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

"Most of the great designers working today are ignored or completely unknown, even within the design community, if they don't have the propensity or inclination to gush about themselves on

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

social media
, afford to travel to attend overpriced conferences, or participate in the pay-to-play world of design awards shows. We shouldn't be relying on the loudest or most privileged voices among us to define our field."

"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 issue 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 ↗"

"Instagram and sharing culture has made it challenging for designers. Everything is referential, recycled, knocked off, and our clients come to us with their own idea of what success will be based on what is already happening. [...] I'm unfortunately working on fewer brands that I find meaningful and would support myself - not to mention balancing this with our responsibility as designers of championing sustainable practices [...]"

"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."

"Gentrification and the role art and design plays ↗ in displacing entire communities and excluding poc, working class, etc. especially in my hometown of Austin. As a Latinx designer born and raised here I feel extremely excluded from the majorly white art community occupying space in a neighborhood that used to be majority working class people of color."

"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 usefulfor older generations of designers like myself."

"Political bias, has created an incredible close-minded industry. Thinking outside of the group-think can be career suicide. The design community sometimes operates much like Hollywood. Very insular."

"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."

"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?"

"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."

"I think the

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

expectation for designers
to be a jack of all trades is the most challenging, harmful trend in the workplace. For example, expecting a designer to be not only a designer, but a videographer/social media manager/animator. What happened to hiring specialists in design roles?"

"Co-design and working across the atypical industries, like social work and human / social services."

"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

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

gain and boundless expansion from the reallocation of resources where they are most needed."

"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 issue 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."

"Designing for accessibility isn't always the prettiest so designers are less willing to take on projects like this. The challenge should be why we take on a project as unique ↗ but the community values aesthetics over full functionality for those who are disabled."

"We are being fed so much info and mental stimulation via

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

social media
(with no real ability to regulate the things we see / don't see). We are flooded everyday and aside from the mental / health issues this causes, we rarely take the time to look deeper. To look deeper into research, to look deeper into meaning, to look deeper into cause/effect. We've become conditioned to see something and immediately move onto the next thing."

"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 issue in design.

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

White Male
Santa Ana, CA
    Communication / Graphic Design, Data Science, Motion Graphics, Strategy, UI Design