“Designmatters allows us to look at the world as a classroom with an eye toward changing it for the better. We aspire to redefine and expand the role of the artist and designer into one who is a catalyst for social change and innovation.”

Mariana Amatullo, Vice President, Designmatters Department

Designmatters at Art Center is where art and design education meets social change.


An engaged mode of art and design education that forms creative leaders, Designmatters provides the know-how and aspiration to shape the futures we truly desire for a more sustainable and equitable world.


Through research, advocacy and action, Designmatters engages, empowers and leads an ongoing exploration of art and design as a positive force in society.


Designmatters is integrated across all the educational departments at Art Center College of Design. Activities are organized at 3 key levels:

As an educational magnet and research division for the college, we conceive of projects for the curriculum, oversee the DM Concentration at the undergraduate level, and partner with Graduate Media Design Practices in the MDP/Field Track;

As an agent for social impact educational projects, we are a guarantor for implementation and assessment of projects led by students, faculty and alumni;

As an external relations center for strategic partnership building, we leverage art and design education as tool for positive change in the world.


As Art Center’s social impact department, Designmatters is where local, national and global issues are encountered head-on. Participants are in the world, with the world.

Values that are embedded into the department are filtered into the curriculum, programs and projects. These values represent the spirit of Designmatters, and consist of:

Commitment: We are dedicated to looking at, confronting, researching and addressing real-world issues, and we endeavor to innovate through art and design.

Relevance: We strive to be a model for relevancy in education. We open doors for organizations to engage with artists and designers and see them as key contributors to their mission.

Engagement: We look at the world as our classroom, with an eye toward changing it for the better. Our students engage in experiential learning, giving them an insider’s awareness of the challenges confronting communities around the block or around the world.

Collaboration: We view art and design as a space that invites collaboration with other disciplines, such as: development, science, business, engineering, and anthropology. It is in the intersection between distinct areas of inquiry that we often find the most opportunity for innovation.

Empathy: We believe that artists and designers can be uniquely compassionate as how they relate to the lives of others, and with that comes great responsibility.

Action-led outcomes: We see art and design students as having the gift of creativity and the skills to execute a vision, and when immersed in a real-world context, they can be empowered to become changemakers.


“Turning outward is key to the future of higher education in art and design. Designmatters provides the platform where that can happen.”

Lorne M. Buchman, President, Art Center College of Design

OUR FOUR THEMESThe Designmatters portfolio of projects, and the learning outcomes of the DM Concentration, focus on the following areas of inquiry as they intersect with art and design:

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Aware And Awake: Creatively Transforming Behaviors and the World! Bringing Mindfulness and Social Engagement to K-12 Education

January 8, 2015

Alumna, Gala Narezo’s (Photography and Imaging ’01) exhibit  Aware and Awake: Creatively Transforming Behaviors and the World! Bringing Mindfulness and Social Engagement to K-12 Education can be seen at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York until January 11, 2015.  In the following blog post, Gala talks about the exhibit and how it was inspired by her Graduate students at Pratt Institute and their desire to have been exposed to social impact design principles at a much earlier stage in their education.

Currently Gala works as a multidisciplinary art director. Her recent projects have included social awareness campaigns, urban interventions and curricula development for topics as varied as immigration, sustainability and mindful education.


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GiraDora: A Washing Machine for Those Without Running Water

January, 2015

VentureWell profiles Designmatters and the award winning Safe Agua Initiative.

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Calientamigos team pic

Safe Agua Colombia Students Selected for 2015 Open Minds Conference

Calientamigos, a project outcome of the award winning Safe Agua Colombia studio has been selected to participate in the 2015 Open Minds Conference in Washington D.C.   Team Calientamigos (Mariana Somma, Della Tosin, Kevin Chang and Tianyi Sun), also received a Venture Well E-Team grant to  help manifest their projects’ full commercial potential.

The Calientamigos system allows impoverished families living without hot running water to heat and pressurize water for bathing, cooking and cleaning.

The Venture Well Open Minds Conference is an intensive two-day conference for practitioners of technology entrepreneurship in higher education.


Mariana and Adriana_DM Fellows Spring 2015

Announcing the Spring 2015 Designmatters Fellows

We are pleased to announce that two students have been awarded Designmatters Fellowships for the Spring 2015 term.  Adriana Crespo and Mariana Somma join the ranks of Art Center’s distinguished group of Designmatters Fellows who receive a generous scholarship to be embedded in an organization for an academic term, contributing their creative expertise and talent to a social impact cause.

Adriana Crespo (Illustration) has been awarded the Designmatters Fellowship with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) at headquarters in Washington DC.  PAHO is the Americas arm of the World Health Organization (WHO). Adriana will be engaged in the development of a flagship initiative of PAHO’s Executive Director: the development of a brand identity for the Office of Country and SubRegional Coordination. Adriana looks forward to her Fellowship experience:

“I couldn’t be more excited to join the team of an international organizations whose efforts improve the lives of millions of people in the Americas. Art Center and Designmatters have prepared me well in understanding and visually communicating the mission and vision of collaborative efforts that strive to have a larger and meaningful impact. I can’t wait to collaborate with PAHO and contribute my design skills to further their values and goals in promoting health and well being in underserved communities.”

Mariana Somma (Graduate Industrial Design) has accepted the Designmatters Fellowship with The Nike Foundation in Oregon to join Tom de Blasis’ strategic design team. Mariana will continue and expand upon the work started in the Fall 2014 Girl Effect Studio, co-hosted by Designmatters and Product Design, which explored tools and systems for girls living in poverty around the globe. Mariana is excited to be continuing the research and work of the past term:

“This year’s TDS class with the Nike Foundation was a great introduction to learning about the challenges young girls face in poverty around the world. My goal, in the continued work with The Girl Effect Project, is to explore creative solutions for empowerment, confidence and skill building for girls to rise out of poverty and support their families and communities. I am thrilled to work with an organization that is dedicated to bringing innovation and tangible opportunities to girls globally, and I look forward to seeing this work provide a lasting social impact.”