Doug Powell comes to MICA for Visiting Scholar Lecture

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

“Social Design is so new I don’t even know if we can name it yet,” said IBM Design’s, Doug Powell at the MICA Graduate Center on February 17th. As part of the Social Design Visiting Scholar series, a program funded by the Deutsch Foundation, Powell’s lecture posed the question of social designers: “Where do we go from here?”

As a designer and studio lead at IBM in Austin, Powell is part of a large-scale effort to re-infuse a culture of design back into one of the world’s largest technology companies. Prior to IBM, Powell was an independent designer and served as president of American Institute for Graphic Arts (AIGA), where he lead the launch of Design for Good, the AIGA initiative to ignite, amplify, and accelerate design-driven social change.

Powell implored the audience of aspiring designers to avoid the tendency to isolate themselves and stressed active connection and collaboration as keys to implementing change and finding success. He also stressed the importance of “aligning ourselves with large scale organizations and demonstrating our value as designers.”

Powell predicted that by 2025, 75% of the IBM workforce would be made up of Millennials (those in the 18-34 age range), compared to less than 50% currently. Social design has a future if the designers of the future ask the right questions like “How do we scale-up social design?” and seriously contemplate new and hybrid business models to fund promising social design ideas and prototypes. Powell suggested that social design initiatives be better understood and integrated into the work of major philanthropic foundations and in turn be able to receive significant funding from them. He pointed to the Michigan-based Kellog Foundation, a large national funder that supports underserved families and children in America, and their lack of design-focused funding.

Back at IBM Design, Powell and the growing ranks of designers spend a lot of time working the old fashioned way: with paper, post-it notes and pencil. “We want to get great ideas out of the mind and up on the wall!” he said, eagerly. This back-to-the-basics approach seems to be a common trend among designers, as former visiting lecturer Noel Wilson of Catapult Design stressed back in November when he visited MICA.

Stay tuned for more info on the next Visiting Scholar lecture in the spring.


Video about IBM Design feature Doug Powell:

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