DIGITAL ART: “DREAMER” BY JORDYN ROBERTS
I remember when I first discovered social design. I remember feeling a sense of wholeness, like I had finally found the language that my soul had been longing to speak…this sort of truth that would ignite something incredible, something I would no longer be able to ignore. I imagine this may have been the same desire that Jordyn Roberts felt, the reason her search for likeminded designers was so essential and could open her world to other possibilities within the graphic design arena. A sort of call to social change.
Last October when I received the email for an interview from Jordyn, a graphic design student attending the University of Missouri, my initial reaction was “I don’t have enough experience. Why me? What do I have to say that would be worthy of an interview about social design?” But then I thought about what it was that I could offer. Certainly I could talk about insight and perspective as it relates to transitioning into this purpose-filled niche. Or my collaboration with community members and other designers for good. What about how compassionate action and empathy play major roles throughout the creative process? I thought, maybe I could actually help in some small way.
And so it began.
You mentioned that you have just recently entered the world of social design. How is the journey so far?
Challenging, emotional, and rewarding. Every day I’m making mistakes but these mistakes often turn into learning experiences for better methods. I’m asking more of the right questions to the right people, constantly observing, and reaching out to my peers and community for collaboration.
Did you need to make any lifestyle changes afterwards? What does your career demand from your life?
Focusing on social design, specifically in a southern state where the opportunities are scarce, has demanded the creation of opportunities. This means more volunteering for causes, taking leadership roles in organizations, reading lots of books and doing research on socially related businesses, and going to as many AIGA events as possible to network. My main friends are starting to become my project collaborators. And I have to speak about health as a type 1 diabetic. With so many things on my agenda, I have to stay on top of making healthier food choices, going for walks, meditating, and doing yoga.
What do you do on a typical day?
My typical day has changed. Before this new full-time job with a local nonprofit, I was freelancing so there was more flexibility. I would start my day with a spiritual reading, write, exercise, have breakfast, review my planner of to-dos and get to work. This usually involved research. I’m big on the initial brainstorming process to gather great, effective concepts. Sometimes I’d have a meeting scheduled with a client or someone new I met on LinkedIn. I’d plan future events for volunteer opportunities, manage group projects, and keep communication flowing.
I still do the same things except my mornings and day work is different. Now I go in to my job and help the marketing team with the design of educational programs, new exhibitions, and other community related events. The other critical things, such as my spiritual life and volunteer activities, as still very prevalent but call for me to make the conscious choice of actually making time for them and keeping myself grounded in the process.
What type of problems are you faced with and what types of decisions do you find yourself making?
The most prevalent problem I probably find myself faced with is getting good groups together to do social impact projects. Those who care about causes are already so busy with a million different things that they are being extremely selective and understandably so. I’m doing the same thing. But making the decision to pick one or two group efforts with free classes from folks like +Acumen and IDEO.org has made all the difference. It’s back to the creating opportunities idea. We have to be aware of what is being offered as open resources, though they may have originated in other cities, and use them to our full advantage.
What led to your pursuit of a design career? Did you consider other paths?
I discovered graphic design my first year of college when I was undecided, though art and creative writing were options. Coming from a fine art background and a small town, I had no idea what it was or what it could lead to but I was initially fascinated with the merging of hand drawn and digital. Now, strategy is coming into the mix more and more.
What do you find most enjoyable about your career?
I love the heart and vision of it all. I love the questions and the unknowns. I’m able to focus in with the compassionate action and it gives me the energy to go forward, even when I’m not sure that I can. Discovering our world’s issues and seeing our people struggle in it all can be draining, but it’s also the fuel. Paradox lives in the work.
How did you get your first job? What do you think sealed the deal?
My school (The Art Institute of Atlanta) puts on a portfolio show at the end of every quarter where employers come in. That’s how I met who would later become my first boss for a social innovation startup. While my book was great, what sealed the deal was much more about compatibility and essence. I was just the right person for the position…young with fresh ideas, driven, and I possessed a heart for change.
What is essential to have when walking into a job interview?
A sense of knowing that what you know and what you do is not the whole of who you are and that every interview and connection has it’s purpose. It may not be the job for you at that time but when you walk out, surely there is something you can say that you have learned about yourself and how you can continue navigating the path that lies ahead of you.
Is designing a stress inducing activity for you, or is it more of a stress reliever? Or a combination of both? How?
I think stress comes up for me when I begin to get in the dark place of perfection, unwilling to budge or be flexible in the outcome. While the design process is much different than say, fine art, both have the ability to provide us with room to let go. Some of my most memorable design pieces came to be when I was willing to loosen up and just see what happened.
What do you find most challenging about being a designer? A social designer?
One of the most challenging things about being a social designer, for me, is staying faithful to the cause, despite the pro bono work that I’ll do or the lower pay I’ll probably receive at a nonprofit job. It really does become a practice and there is a need to be constantly reminded that every step, big or small, is for something larger than myself.
When did you realize you wanted to be a design activist?
Who knew such a title existed? I really didn’t until I read the book The Design Activist’s Handbook by Noah Scalin. Everything within it ignited what I never had the words to describe. I knew that I wanted to be a part of design for the greater good, but I didn’t have the verbiage. It was while reading that book that I realized…it’s not about how many people think I qualify as a design activist or a social designer but about where I see myself going, what my intentions are, and the small changes I am participating in.
When I think of the term “activist” I think of someone who has a set idea of what humanity is. What is humanity to you? Are we doing a good job at it?
To me, humanity is we. It is one. It is never singular and always unifying. I don’t know if I would say we are doing a good job or a bad one, but I do think that we can do a much better job at recognizing other people around us as parts of ourselves. The more we continue to view issues as “their problem” the more we will distance ourselves from the progression of peace, love, justice, transformation, courage, and all of the other key foundations that lead to the creation of social change.
What are some causes that are close to your heart? Why?
Education is a huge one. Mostly because school was always that place of infinite discovery. I admired teachers at a very young age and the more I learn, the more I want to share. It’s shocking to learn the education statistics in our country, even more so across the world. Other causes would be homelessness, lgbt, and environment.
What is your definition of a social designer? General definitions aside, what do you believe your purpose is as a social designer?
My definition of a social designer is someone who is not just empathetic to the challenges facing our communities but also compassionately dedicated to the discovery of effective, sustainable solutions. My purpose is to be in it, to pursue it, to be loyal to it, to say yes to what is bigger than me, and to say no to anything that hinders me from giving my best self to the cause.
Is there any preparation that is needed to be a social designer?
If there is, I surely missed it. As cliché and corny as it may sound, I truly believe that heart is what you need. We can’t prepare ourselves for it, we just have to get involved. We have to show up, be willing to soak up as much as we can whenever we can, and have a deep love for getting to the needs and aspirations of people.
Does it take a certain mentality to be an excellent social designer, or is it something anyone is capable of?
The mentality may relate to what I said previously. The heart and connection to people.
If you could go back in time, is there anything you would redo? Would you have taken a different path to get where you are now?
I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Sure, there were hard times and I have screwed up a few things due to impatience, but that’s a part of why I am here right now. A different path would mean different connections, different places…those things have no relevance to right now. The outcomes don’t make up the journey. The journey of social design is what I enjoy.
Why do you think some people may leave the field?
Some people may leave the field because not everything will result in a world-changing solution. Back to the outcomes thing. Sometimes people get caught in the outcomes and don’t appreciate the bridge that they have built that may lead to something new for someone else trying to solve the same social issue. The big idea/vision gets missed…they forget how important the small role is.
What are some names I need to be familiar with in the industry? What about social design?
If we’re talking about names of people, Noah Scalin is definitely one of them. Also Steven Heller, Sylvia Harris, John Bielenberg…those are the ones I immediately think of.
Who makes a good social designer? Who makes a bad social designer?
“Good”: connected, action-oriented, compassionate, self-aware
“Bad”: detached, unfocused, indifferent, unconscious
What do you like about design? What do you dislike about design?
I like that design is this kind of melting pot of all things creative. You can have art, technology, geometry, strategy…the combinations are never-ending and full of different possibilities. What I dislike about design is when sometimes the pure essence, which for me is artistic, gets lost in the process.
What does the future of design look like to you?
The future of design looks like a more collaborative space with all things design related. I see graphic designers creating with anthropologists and architects, environmentalists creating with motion graphics designers and fashion designers. Right now, I think we are too segregated and are really missing out on such great insight and perspectives we just won’t land on if we stay in the cave of our own field.
How can design be used to better the world? How can it be used to harm?
The great thing about design is that is can offer so many different solutions to problems. On one side, we have scientists and designers working together to create a paper book filled with informative information about contamination that filters water for people in developing countries. One the other, we have printed materials and advertisements being created to manipulate and control the freedom of communities.
Are there any books you would recommend for me to read?
The Design Activist’s Handbook by Noah Scalin
Citizen Designer by Steven Heller
Designing for Social Change by Andrew Shea
What organizations should I be aware of as an aspiring social designer?
GOOD.is, Design Ignites Change, verynice, IDEO.org, Acumen, AIGA Design for Good, Catchafire, and there are more here: http://www.aiga.org/designforgood-get-involved/
If there were one piece of advice you could give me, what would it be?
Become aware of your inner voice and when it speaks, listen.
Is there anything else you think I should know?
I’m open to communicating and helping in your interests with social design as much as I can!
So, to my own surprise I had some very valuable insight to share with Jordyn at this stage of her passion and interest in social design. I’m no expert and even now, where I see myself going is in a constant state of flux, but what an honor to share where I was at that time and it be a useful piece for her design study.
Please be sure to check out Jordyn’s beautiful portfolio full of vibrant digital art, drawings, and illustrations at https://www.behance.net/tulipfish.