ReDesign.School Roundtable Discussion: Washington, D.C. / Hosted at ASU Washington Center / 04.27.18

On March 16th, The Design School at Arizona State University team traveled to our nation’s capital to celebrate the opening of the ASU Ambassador Barbara Barrett and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Washington Center.

This beautifully restored building served as the setting of our ReDesign.School roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C. A local group of experts and thought-leaders from throughout the design disciplines joined us to have a conversation about the future of design.


Nathaniel Axios – IBM iX Design

Barbara Brown Wilson – University of Virginia/Design Futures
Assistant Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning

Matthew DeGeeter – American Society of Interior Designers
VP Education and Engagement

Barbara Deutsch – Landscape Architecture Foundation
Executive Director

Mark Fairbrother – AIA, LEED GA CallisonRTKL
Vice President

Magnus Feil – The Design School, Arizona State University Assistant
Professor – Industrial Design

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack – Arizona State University
Executive Director of ASU Gammage
ASU Vice President for Cultural Affairs

Julia Koster – National Capital Planning Commission Director
Office of Public Engagement

Enrique Martínez – The Lab at OPM Human Innovation Fellow
Design Education Director

Peter Means – Gammage, Herberger Instititute for Design and the Arts – Arizona State University
Senior Director of Development

Martin Moeller – National Building Museum
Senior Curator

Erin Murphy – American Institute of Architects (AIA)
Senior Director for Emerging Professionals

Patrick Plehn – The Design School, Arizona State University
Manager- Prototype + Model Shop

Jeff Pulford – Interface Multimedia

Sanjit Sethi – The George Washington University
Director of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design

Jason Schupbach – The Design School, Arizona State University

Nancy Somerville – American Society of Landscape Architects
Executive Vice President/CEO

Courtney Spearman – National Endowment for the Arts
Design Specialist- Visual Arts

Steven Tepper – Herberger Instititute for Design and the Arts, Arizona State University

Clark Wilson – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Urban Designer

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




  • Design is collaborative, less leader-driven, working with your peers
  • Design is interdependent, co-dependent, in order for it to thrive it needs to look at values and educational goals. It should be squishy around the edges, not as traditional as other disciplines
  • It’s difficult to translate these goals into the traditional model. Do we look at other disciplines to better evaluate. School previously was insular, individual; practice is not
  • Tech is an enabler, not a disruptor
  • Collaboration- does it need to be discipline-based? Are the disciplines themselves silos?

Erin Murphy

  • Everywhere all the time

Barbara Deutsch

  • Tech making design accessible to non-designers
  • Tech allowing for more collaboration
  • Computer/AI generated design

Mark Fairbrother

  • Co-production of design is a good thing
  • Collaboration in general

Clark Wilson

  • More adaptive design- climate change, technology, etc
  • Storytelling- communicating stories about what design is doing

Nancy Somerville

  • Climate and resiliance focus
  • Natural systems-centric
  • Collaboration!
  • Integration with economics

Sanjit Sethi

  • Transforming the way we work with policy
  • Transforming leadership development
  • Erasing boundaries between the design disciplines

Patrick Plehn

  • Speed of design
  • Global information access
  • User experience focused

Martin Moeller

  • Increasing commodification of design- wealthy are collecting high-design
  • Resilience/natural systems- how can we serve the masses
  • Greater community engagement with design

Matthew DeGeeter

  • Accessible
  • Data driven
  • Impact and performance based- understanding impact on user, space and part of ROI

Nathaniel “Nax” Axios

  • Facilitating the right experiences
  • Impact- advocating for the right thing to do. Understanding outcomes and ethics of those impacts
  • Designers evolving to leaders, teaching inclusivity, helping other people to be involved in the process

Enrique Martinez

  • Design is the opposite of authorship
  • Design will be lightweight- the opposite of elaborate, complicated. It will be more flexible, adaptable.
  • Design will be more modular

Jeff Pulford

  • Everywhere all the time. The mass produced, the common will make a huge difference
  • Sustainability- designers can lead here
  • Co-authorship.

Magnus Feil

  • Embracing complexity
  • Intersection of people, technology of the world. Future of design will be tangible and intagible

Courtney Spearman

  • Public/community are drivers as well as beneficiaries
  • Action-oriented, design is applicable to a whole range of situations.

Barbara Brown Wilson

  • Towards regeneration- designers need to be positie contributors to world, not just sustaining
  • Design is relevant to huge social problems
  • Away from craft

Paula Cleggett

  • Cognizant of aging populations

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


How can design education be more relevant?

Small group discussion


Magnus Feil, Enrique Martinez, Erin Murphy, Sanjit Sethi, Nancy Somerville

  • Go beyond buzzwords. Relevant should be from the bottom up.
  • Success is cross-disciplinary. Schools should provide opportunities to incubate students in cross-disciplinary settings.
  • Terms like “creativity”, “collaboration”, and “community” are overused.
  • Design must begin prior to the university level.
  • Design as an alternative to hierarchy.
  • Could education be a model like Amazon-available for when you need it?


Barbara Brown Wilson, Paula Cleggett, Matthew DeGeeter, Julia Koster, Martin Moeller, Courtney Spearman

  • What makes design unique?
  • We make things/places/objects/systems
  • Impact is high- often due to place-basedness
  • Continuing education for designers. Opportunities to DEEPLY learn throughout your career. Share what you know in practice with other students.


Nathaniel Axios, Barbara Deutsch, Mark Fairbrother, Patrick Plehn, Jeff Pulford:

  • We must find better ways of defining the problems we are designing solutions for.
  • Measuring impact and return on investment. What’s the tangible value?
  • Connecting with local, regional, and wider perspectives.
  • Creating future problem-solvers; the questions will change, but the response from students should be the same.


What are the skillsets of the future we should be teaching now?

Small group discussion


Julia Koster, Martin Moeller, Patrick Plehn, Sanjit Sethi, Clark Wilson

  • Fear and money- teach how to identify and obtain resources- what do we do with that afterward?
  • Navigating the systems in place.
  • Physical skill of writing- importance in the business world.
  • Computer science/coding and why that’s important.
  • Cultural literacy as a fundamental; not just an elective.
  • Freehand drawing- basic skills that young designers are afraid of learning.
  • Understanding when and under what circumstances to use certain tools.
  • Understanding the creative process, not just as a means to get to a result. But that the process is inherently valuable.
  • Adding more electives- allowing students to build more of an a la carte experience.


Nathaniel Axios, Barbara Brown Wilson, Barbara Deutsch, Erin Murphy

  • Soft skills such as cultural competency
  • Communication skills- making the case for what you are talking about.
  • Defining constraints to meet all project needs.
  • Teaching the ability to fail and bounce back
  • Cultural literacy
  • Understand common ground
  • Introduce cross-disciplinary knowledge in the beginning
  • Hard skills- prototyping in whatever process that works at that time
  • Teaching design to non-designers


Matthew DeGeeter, Enrique Martinez, Jeff Pulford, Nancy Somerville, Courtney Spearman

  • Communication- verbal, graphic skills, professional communication, public speaking, listening
  • Leadership- active listening, empathy
  • Collaboration- team dynamics
  • Failure/resilience
  • Technology- the specific platform doesn’t matter, but the ability to be nimble is essential
  • Business skills- finance, risk and liability; growing share of self-employed people- how do students prepare for that opportunity?
  • Accreditation- sometimes doesn’t allow for flexibility



How do we prepare for students for transdisciplinary work?


Sanjit Sethi: “First, let’s ask – What are the challenges that the school is facing?”

Jason Schupbach:

  1. Some faculty who are set in their tenure and not open to new ways of doing things.
  2. Exposing a larger percentage of our school population to transdisciplinary work.
  3. Tremendous amount of growth in student population, programs, etc., but the infrastructure is struggling to catch up.
  4. Large class sizes-addressing the gap between high and low performing students.


Jeff Pulford: What transdisciplinary work is happening now?

Jason Schupbach:
“Currently every graduate student participates in a Global Engagement Studio, international trips that mix students in all programs and are taught be select faculty. We run into issues of some faculty not prepared to teach students in another discipline. E.g. an industrial design faculty member not knowing how best to teach interior design students.”

Barbara Brown Wilson:
“Transdisciplinary should not just be within other academic focuses, but outside partners and the greater community also.”

Patrick Plehn + group:

  • Artificial intelligence is moving beyond science fiction and into the practical applications, can this be used to teach or learn in transdisciplinary ways?
  • The process of how to record information and then what do we do with it?
  • Planting seeds as students, and returning later in their career to see how the transdisciplinary work has helped or hindered.
  • Knowing what you bring to the table as a designer to the transdisciplinary team.
  • Training faculty to work better beyond their own discipline- immersion in other disciplines. Competitions that create value.
  • Emotional intelligence- learn how to stand your ground when it’s important, but also when to submit.


Nathaniel Axios, Jeff Pulford, Barbara Brown Wilson:

  • Transdisciplinary is not just putting designers with other types of designers, rather with other stakeholders- business owners, city officials, citizens of the public.
  • Be wary of creating a group of generalists- maintain proficiency in specific discipline and build on that.
  • How can the physical space be shared so that transdisciplinary work happens by osmosis.


Matthew DeGeeter, Erin Murphy: How do you plant a seed and have that idea grow throughout multiple semesters?

  • Commonality of language- learning within your field, but simultaneously building skills that translate beyond
  • Power structures
  • Learning your influence
  • Understanding who is NOT at the table
  • Awareness of the systems in place that have left people out


Sanjit Sethi: What is the immersion point at which transdisciplinary work is appropriate? Acclimating the students before jumping into team work.

Steven Tepper:
Why don’t we allow for some ideas to live beyond one semester? There are opportunities for some of the bigger projects to have a life outside of the normal structure of semester classes.


How do we promote and further equity and inclusion in our world?

Nathaniel Axios:  “IBM had the intention of going after recruiting top designers, they realized when they went to education must embrace iterative processes around this topic, just like every other industry.”


Barbara Brown Wilson:  “Incentivizing faculty to change from within. Giving them carrots to include these types of topics within their curriculum and holding them accountable via mechanisms like student evaluations, etc.”

“Racialization of Space and Spatialization of Race. Understanding policies that discriminate against populations within public spaces and the built environment.”


Colleen Jennings-Roggensack: “ASU is thinking about this question in the beginning, not just as an afterthought. Design students are doing a good job of this in some of our studios and university-wide projects. This is evident in our work around Sun Devil Stadium

“The Design School should be playing a bigger role in connecting students with mentors; who are the ones who can plug students into opportunities.”


Enrique Martinez: “How do we prototype this conversation, and who leads this process?”


Martin Moeller: “When it comes to inclusion, what comes after? Example of women being majority of degree attainment, but it doesn’t reflect this in the professional world. Much of the work around this topic are beyond the scope of the university currently; can higher education take on a larger role in these issues in the professional world?”

“How do you go beyond the initial training? The implicit bias training is just a start, the most important is what comes after that? How do you become lifelong learners in inclusion and equity?”

“There is an elite group of academics who populate the faculty in institutions across the country. How do you build a pipeline of academics from ASU to spread out at other institutions?”


Courtney Spearman:  “Age is something else to think about and how designers are designing for all abilities. Are there ways to embed students longer term with community partners?”

“Some of this work can be taught in a studio setting, but faculty must be trained to understand implicit biases and mitigation strategies.” We should also be tapping the communities we are working in.”


Sanjit Sethi:  “We need to be looking more at the systems in place that must change in order to abolish the inequities inherent within them. Putting in place active anti-oppression measures and education.

“Opening up data to students so that they can begin to work on some of the issues without the direction of university leadership would be valuable.”

“Embrace being a designer related to this issue! It’s an iterative process.”

Steven Tepper:  “If we are a public institution, we must measure ourselves by who we include instead of who we exclude. We are working hard to prove to the world that this inclusion can be attained while elevating excellence. Inclusion and diversity cannot just be goals without questioning the entire systems in place and how they contribute to a lack of these goals. For us to say that in order to get the best education is to be on campus from 8-5 is explicitly exclusionary. Designers can help guide this transformation.”


ReDesign.School Roundtable Discussion: Washington, D.C.

Hosted at ASU Washington Center

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