This month, Icsid reached out to Dr. Mariana Amatullo, Co-Founder and Vice President of the Designmatters department at ArtCenter College of Design and review panel member for the World Design Impact Prize 2015-2016. She gives us her perspective on women in design from the vantage point of a leader in the field of design education and an expert on design as a tool for social innovation. She also shares with us a number of exciting and inspiring projects that leave no doubt as to women’s impact in the field.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about how you came to co-found the Designmatters department at ArtCenter? Were there any particularly strong influences that shaped your career path?
I joined ArtCenter in 2000, taking a junior management position in a one-year old department that had as its mandate “innovative global programming,” and from which Designmatters would later emerge. My prior professional experience was that of a young curator and art historian who had worked with contemporary artists in two of our prominent area museums, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). I had also deferred enrollment into a PhD, in Latin-American 20th Century Art and Literature, at the University of Southern California in order to dedicate myself to raising two hyperactive toddler boys. Just as my sons were settling into a more manageable preschool routine, I remember reading a newspaper article that profiled ArtCenter as a community of outstanding creative individuals with an incredibly dynamic organisational culture. This was sufficient to spark my curiosity and move me to want to contribute to that entrepreneurial educational environment—even though at the time I was a relative novice to design and design education!
Looking back on particularly strong influences that shaped my career path, my trajectory is the result of a mix of insights from formal education and my lived experience—none of which translates into a linear pathway. For example, my curatorial training definitely influenced my approach to project management and curricular development, as well as storytelling and documentation. On the personal learning front, I attribute my relative ease with confronting the essential uncertainty that characterises all complex decision-making to the resilience that I honed from growing up as a diplomat’s child, with multiple and constant relocations around the world. Furthermore, the multicultural and mission-driven environment of the United Nations is one I came to appreciate very early on, and that familiarity proved beneficial when we designed the outreach strategy for the college’s affiliation with the UN as a nongovernmental organisation (NGO).
In more recent years, a transformative and profound experience has been to get out of my comfort zone to pursue and complete doctoral work at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, where my research in design and social innovation has opened up new lines of inquiry that both inform and have been informed by my practice.