This important skill will come naturally to the next generation of designers

4 min read
Eli Woolery
  •  Jun 23, 2021
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The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) offers a studio-based education where students spend their days designing every product you can imagine and practicing a wide variety of arts. Throughout its 144-year-history, several notable designers and creatives have counted themselves as alumni, from graphic designers Shepard Fairey and Tobias Frere-Jones, to painter Kara Walker, to cartoonist Roz Chast, and Airbnb co-founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. For the next 150 years, however, the institution is traveling down a new path — expanding inclusion, equity, and access to enhance a genuinely rich learning environment full of diverse experiences, viewpoints, and talents. 

As the 17th President of RISD, Rosanne Somerson (an accomplished educator, academic leader, furniture designer, and alumnus herself) directs this transformation. And according to her, making cross-functional collaboration second nature for RISD graduates is the key to the next wave of the institution’s success. Rosanne stopped by the latest episode of the Design Better Podcast episode to not only talk about RISD’s plans to accomplish that goal, but also how creatives from all backgrounds and generations can learn the common traits of the school’s most successful graduates.

While RISD students center their days through a chosen discipline, there’s an increasing amount of opportunity to merge with other fields. For example, RISD’s newest degree is a collaborative graduate design program with Brown University’s engineering department. In one course, interior architecture students designed a virtual reality game, visually highlighting how rising sea levels would change. According to Rosanne, projects like these help lay a foundation for a future where many professions integrate a design-thinking approach to challenges like climate change and racial justice.

“When two bodies of knowledge come together, the overlap is where innovation happens,” Roseanne says.

Interested in hearing more about Rosanne’s work in transformation through education, as well as her thoughts on how COVID has changed higher education, and the power of a degree in the arts? Listen to the full episode of the Design Better Podcast.

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