Our data comes from the 2019 AIGA Design Census ↗, which surveys design professionals across the country about their salary, job satisfaction, future outlook, etc. Looking at the dataset, we were drawn to the question “What critical issues face design?” where we found a hidden gem: while respondents could choose from multiple-choice answers, they could also write-in their own answers!

It was in the 2700+ written responses we found the “core” of the respondents’ feelings: honesty, frustration, skepticism, and hope. As direct quotes, these words were personal in a way that the more discrete data was not. We wanted to use this corpus to tell a story, to see data points as people, and not as numbers.

This project exists in two forms: an exploratory website, and a printed, interactive book. We designed both of these artifacts as tools for data exploration, but specifically, exploration that begins with language.

Created for Communications Studio IV at CMU School of Design, Spring 2020.
Advised by prof. Kyuha Shim.

Parsing Through Data

We used python and NLTK to parse the corpus, collecting the most frequent 150 words (excluding function words like “I,” “the,” “only,” etc.), bi-grams and tri-grams. Looking at the lists, we picked out words and phrases that described themes or ideas. From there, we grouped the words into six broader categories: power, representation, education, quality, change, and community.

We used these dictionaries to parse through the quotes again in order to sort which responses fell in which category.

Category Briefs

"color", "white", "money", "pay", "in leadership", "of color", "of diversity"
"ageism", "diversity", "of diversity", "women", "woman", "standards", "a seat", "of respect for"
"education", "students", "school", "design education", "young designers"
"good design", "value", "lack", "understanding", "the quality of", "time"
"environmental", "ethics", "ethical", "future", "climate change", "to change the", "impact"
"social media", "the real world", "community", "design communities", "the general public"

The code did not account for responses that didn’t match any of the dictionaries, and did not tag if a response falls into multiple categories, so we had to do that manually later on.

This site is a prototype of a bigger collection, because we couldn’t integrate all 2700+ quotes. We selected ~25 quotes per category to analyze further, and picked phrases that described the main point or theme of each response. If quotes intersected with other categories, we made sure to highlight those phrases as well. (And we made a super sexy color-coded spreadsheet ↗ ) To find spot words (eg. 18 mentions of “age-ism”), we ran word frequency throughwith the entire corpus.

Jaclyn Saik ↗ is a Junior studying Communication Design, with a minor in HCI at Carnegie Mellon University, who can often be found talking about the coffee she’s drinking or drawing with crayons. She believes the most critical issue facing design is maintaining individuality and human qualities in an increasingly automated world.

White Female
Mountain View, CA

Rachel Lee ↗ is a Junior majoring in Communication Design and HCI at Carnegie Mellon University, who can often be found eating eggs or doing pilates. She believes the most critical issue facing design is instilling passion and desire in designers to create positive change for the world.

Asian Female
Hong Kong,
Hong Kong SAR

Alice Fang ↗ is a Junior studying Communication Design, with a minor in Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University, who can often be found watching Netflix docu-series or playing sudoku. She believes the most critical issue facing design is being understanding and empathetic in an increasingly divisive environment.

Asian Female
Edison, NJ

about this project

"While conversation continues to revolve around ethics, environmental

208 people mention "ethics" as a key theme in design

200 people mention "environment" as a key theme in design.

384 people mention "impact" as a key theme in design.


545 people mention "diversity" as a key theme in design.

, [...] awards are still given for what looks pretty [...] Ethics and sustainability ↗ are still side-bars as awards categories, rather than a main qualifier in the decisions. Thus, we're at a stand-still: arguing for ethics while rewarding beauty [...]

I think we need to spend a lot less time ponificating on nonsense like design tools and stop and consider the negative impact our design decisions can have on our users and the world at large. I also think that until we can get from under the need to drive business forward with sub-par user experiences, we'll always be in an ugly position."

"[...] I'm also greatly concerned by algorithms ↗ They create biases and dangerous feedback loops that are affecting the sociopolitical climate around the world."

"I feel the most critical issue [...] is working for clients or companies who don't deserve it. [...] Effective design should be reserved only for businesses and ideas that promote a healthy democracy, racial and gender equality, and the notion of a society that distributes its wealth evenly. Anything less is a betrayal of our planet and our existence"

"Many designers are employed by disproportionately powerful

280 people mention "tech" as a key issue in design.

tech companies
that increasingly manage how we live our lives and get work done. Social and

200 people mention "environment" as a key theme in design.

environmental change
will require design innovation in order to be implemented successfully. We need to more clearly separate capitalistic gain and boundless expansion from the reallocation of resources where they are most needed."

"Younger designers not knowing the

208 people mention "ethics" as a key theme in design.

ethical or social impact
side of design and instead having a perception that design is all about the money — so whatever whichever client wants, goes. They don't realize there are worthy clients and projects, and that they should be selective about who they work for [...] They also

118 people mention "undervalue / devalue" as a key issue in design.

undersell / undervalue
their work because they don't realize they can afford to say "no" [...]"

"Too many tools popping up at once (particularly in UI/UX...) [...] I feel there is a lacking standard when looking for work in these fields that make it near impossible to predict the correct skillset. In the last 2 years I've learned Adobe Muse, Adobe XD, Sketch, Invision, Flinto, Wordpess, Wix, Squarespace, After Effects and a little bit of coding but don't feel 100% proficient in anything because I'm constantly switching gears [...]"

"Over-saturation with inspiration leading to sameness — I notice many designers being defeated with thoughts of "it's all been done anyway," and lacking the energy to believe they can create something unique."

"Because things are changing so fast, it seems we just get one great piece done and it's time to throw it away and make the next one. Trends pop up and because everyone's got the same access to social media [...] Ultimately, nothing really feels like a unique and authentic experience [...] I'd like brands to be more introspective and focus on what their doing and how and who they are [...] not some amalgamation of what the marketing research dictated."

"Designers have the ability to make a huge

384 people mention "impact" as a key theme in design.

impact to the world,
and most of us know that. But mostly I've observed design resources spent rushing things out just to be pretty and content made just for the sake of making content [...] Instead of making any difference, designers spend their time making literal or digital noise and trash."

"I feel that design is

118 people mention "undervalue / devalue" as a key issue in design.

undervalued outside of major metropolitan areas.
Since most designers live outside of metropolitan areas, there ought to be a push to accent design's importance and necessity in a way that the "minor leagues" understand [...]"

"Western standards of design ↗ are generally pushed, making it difficult for new perspectives to emerge Non-white and queer designers are still not as celebrated [...] for their contributions as much as they should be — aesthetics created by and for marginalized communities end up being appropriated into the main visual rhetoric ... without much thought into how this action silences important voices in design [...

"Design creates culture. We as designers have the power to create a culture that is inclusive, welcoming, fair, and

545 people mention "diversity" as a key theme in design.

I think as a whole, we are making strides towards this ideal, but still falling short. It is crucial for all designers to critically examine the social,

200 people mention "environment" as a key theme in design.

, and societal impact of their work."

Disability disability disability. We are at a time where we are finally talking more about "all inclusive" and diversity, but this rarely ever includes disability, therefore it is not all inclusive."

" [...] Who we are designing for. Most designers spend their careers designing for the rich [...] The world could be so much better ↗ if we had the means to improve people's lives who need it the most. Sadly those in the most need of great design often don't have the money to

644 people mention "pay" as a key theme in design.

us and so we whittle our talents away on the frivolous whims of the wealthy while the poor as always continue to suffer."


208 people mention "ethics" as a key theme in design.

Ethics in design is huge and needs to be the top priority in the industry.
Marketing and advertising have long since been about manipulating consumer behaviors and the idea has crept into the experience design world. Instead of giving people what they need we try to manipulate users desires and bend them ↗ to what we're trying to sell them. It's an insidious practice of controlling people hiding behind a mask of "empowerment"."

"I work in a state where no one believes in science. They go to school and get a design degree because they think oh if I get a design degree I don't have to worry about how that will impact that my religion. They don't realize the most creative and forward thinking people [...] questioned the meaning of existence and church [...] How am I supposed to use design to change the world when the person sitting next to me doesn't believe the world existed billions of years ago? [...]"

"Some entities (e.g. nonprofits, community-based organizations) that could benefit from good communication and design in order to further their

384 people mention "impact" as a key theme in design.

are also not equipped to access it for financial reasons or lack of awareness. Wouldn't it be great if there were more programs [...] whose goal is to connect the organizations with the potential to do the most good with design and branding professionals that could help them build awareness and achieve their missions?"

White Male
Beverly Hills, CA
Communication / Graphic Design, Education, Environmental Design, Service Design, Strategy