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Report 04

Rosanne Somerson Confetti in the Air

"A good education, I believe, is one where the principles that one learns can then be adapted to multiple circumstances, multiple environments, multiple realities"

-Rosanne Somerson

During this conversation with Rosanne Somerson, 17th President of Rhode Island School of Design, Yorgo discusses the importance of a Design Institution. Prior to becoming President of the school in 2015, starting in 1985 Somerson ran RISD’s M.F.A. Graduate Program in Furniture Design and then co-founded the school’s Furniture Design department in 1995, teaching at RISD for more than 25 years. As both a practitioner as well as an educator, Rosanne brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the possibilities available for design education.

A myriad of formats exist in which studying design can take place: from the more traditional presentation-style learning, to the enriched learning that takes place within a vibrant studio practice. Does it have to be a physical space or is it a state of mind?

The collective discovery that takes place within a team is vital to building complex ideas, making design a “contact sport”. Students and professors often learn together in the same ways that a Creative Director learns from their team as they explore uncharted territories to find the best solution. Occupying the same physical studio space is undoubtedly a superior learning experience, vital to building complex ideas.

Linking design education to the reality of the outside world, while vital, should take place after a student has developed the ability to think freely and ideate unencumbered by the realities of the World. Operating outside the confines of reality and precedence allows the student to slowly build an objective eye.

Rosanne emphasized that “it’s hard to design in the absence of community”. This highlights the challenge of defining ‘inclusion’, a word both Yorgo and Rosanne found insufficient in describing the transcendent, universal approach to design they feel is necessary. They agreed that what is much more successful is the act of listening and unwinding preconceptions, allowing an adaptive approach to multiple circumstances, multiple environments, and multiple realities. Yorgo referenced Rainlight studio’s focus on “enter(ing) the room with a beginner’s state of mind”. This open exchange and diversity of thought has the potential to free our thinking so that we may fulfill our aspirations as a society. One that allows people to live together in a space of respect and understanding.

Design is a rigorous education and it can be a strategy for wider business, it is also the ultimate form of optimism.

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