Design+ city Editorial Team Story Feature

By NYCxDESIGN

From yours truly, Anja Laubscher, Shani Rodan, Molly Heintz, Laetitia Wolff

 

It’s our second year collaborating with the team at NYCxDESIGN to continue to build relevant content for the design+ city blog, which we launched together last year. At AIGA and at the SVA D-Crit program, we share the belief that there’s a need to recognize the creatives in the city and around it. When we talk about government innovation, it starts with the people who make it happen. Here they are…

Our mission with design+ city is to craft a space for stories that celebrate the City’s commitment to design that improves our urban quality of life. We publishing a selection of interviews spotlighting designers who work within the City or for the City.

Yes, with an emphasis on people rather than projects, this year’s blog posts have been written by SVA D-Crit recent grads, Anja Laubscher and Shani Rodan, respectively hailing from South Africa and Israel and now true New Yorkers. Interviews were conducted on the phone, via email and in person, and a few were led by Laetitia Wolff, faithful NYCxDESIGN steering committee member since 2012.

Molly and Laetitia are both passionate design + city practitioners and advocates, through writing, teaching, creative strategy, and program curation. We wish you a good reading before the 2018 fair starts!

– Laetitia Wolff and Molly Heintz, New York, May 9, 2018

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Career Pathways: Laetitia Wolff

When did you realize you were interested in design?

Cleaning up my childhood bedroom last summer, I discovered an old portfolio in which I had collected graphic images dating back to my teenage years. Logos, Vasarely abstractions, Americana, stamps, fashion shoot spreadsheets, and the likes. I never studied design but grew up with a mother artist, trained as a graphic designer, so it must have sunk into my brain…

What was your first design job or design-related job?

Organizing the archives of the International Program at the Museum of Modern Art as a summer intern and then as a junior , I learned how to edit in English (not my first language), organize paperwork in rational and systemic ways, create hierarchy of information, and value the trace of paper, the written note, the historical artifact that would often be symbolic of ideas and ideologies of a time when art and design were part of a post-WWII American imperialistic endeavor. I guess I had already embraced the notion that design, culture and politics were one.

How did you get to where you are now?

Like a crab, I often say I walk sideways. I am a design generalist specialist who has navigated many disciplines of design. Although with no formal background in design I have an endless curiosity for what it is, how it defines itself and where it can be brought in new and meaningful ways. I followed my instinct and left all the jobs I had when I felt either that there were too many cooks in the kitchen or that I didn’t learn anything new. I regularly took risks, maybe naïve risks, jumping into the unknown–launching a consultancy without a sound business model, creating curatorial series before having secured funding, always exploring territories where I was not an expert yet challenged myself to learn a great deal, and fast–which is what matters most in life.

When did you realize you could make a difference through design?

I don’t think there is a clear historical moment to this realization, it’s not a one-time epiphany but rather an accumulation of experiences overtime that makes me feel part of the design community, and yet always a bit on the (crab) side of it. I Although, when come think of it, my first serious curatorial endeavor for the St. Etienne International Design Biennale, entitled Value Meal (2004-2005), was a show on design and obesity. It made me realize that what I truly cared for was design that raises and addresses issues, design that can make a difference. And that’s what I’ve tried to focus my work, mind and heart on over the past 15-20 years.

 

Career Pathways: Molly Heintz

When did you realize you were interested in design?

I became interested in design through studying archaeology in college and graduate school. When you uncover an object—or more likely, a fragment of an object—on a dig, you’re always starting at zero. You try to deduce its identity and function based on the evidence, and this trains you to look extremely carefully at what’s before you as a first step. Archaeology was also great training in understanding architecture in a very hands-on way, from the foundations up. But I was most drawn to what archaeologists and art historians call “material culture”—the objects of daily life. At some point I became more interested in looking closely at the present as well as the past, and I realized that the material culture of the contemporary world is what we call design.

What was your first design job or design-related job?

After I decided to live in the present professionally, I started working for a startup magazine in Boston as a fashion editor, both writing about fashion design—very much from an outsider, anthropological perspective, thanks to my archaeology background—as well as planning and directing fashion shoots. Because the team was so small, I was also involved all sorts of editorial and design decisions, from laying out pages  to creating cover lines. It was a fantastic, immersive learning experience.

How did you get to where you are now?

After this jump into publishing, I ended up working with other magazines and then in-house with architecture and design firms on their publishing projects. But because I wanted to pursue my own research and writing interests professionally—and perhaps because I’m addicted to school—I decided to join the pioneering MFA in Design Criticism at School of Visual Arts in its second year. The curriculum created an intersection between my two career interests, journalism and design, with a focus on developing critical point of view. Exactly where I wanted to be! Through the program’s network, I jumped into some great editorial roles on staff at design publications, and I also met some wonderful colleagues at started an editorial consultancy called Superscript. Then three years ago, after the program had become the one-year MA program it is today in Design Research, Writing & Criticism, I got a call from the founding chair Alice Twemlow, telling me she was moving to Amsterdam and asking if I was interested in being considered for her position.

When did you realize you could make a difference through design?

My trajectory from academia to a lifestyle magazine and then back to the more academic environment of a design firm opened my eyes to the fact that there is a often a massive gap between how practitioners talk about their work and how the general public understands architecture and design. There is a real need for thinkers, writers, and communicators who can bridge this divide. So much is possible through design, but only if it has widespread understanding and support.

 

City Champion: Anja Laubscher

What’s your favorite public space in New York City and why?

The streets of the City! There is a messy vitality to the streets of New York City that I find energizing and inspiring. The interactions between various people and design on the sidewalk create moments of encounter with practices of life that I don’t always share or fully understand, but view as the epiphany of the urban. I love how the streams of people, signage, and built environment participate in this multi-dimensional diverse dialog on the sidewalk. That to me, is when public space truly comes to life.

Give us an example of how design has improved the quality of life in New York City?

The pockets of bright seating and pop-up public squares along Broadway—Union Square, Madison Square, Harold Square—illustrate how basic design elements and small details, like tables, seating, and flower beddings can liven up existing infrastructure and have a large impact on how the City feels. There is a spontaneity and heterogenous playful spirit in these squares where people have a place to stay and engage with each other and their environment.

As a designer, what would you like to see in New York City in 2030 and why?

By 2030 I hope to see a shift in the approach to design (especially graphic design) from merely being viewed as “projects,” to being viewed as something that continues to grow and evolve with the user as they utilize the design. I hope that as designers we will embrace and value design as not just aesthetically pleasing, but sustainable, authentic, and sometimes well, messy.  

 

City Champion: Shani Rodan

What’s your favorite public space in New York City and why?

My favorite public space is Central Park. I particularly love the lake in the middle of the park, also known as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. I get to spend there beautiful moments during morning hours when I go for a run. It is the perfect escape from the hectic city, only a few blocks away from where I live. You are surrounded by trees and water, but you always know where you are thanks to the skyscrapers that mark the boundaries of the park. The park allows me to really experience the passing seasons and see the nature change accordingly. I love to see how patterns of melted snow or falling leaves dictate my route.

Give us an example of how design has improved the quality of life in New York City?

I think that many New Yorkers like to complain about the Subway, but this is an unbelievable system. Using the subway really changes the everyday life of many New Yorkers, and make many relatively far locations much closer and accessible–a distance that in other cities in the world ( e.g Tel Aviv) considered very far and not immediate. There is no need to own a car but you can still feel very independent and free when you use the subway.

As a designer, what would you like to see in New York City in 2030 and why?

I think one problem that’s still key is the trash in the streets. Although the streets are clean, they are full of garbage bags and carton boxes in a way that literally blocks the pedestrians’ sidewalk. As a designer, I hope to see creative solutions to this problem. I think that by design, it is possible to utilize the waste in a more resourceful way that favors the city and the citizens, rather than just get rid of it. For example: creating organic compost for the communal gardens in the neighborhoods.