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

"[...] As the field of design continues to expand into new opportunities, there is a misplaced idea that older fields of design have nothing to offer to the conversation. Young designers are struggling with basics of craft and working to reinvent existing solutions, methods, and ideas; older designers are getting overlooked as relevant in the design process.

187 people mention "ageism" as a key theme in design.

is not benefiting the field."

"Most students cannot get jobs unless they know someone or have had the chance to be an intern. Students need to spend more time on their portfolios and learn how to speak about design thinking, their approach to design, the importance of the user. Important for designers to learn soft skills, like speaking and writing.

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

Ethics and inclusion
are not part of curriculum, but are critical."

"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 theme in design.

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

"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? [...]"

"As an educator, I see challenges with the education of future designers. There are so many programs of various qualities. Institutions like the one I am leaving at the end of the semester turn out under-prepared students (with BFAs). I see this as a real disservice to the field and the students. It might be time for AIGA to take a more active role in reviewing the quality of design education across the country. Not all design education programs are created equal."

"There's not necessarily a

1061 people mention "lack of" as a key theme in design.

lack of
design education, it's just that it's not taught correctly across the board.Schools have different standards and often don't teach practices that are current and used in the workplace today [...]"


1061 people mention "lack of" as a key theme in design.

Lack of
new talent: students want to jump on a computer and find quick solutions, are impatient and don't want to take risk. This concerns me looking forward about the future of graphic design."

"Giving opportunities for designers who have less formal education in design and giving opportunities to everyone, no matter their age, the color of their skin or their race or sexual orientation. So many people place importance on the wrong attributes of a person [...] rather than looking past all of that and seeing the potential ↗ It is an oversaturated market and it's seemingly impossible to get a job unless you know someone in the industry."

"Access to affordable education. Personally, I pursued a liberal arts degree instead of a specialized design / art degree because the liberal arts programs I applied to were better funded and offered more scholarships. [...] This goes hand-in-hand with addressing student loan strains amongst emerging designers early in their careers -I know several designers who [...] are barely making ends meet on their in-house salaries, given their student loan burden."

"In my position (as a full-time faculty member teaching in a design program), I think the major issue is getting more state / government funding for US universities. There has been a systematic decline in funding for higher education for more than two decades."

"Design education is being democratized, which will make it easier to learn design, but we haven't figured out what that will mean for supply/demand in the workforce."

"The fracturing of in-person and traditional design communities are being replaced (and not fully) by online inspiration and

160 people mention "social media" as a key theme in design.

social media
, which leaves a gap for younger designers coming into the industry. They have less opportunities and desire to make the kind of connections that have been so useful for older generations of designers like myself."


1061 people mention "lack of" as a key theme in design.

lack of
mentorship and a gap between design education and the type of work designer create on the job."

"Social media is forcing design into a tiny visual space on a handheld device ↗ for a very short viewing period. Too much time and resources are being dedicated to this tiny visual space. As this happens, non-designers without design education fill more design spaces. i.e. social media specialists think they can do "good enough" graphic design, video, etc."

"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 [...]"

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

moves too fast ↗ as I get older, I feel that skills / practices I once put time into are no longer relevant. I do not have the technological knowledge that younger colleagues or current students have. I feel old in my industry, and I'm only 29! :( "

"We need to break the design history canon ↗ based on Western and European theories to views and ways of design from around the world that have been invisible. We need to decolonize design education."

"As the first legally blind person to get a graduate degree in ID from my institution, I feel that more design schools need to admit disabled students. There needs to be a broad spectrum of input from these students so that the design community will be more adept at inclusive design. Instead of simulation of disabilities (empathy exercises), the disabled designers should have equity in disability design. It should be design with disability not for disability."


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

in design is a big issue. I see the industry dominated by

264 people mention "white" as a key theme in design.

and Asian men and

265 people mention "women" as a key theme in design.

making it hard to see myself (a black woman) in competitive design spaces. The design industry also feels very exclusive, as if you need to know the right people or go to the most prestigious schools to get on employers' radars ↗"


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

is not only an important issue in our field but also in our schools / design programs. We need diverse faculty and courses / projects that address issues around gender equity, inclusivity, accessibility, and the decolonization of the design canon. Ultimately, we need design programs willing to explore, discuss, and develop the kind of critical awareness and

280 people mention "technology" as a key theme in design.

engagement that can activate freedom in a post-truth era ↗"

"Lack of resources for designers to learn from one another. Everyone has a little smidge of imposter syndrome despite what their backgrounds may be, and since design is such a subjective field, it's difficult for designers for feel supported as part of a community."

"People just expect you to know stuff thats general knowledge to them but might not be to someone getting into the industry. I think there needs to be a better bridge between school to the actual workplace. I'm an outgoing person so I was able to figure it out on my own by talking to people and asking questions. On too many occasions though I've seen extremely talented people not make it to their goals because they didn't know exactly what to do to advance their respective careers."

"I feel like the challenge to get your career started after school / college is very big and is hard to navigate your career as you are starting out."

White Male
Chicago, IL
Communication / Graphic Design, Packaging Design