ReDesign.School Roundtable Discussion: New York City / Hosted by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum / 05.29.18

On May 2nd, The Design School at ASU traveled to New York City (along with some summer weather) for our final national roundtable. We were hosted by the wonderful team at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Located in the beautifully restored Carnegie Mansion, the museum provided the perfect setting for our thought leaders to tell us their thoughts on the future of design and design education.


Caroline Baumann – Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Diane Bender – The Design School at ASU
Associate Professor- Interior Design

Todd Bracher – Todd Bracher Studio

Shashi Caan – The SC Collective
Founding Partner

Reese Campbell – Method Design

Vishaan Chakrabarti – PAU- Practice for Architecture and Urbanism

Corie Cisco – The Design School at ASU
Graduate Coordinator

Christina De León – Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Curator- U.S. Latino Design

Dag Folger – A+I: Architecture Plus Information
Founding Principal

Christine Gaspar – The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP)
Executive Director

Cheryl Heller – School of Visual Arts
Founding Chair, MFA Design for Social Innovation

Ellen Lupton – Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Senior Curator, Contemporary Design

Anita Maritz – AIGA
Associate Director- Learning & Development

Elizabeth Mayhle – SC Collective

Ben Prosky – AIANY Center for Architecture
Executive Director

Ruki Ravikumar – Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Director of Education

Cassim Shephard – S/Q Projects

Founding Partner

Jon Strassner – Humanscale
Director of Workplace Strategies

David Van Der Leer – Van Alen Institute
Executive Director

Michele Washington – Columbia University
Community Scholar

After introductions, a warm-up exercise started off the day, with participants writing down their answers to the question, “Where is design going?” 

Where is design going?

Post-it note exercise – Full Group


Ben Prosky

  • Going toward social-awareness
  • Design-thinking used for people to understand the design world- not just designers
  • Designers need to seek relevance

Jane Smith

  • Breaking boxes for the sake of breaking boxes
  • Faster
  • Commoditized

Cheryl Heller

  • Greater focus on relationships versus artifacts
  • Teaching designers skills to see things and solving them on their own
  • Bigger part in working on systems

Ellen Lupton

  • Everything is an experience
  • Visual communication integrated with products
  • Visibility and sustainability

Caroline Baumann

  • More people understanding value of design
  • More people understanding value of design
  • Technology; robotics; AR/VR/Multi-experience
  • Interdisciplinary

Michele Washington

  • More of equitable voice; inclusion beyond what’s apparent at face value
  • Getting more young students into space

Christina De León

  • Diverse and inclusive spaces
  • Diverse community of designers as well as those who experience design
  • Creativity and pushing boundaries- more understanding of materials- new ways to use existing materials

Ruki Ravikumar

  • Design going to more empathetic place
  • Diverse voices- increase diversity in field
  • Design thinking as a critical life skill

Diane Bender

  • Blurred boundaries
  • Faster
  • Research-based

Shashi Caan

  • Global- every way possible
  • Obsolescence of what we know to new possibilities
  • Transformation

Todd Bracher

  • Superficial
  • Reactionary
  • Design karaoke- lack of originality or authentic thought

Cassim Shepherd

  • Less focus on objects
  • Moving towards services; more for the public good
  • Business-integrated; in-house design

Elizabeth Mayhle

  • Global and faster everywhere
  • Business
  • Constant evolution
  • Research

Vishaan Chakrabarti

  • Ongoing struggle with relevance
  • Battle between banal and bloated
  • Need new and different voices in design

Dag Folger

  • Away from the pretty
  • To a mass market
  • To the CFO

Anita Maritz

  • Global/cross-cultural
  • Adaptive
  • Collaborative; relationships-based

Christine Gaspar

  • Watered-down
  • More integrated into other fields
  • Towards a greater diversity of people, ideas, voices
  • Have to show value/impact
    Watered down?

Jon Strassner

  • Research-driven
  • Mindfulness
  • Well-being

Overall impressions from the sticky note exercise:

  • Cassim Shepherd: Tensions between aspirations and reality- we all want design to be relevant, collaborative and inclusive, but that is not where we are today and there are major barriers
  • Todd Bracher– not sure if we could have said these things 30 years ago, maybe we’re at a good point

Attendees were then led into smaller group conversations to discuss the remaining 4 key questions.


What are the skillsets we should be teaching now?

Small Group Discussion


Cheryl Heller, Ellen Lupton, Ben Prosky and Jane Smith

  • Learning how to design is a given, but what is missing is ethics, how to present, write and understand context about your work
  • Professional practice is taught grudgingly; students often come into professional world completely lacking business skillsets or how practice works
  • This is a service industry- communication and skills of persuasion are necessary to see your ideas become reality
  • How do we make the business aspect sexy? It’s so fundamental as a practitioner.

Caroline Baumann, Christina De León, Ruki Ravikumar, and Michelle Washington

  • Leadership skills- especially to underrepresented groups; women, teaching confidence in your craft
  • Use those leadership skills to build a network, to engage with mentors, etc.
  • Learning how to learn! How to ask the right questions.
  • Teaching students to identify the problem for themselves, and then figuring out what the next steps are to find solutions

Vishaan Chakrabarti, Corie Cisco, Dag Folger and Anita Maritz

  • Communication (verbal and visual); listening
  • Design is practice for a reason- it involves lifelong learning
  • How to work in a multidisciplinary team; humility
  • Critical thinking; systems thinking
  • Crisis management- dealing with problems under high pressure
  • Emotional intelligence; empathy
  • Learning to fail
  • Keeping the generative, creative process as opposed to the regurgitative
  • Identifying inherent biases; diversity
  • How to integrate into other fields- allow skillset to be a part of core competencies
  • Software design
  • Discipline with history
  • Research skills
  • Creative writing/analysis

Diane Bender, Todd Bracher, Shashi Caan and Elizabeth Mayhle

  • Cross-disciplinary experiences- bringing in experts so there is a broad awareness of all areas, but really understand your specific discipline
  • Having empathy- understanding design from user’s point of view. Mindfulness on how design affects people.
  • Context for community, understanding world outside of the classroom
  • Getting out of the siloes and sequence
  • Research-informed design
  • Communication; writing; how to pitch or sell your idea
  • Community; mentorship and connections
  • Technology- AI
  • Budget and finance- understanding how these impact/influence the design
  • Active flexibility- how to adapt your designs to new realities
  • The Internet ≠ RESEARCH
  • Cultivating common sense!

Reese Campbell, Christine Gaspar, Cassim Shepherd and Jon Strassner

  • Designers need to create a narrative to advocate for their ideas. They are not good at storytelling or selling themselves.
  • Must be able to teach designers agency
  • At the undergraduate level, take the best parts of a liberal arts education and focus on global challenges
  • Collaboration- understanding how to work with different people and people with different skillsets and figure out how to maximize resources. Also how to have authorship within that group.
  • How to talk to strangers
  • Struggle between technical skills and critical thinking skills. Are we educating makers or thinkers?
  • Teach designers how to teach the processes of design
  • Right now we are too focused on the solution rather than the dynamics of the problem

How can we be more relevant?

Small Group Discussion


Shashi Caan, Reese Campbell, Vishaan Chakrabarti, Ellen Lupton, Ruki Ravikumar and David Van Der Leer

  • New pedagogical models need not be stifled by the legal/accreditation limits or the constraints of the American system
  • Architecture is the will of the epoch translated into space
  • How does design respond to its time and how does it look forward?Relevance means it relates to what is happening right now. But we really should be thinking about the past, as well as in the future. We should have a trajectory of world-making. Research universities need to look at what happened, not just what is useful.
  • Important to ask: ‘relevant to whom?’ The person? The employee?
  • Finding new ways to tackle gender representation in design fields. Women dropping out of the field mid-career to start family leading to wage stagnation. This has to change.
  • We have always avoided social issues in design. #MeToo movement has opened the door, and needs to happen within the design world

Caroline Baumann, Diane Bender, Diane Bender, Corie Cisco, Christine Gaspar and Ben Prosky

  • Relationships with local business/community organizations- responding to real questions, finding real needs; environmental/social responsibility
  • What happens at the end of the design? Design WITH communities- serving their needs via ongoing long-term projects; can we sidestep the semester-based structure?
  • Create/cultivate a demand for design; incorporate community engagement and field work, internships
  • ASU is doing well in bringing diverse voices and outside professionals to interact with students- do more of this

Todd Bracher, Anita Maritz, Cassim Shepherd, Jane Smith and Michelle Washington

  • Making positive change and communicating it effectively
  • Being visible through partnerships and creating community
  • Practicality and application in what is learned- ability to have a career (how school is viewed by parents and industry)
  • Red tape and approvals hinder innovation in curriculum
  • Job placement- especially in public sector. Better networks to help place students in jobs
  • Teacher training- lifelong learning
  • More fluidity between academic structure and industry representatives; bringing practitioners in more often
  • Expose students to real world clients under a design/build model
  • Accreditation process- how much are we expecting at different levels- undergraduate education, graduate education, professional practice?

Christina De León, Dag Folger, Cheryl Heller, Elizabeth Mayhle and Jon Strassner

  • Design schools can be and shouldn’t be elitist- especially considering how versatile the skillsets of a designer are
  • There is a huge gap between what employers want and what schools teach- oftentimes educators don’t want to change that

How do we promote and further equity and inclusion?

Vishaan Chakrabarti: “This word inclusion is a little problematic. It basically says there is a bigger group and these other people need to be included in this larger group, instead it should be about how the general culture is constantly evolving with new groups.”

Ruki Ravikumar: “As I do more K-12 engagement, I realize that the more underprivileged schools are the ones that are already more resourceful and hacking at some of these systems, and yet design is not often on the radar of these students, even when they’re already developing the skillsets of a designer.”

Anita Maritz: “Just because you are included, doesn’t mean you are represented.”

Ben Prosky: “A better understanding, without discouraging, of how to make this career viable for students when they graduate is needed.”

Michelle Washington: “Something to consider is how do you at ASU tackle conscious and unconscious biases?”

Shashi Caan: “The question of ‘Redesigning the Design school’ is a fundamental question that we should all be asking of the design world in general.”

Anita Maritz: “In terms of history, how are you ensuring that non-dominant cultural experiences are valuable, or that history isn’t being taught through a historically-biased perspective?”


Final Thoughts

Vishaan Chakrabarti: Can we move to a workshop model where all design work is done in the class? This can help undo some of the biases related to studio courses that often leave underprivileged students behind. Changing the definition of success for these students is essential.

Ellen Lupton: “I hope that everything doesn’t get boiled down into careers. When I think about design, I think about creativity, and learning, and having fun at times. We don’t always have to be educated for a specific job.”

Ruki Ravikumar: We should focus our classrooms on being ‘global’ classrooms.

Cheryl Heller: “There are no shortcuts for any of these big problems. We need to wade in and engage head on and keep at it”

Michelle Washington: What are you doing at ASU to educate faculty on how to make accessibility accommodations for students who need support- blind, deaf, different abilities, etc.?

ReDesign.School Roundtable Discussion: New York City

Hosted by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

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