Altruism as Your Medium

As I develop my practice as a design educator, I find there are some core ideas that I find I must get across to my students:

  • Work with the tools you were born with before the ones you buy
  • Play without fear every single time
  • Good enough is not good enough when you can do better
  • Give a damn every day and you can change the world

This all really started back when I wrote my Master’s Thesis in the form of a personal manifesto for the 2D Design program at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Here follows a shortened version:


Repeat each day you are a cultural producer.

  1. I state the (personally) obvious.
  2. I remember the audience is my equal.
  3. I remind the audience we all choose what we believe.
  4. I invite evaluation and interaction.
  5. I sell no empty dreams of Perfection.
  6. I believe and believe.

This creed has served me well as a professional, as a parent, and as a citizen. It has been the core ethos I used to keep my teaching true: I cannot let my students have anything less than my best self. If I put someone else’s needs above my own, I do my job better. Now, I will not always be able to do this, especially when I am doing commercial work, but I really think students deserve to know how to work altruistically before they are buffeted by the demands of the marketplace. As such, I build a strong thread of compassion into each stage of my teaching of the design process, especially that of research. My students will know how to truly speak to a user group as an equal in order to be able to be of true service.

Altruistism as Your Medium: Interaction Design

I have had immense success teaching the principles and techniques of interaction  design (apps, environments, and web sites) using my ideas about altruism. We can have great conversations about the darker side of design wherein we create things that might reveal prejudices or presumptions. I can highlight circumspect research and fine technique and the students are so concerned about their cause they forget to fear learning something new.

I have used this vein of research to help me speak on and teach Interaction Design at City Tech, Parsons the New School, Fashion Institute of Technology, and New York University School of Professional Studies.

Altruistism as Your Medium: Printmaking

I have a workshop wherein I teach students to come together, come up with a cause for which they can show support, then design and print a simple protest/support poster using screen printing. The premise developed to being more about creating a poster that would help encourage the change you hope to make in the world. I have found that when I ask my students to think of others, they can learn techniques so much more easily: we are naturally pretty decent and want to do right by the world. What better way to learn a new way to create?

I have presented this research as workshops at California State University at Northridge and the Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center. One added benefit is that i get to teach artists how to work in a team to get a project done, which is a skill I find is never touched on in art school.