Event Review: Design Thinking 1

Design Thinking 1: Andrew Blauvelt
Thursday, April 25, 2013 at Morningstar
Written By: Allison McCulloh

As the Chief of Audience Engagement and Communications and Curator of Architecture and Design at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Andrew Blauvelt welcomes the challenge of not only inspiring conversation surrounding design but creating it. This conversation is a key component in the process of design thinking, and is a conversation that extends past the visual. At AIGA Chicago’s first lecture in the Design Thinking Series of 2013, Andrew Blauvelt describes the process of applying design thinking to the range of projects he has led as director of the award-winning, in-house design department for the Walker Art Center. The department’s exhibition designs, in- house publishing projects, programs, and initiatives bridge the various departments of the Walker Art Center, which includes Architecture & Design Department, Education & Community Programs, Film/Video Department, New Media Initiatives, Performing Arts and Visual Arts. The Walker Art Center is a 14-acre campus, adjacent to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden which is one of the nation’s largest urban sculpture parks.

Before Blauvelt discusses a collection of 2D and 3D projects, his design thinking process is evident in a simple diagram, projected on-screen in Morningstar’s theatre. The diagram is a box split into four quadrants, with the x- and y-axis extending just past the box boundary. Four “actions” replace the four cardinal directions as on a compass: presenting, practicing, designing, and curating replace north, south, east and west. Inside each of the four quadrants Blauvelt collects his efforts, organized along the intersection of the actions: programs, publications, projects and initiatives. Presenting and designing generates publications, whereas presenting and curating generates programs. Curating and practicing generates initiatives, while practicing and designing generates projects.

This diagram symbolizes the rigor that Blauvelt commands in his daily design thinking practice, and throughout his presentation of past and current projects we see a succession of work that has populated that diagram over the course of his career at the Walker. From animated billboards in Minneapolis to the 2005 re-design of the Walker Identity and SVA’s D-CRIT program identity – as well as an impressive collection of exhibitions, catalogs and posters – Blauvelt encourages the audience to think about how content is shaped, produced and consumed. Just as the Walker Art Center’s identity was inspired by ticker tape in 2005, Blauvelt’s work subtly encourages designers to remain focused on designing a solution, not just a product. This focus is apparent in 2D design solutions – such as an exhibition catalog of photographer Alec Soth’s work – as well as 3D design solutions, such as the successful, international museum exhibit Graphic Design: Now in Production.

As Blauvelt closed his discussion, he challenges the audience to continue analyzing and questioning their solutions. He describes the design thinking he applied when re- designing the Walker Art Center’s website. “What role does the website play in the new century? Can you encourage a conversation around the art? Can it be more than just a reflection of what’s inside?” Blauvelt’s solution not only answered these questions, but redefined the Walker’s web presences by seeing and creating something bigger than what is contained within its walls. The re-designed website includes the events calendar and exhibition guides – items that you would expect from one of the top contemporary art collections in the country – but it dives deeper with original content, aggregated global content and videos that create a conversation.

Andrew Blauvelt inspires designers to continue to ask questions and redefine the problems we are aiming to solve.

Graphic Design: Now In Production is co-organized with the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum. It is traveling through 2014.

By AIGA Chicago
Published June 12, 2013
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