanical Engineering Department at the California Institute of Technology as well as the Keck School of Medicine, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, among others.

Please see the full list of partners and networks at:


Select publications include:

  • Safe Niños – Design for Holistic Healing, 2016
  • LEAP Dialogues: Career Pathways in Design for Social Innovation, 2016
  • Unleashing the Girl Effect, 2015
  • Connective Tissue: Arthritis Foundation Book, 2014
  • The Safe Agua Colombia Book, 2014
  • Where’s Daryl? Teacher’s Guide, 2013
  • The Uncool Process Book, 2013
  • Teen Art Park, 2012
  • Es Tiempo, 2010

Please see the full list of publications at: