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

"Low resourcing,

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

lack of
awareness on giving designers

260 people mention "quality" as a key theme in design.


172 people mention "expectation" as a key theme in design.

to do our jobs well. Often overloading with diverse work and no support, leaving us spread thin and worn out. Mental exhaustion from playing 3-4 different roles on 3-4 different projects."

"Many designers don't understand that there is more to UX than pretty interfaces. They put a lot of emphasis on the look and feel of an interface rather than the flow, accessibility, a problem solving. I am worried this lack of knowledge and willingness to understand is lowballing our profession."


189 people mention "freelance" as a key theme in design.

has been very eye opening. Self employment taxes are incredibly rough, and the inconsistency of freelancing work is making life very stressful. When I do work with clients, they don't understand the value of having illustrations and good branding, and they almost become hostile when they hear my prices. Being a small town, I can't work locally because no one here wants to pay for

260 people mention "quality" as a key theme in design.

quality work
because they fail to see the

825 people mention "value" as a key theme in design.


"Subscription software and fonts are a great improvement for access at low cost [...] but, it's also made design tools very affordable for non-designers with little training to [...] produce lousy work [...]. I don't believe in a professional license for designers [...] but I think we ought to educate designers with a talking point that promotes the usefulness of hiring a pro before trying to do-it-yourself."

"With the prevalence of

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

social media
as the main consuming access point for design, there has been a kind of regression to the mean of creativity — there are fewer and fewer weird/new/groundbreaking design solutions and more and more imitations/trends."

"Designing for consumption and

138 people mention "commoditization / consumerism / Capitalism" as a key theme in design.

[...] It's a way to make people work too much, to buy stuff they don't need, to impress people they don't care about [...] Design makes shitty stuff look nice and we're too image-obsessed to see past the materialism of social media and it's effect on mental health. We need to check ourselves ↗"

"Outsiders all think that they can do this job themselves. The alarming thing is, once they do "diy" they think it's totally wonderful (and it's horrible). I'm not sure how we can get the masses to

825 people mention "value" as a key theme in design.

value our profession.
We clearly make a difference with our talent, training, and expertise when allowed. As a result, salaries have decreased since I started in this field. [...] I'm not going to mince acronyms here, but wtaf?"

"Being able to quantify the

825 people mention "value" as a key theme in design.

value of design
to people who are not designers, in order to speak the same language about its importance."

"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 see marketing professionals having control over what design should look like, and having too much say in what a final design should be. Marketing professionals do not understand design like designers do, so it doesn't make sense to me why they would have a say in a design choice. [...] I also see marketing professionals not understanding just how important design is, and completely dismissing the importance and investment in

173 people mention "good design" as a key theme in design.

good design and good designers [...]"


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."

"I've noticed a lot of students coming out of UX/UI design bootcamps presenting themselves as an authority in the field [...] The market [is] very saturated with individuals who claim to understand the process ↗ [...] On the flip side, companies are catching wind of the need for a UX/UI designer without completely understanding how their work provides

355 people mention "understanding" as a key theme in design.

825 people mention "value" as a key theme in design.


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! :( "

"1) Designing to communicate effectively across multiple languages [...] 2) Recognizing the prevalence of "lowest common denominator" marketing tendencies (and their implicit tendency to lower standards of excellence in design) [...] and 3) Avoiding cliches and visual constructs that undermine intent."

"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 [...]"

"[...] The novice gig economy (Fiverr, etc) lowering standards of quality and pay for the design discipline (devaluing our trade). With an influx of self-taught designers joining in-house and studio teams: a major lack of systems for workflow, CMS, file management, efficiency, or appropriate software for jobs (ties into software literacy big time [...] [not] knowing the professional and technical skills they need to succeed or actually bring that design to life [...]"

"With the ability of everyone to become a designer, certain standards have been diminished. There are no editors any more, so graphic designers make mistakes that shouldn't be made, and these are accepted, such as the misunderstanding of the apostrophe. this is just one example. Everyone is expected to know how to do everything, and they don't. Software changes so fast that once you learn one it is no longer the thing. So wisdom and longevity are no longer valued."

"I think since there is no definite way to measure design, the pay scale is completely arbitrary ↗ and some rely on tenure vs. actual work quality. I have had coworkers who were promoted just for their tenure although their work and teamwork qualities were quite low. Also, people expect designers to look a certain way and since I don't fit that, people assume i'm not capable and/or not creative enough."

"Designers have a lot of control over the work we produce (whether we realize it or not). I believe

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

is the experiment of our generation and we currently design products and services without much concern for their effect on our users. Being

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

ethical and considerate of your user,
and not manipulating them for business purposes, I believe should be discussed more in the design community."

Latino Male
Brooklyn, NY
Service Design, Strategy, UI Design, UX Design