Cincinnati Chapter

Cincinnati, OH Blog

July 2017 Blog

Nicole R. Roberts
Creative Lead, Kolar Design
[email protected]

This summer I returned back to my alma mater to team teach Design Systems, a junior-level experiential graphic design (EGD) course. We guide students to research social issues within local communities to co-create wayfinding systems and strategic placemaking design. For most, this is their first encounter designing complex three-dimensional systems, working in scale, and within the built environment. It’s an energizing place where design professionals bring insightful industry expertise to bridge the gap from the workplace to the classroom. This successful model is one that propelled my design career forward as a student many years ago, so it’s an honor to give back.

We are now well into the semester and I can’t help but notice how much the climate within the classroom has shifted since I was last in school. They all have pre-existing ideas about what wayfinding or environmental graphic design is. They are up against the greatest challenge of today’s design student; they are required to learn copious amounts of information within the expansive, global definition of visual communication. The classroom is a true microcosm of today’s larger social context. For that reason, I continue to craft my own teaching techniques by understanding the realities of today's society that drive student behavior, coupled with the expectations professional designers place on new grads. Most importantly to set students up for success, we provide them the freedom to discover their unique superpower and amplify their voice through their own design work.

Day one, we focus on two creative mindsets that are pivotal to the success of today’s professional EGD practice – collaborative teaming and active adaptive behavior. While not new concepts, admittedly they were not top-of mind societal emergence twenty years ago when I sat in the same classroom as a student. More importantly, societal norms back then did not seem to necessitate in-depth design lectures on emotional intelligence and soft skills like empathy. Students are encouraged to remain open to learning from each other’s perspectives, as it adds value when designing for human-experiences. Returning to the classroom, I’ve found that teaching techniques are much like design strategy – today, there is little tolerance for one-size-fits all methodologies. Students must be engaged as unique contributors within the classroom environment.

With digital disruption at the forefront of design systems, we forego the grueling study of hundreds of iterations as I was once taught in design school. Instead, we seek to integrate new opportunities to future-proof students as subject matter experts with heightened skillsets in user research, community engagement and rapid field prototyping. Collaborative critiques with industry professionals and their peers challenge their critical thinking to aim for both growth and refinement consistently over the duration of the project.

It’s known that societal change drives innovative business strategies in the workplace over time. But I’ve found it truly compelling to witness the immediate influence within the educational environment. Students, teachers and design professionals alike – those who do not learn to collaborate well or fail to actively adapt and manage change, become institutions of an old, disrupted story. I believe that it is the duty of those who prevail to rise to the occasion together, as strategic creatives to develop new thinking around meaningful, adaptive systems for purposeful societal advancement. Empowered by the ever-changing design industry, the teacher becomes the student. I like to think of myself as one in the same on any given day, continually learning new capabilities and sharing the knowledge, not only to keep pace and advance, but to make a positive impact on society, uplifting future generations to come.


Join us for a special Happy Hour event to connect mid-year and recap the fiery energy best known as the 2017 SEGD Conference in Miami. Grab a drink, a light snack, and let loose with your fellow EGD'ers.

A special "thank you" goes out to APCO Architectural Sign Systems for being our event sponsor and coming out to share their products with us.

This free event is open to all members and friends of SEGD Cincinnati

See you there! – Hannah & Margaret



Questions? Email us any time at [email protected].

Chelsea Curry
Graphic Design Lead, m+a architects
[email protected]

Collaboration. A word that has been absolutely beat to death in our industries and workplaces.  However, it has been beat to death because of how vital it actually is in the design process. Whether you create brands, digital magic, or environmental graphics, teamwork makes the dream work. Sure, great ideas can still arise from designing solo, but the ability to get others thoughts along the way helps challenge your natural way of thinking—resulting in a more well-rounded, dynamic design.

I’m thankful that collaboration is not only a core value at my firm, M+A Architects, but a vital component to our culture. If there is one thing I have learned about designing environmental graphics at M+A, it’s that working alongside other people, not just creatives, provides a dialogue and insights that elevate designs. I’ve actually found that self-proclaimed ‘non-creatives’ often have the questions that make me think about my work in a new and very practical, necessary way.

TAKEAWAY #1: Ask co-workers or peers for their opinions on your work. Listen to the ‘non-creatives’ questions and really analyze how they could make your work better.

More often than not, environmental graphic design (EGD) is part of a much larger project. At M+A, ideally, our architects design the building, then our interior designers thoughtfully craft the interior experience and I put the sprinkles on the cake with environmental graphics that complement both. Although each piece of the larger project is a project in its own right, they should work in harmony with one another to create a holistic vision and environment. When this doesn’t happen, an environment can feel disconnected and un-authentic.

 TAKEAWAY #2: Expand your realm of knowledge. Take a genuine interest in learning about the clients business, the architecture and/or the interior design. It will be apparent in the way you speak and how you design that you’ve done your research and you will have quicker buy-in from those parties.

As EGD becomes more wide-spread and accepted as a new standard, it is no longer being thought of as an afterthought. “We need something on that wall” has been replaced with “how can we best showcase our brand/culture in this space?” Well-planned EGD can and should affect building and interior design considerations and vice versa. Each component is vitally important to the project’s success; no egos allowed. Personally, I prefer to be introduced to the client early on and actually integrate into meetings towards the end of interior schematic design. This way, the whole team can start to make forward thinking ‘smart design’ decisions that may affect architectural elements.  

 TAKEAWAY #3: Build camaraderie within the entire design team. EGD designers need to get to know the architects and interior designers on the project. Aside from just knowing A LOT about the client, building specifics, materials and intended spatial experience, they have really terrific ideas (plus everyone likes be listened to and valued).

So I suppose collaboration is rightfully often over used when it comes to design. It not only makes your creative work better, but fosters relationships and builds trust while doing so. Not to mention learning to work well with an array of people and personalities is a life benefit, not just professional one.


Photo Credits:
CH Main Lobby: M+A Project, Crawford Hoying Columbus Office, photo by: Cory Klein
Ch Keys - M+A Project, Crawford Hoying Columbus Office, photo by: Cory Klein
Aykea -
Heineken -

CH Main Lobby

AYEKA Coworking offices - Tel Aviv

Heineken USA Offices - White Plains

CH Keys Cafe Low


What's on your mind? Have you recently learned something new? We'd love to hear your voice on our blog!

Margaret & Hannah
Email Us

Sharon Brooks
Sr. Sales Consultant, ISF Sign Specialists
[email protected]

Even in the middle of what some would call rural America (the Midwest), we are collaborating with really brilliant and extraordinarily creative people daily here in our fab shop. Last week a fellow colleague and client wrote on his Instagram "new level of intimidation- when an artist has to draw architectural renderings for an architectural project with an architectural firm...I feel doomed" - of course this led to an outpouring of support from his fans with comments like; "You got this," "ain't no shame in trying," and my favorite, "dancing with the devil!"

When I was asked to write for this issue of the SEGD blog, I thought about my previous blogs, as it was suggested I follow "that" style of writing and subject matter. My previous blogs were inspired by motivation found within our own design community. Lately I have been looking a little beyond the obvious in my own professional development. I admit, I still read every post on our SEGD Listserve because I continue to be amazed at the willingness to share ideas from our knowledgeable community.

As an artist, I am often asked if I paint for a living. (I don't obviously or I would not be writing this blog.) But the thought has entered my mind a time or two. I know the tradeoff would be immense. My ability to communicate daily with others from all professions would significantly be reduced. My cats would have to fill that gap.

I have an interest in learning from you. I want you to share your passions and ideas with me. There is no better place to be than working to help you find answers and solutions. When we collaborate on this level, my expectation is that we will make great things together. This, I believe, is true for most all of us in this industry.

Just like the fabricators on our shop floor learning to operate new equipment, our role of development must be continual. I have been reading so many blogs lately on theory. I'm not sure how this has become an interest but there is probably a theory on that too. My most recent favorite was about color - specifically Chevreul's chart. Chevreul was a French chemist whose work with fatty acids led to early applications in the field of art. Chevreul lived to 102.

As my title at my job now indicates (Sr.) Sales Consultant, I have come to accept that my younger counterparts and colleagues have much more opportunity to learn and experience than I ever have had. That being said, I am just now beginning to realize how much more I can learn when I seek out the opportunities. Perhaps it's the wisdom-with-age thing that allows the mind to be open to new concepts, conversations, or commitments.

My friend who was nervous to sketch last week for his fellow architects: rest easy. I assure you there is no greater story than your own. I will stand beside you and tell you to raise your hand first, put yourself out there and give what you can to others - minus the fear. I wonder if Chevreul was afraid of sharing his thoughts about fat or knew so many years later that people would be interested? If I make it to 102, I hope I will still have the energy to chat with you about your passions. I can assure you I will still be motivated to create. Remember there are great things that come from collaboration and motivation. We must keep growing no matter our stage and not let fear (or fat) stand in our way.


What's on your mind? Have you recently learned something new? We'd love to hear your voice on our blog!

Margaret & Hannah
Email Us


Darrin Scott Hunter
Dish Design
[email protected]

When was the last time you were asked the question, “So what do you do?” and your answer began, “I’m a ______”? Whether you thought it consciously or not, your ______ was probably the name of the discipline with which you most closely align in philosophical outlook (i.e. I’m a graphic designer, architect, photographer, etc.) This foundational issue of discipline is so deeply embedded in our origins as designers through our first formal educational experiences that we rarely think to question our allegiances to the intellectual framework we inherited from teachers and mentors. It’s just the way we do things.

But what is a discipline anyway? How is it so powerful that it comes to define our deep identities? And what does it mean to profess discipleship? (After all, that is indeed what pursuing a ‘profession’ involves.) As a ‘professor’ at the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program in the late 2000s, I spent over six years considering this question as I developed class curricula. And after reviewing the scant academic literature that directly invokes meta-discussions about disciplines, the answers are not entirely clear.

Even after centuries of our best efforts to invent new disciplines—and to manipulate, blend, and destroy them—they seem to have a life of their own once discovered. Their boundaries sometimes shift and overlap with those of other disciplines nearby on the spectrum of knowledge, sometimes become unstable or permeable, and sometimes resist and challenge each other. But, they tend to defy our best efforts to corral them into the shapes we desire. It is the rare thinker whose work is so off the beaten path that the disruption it creates breaks entirely new ground and we classify it as a new discipline altogether. This seems to happen only a few times in any given century across all knowledge areas (think “the great minds” like Newton, Freud, Einstein, Picasso…)

For now, I offer a provisional definition: a discipline is a way. It is useful to imagine your discipline as a path, well-trod by those who came before you, along the same way, addressing similar challenges in the same way, with the same tools, technologies, and accumulated skills. Graphic designers seem to have a particular and identifiable way of reading, writing, thinking, doing, and making. Others with backgrounds in other fields may have also cleared paths to those same challenges, but from a different direction, using different tools and methods. Same destination, different origins and orientations.

For members of SEGD, the topic of discipline has caused considerable collective debate. For decades, the organization has struggled to define precisely what it is ‘environmental graphic designers’ do, how they do it, and how one should be educated to do it. The recent name change of the organization to shift ‘environmental’ to ‘experiential’ reveals a perceived shift in the disciplinary boundaries of its practitioners. While empirically recognizing that many practitioners of the EGD arts come from varying disciplinary backgrounds, we have settled on the notion that the true work of EG designers lies between all of them. In other words, we believe that EGD is an interdisciplinary field (stopping short of being its own discipline).

The problem with being interdisciplinary is that it’s hard work to hack your way through a jungle of ideas with a machete when everyone around you has it easier, walking on comfortable paths that simply don’t go where you want. One senses that becoming a radically successful EG designer requires a serious examination of your disciplinary allegiances: shedding at least some of the core tenets with which you were first baptized, overcoming feelings of inadequacy about the breadth of your training, summoning the willpower to claim expertise, and reveling in the uncertainty and messiness of path making. Not for the faint-hearted or those without entrepreneurial spirit!

The schism between academia and practice couldn’t be much more evident here. For one thing, practice moves much faster. In practice, when a client needs a specific outcome to which there is no one pure disciplinary path, you simply hire specialists who have the broad range of skills to get you there, put them in a room like cats in a box, and pour money on the problem until something happens! This cannot happen in academia, where knowledge must be validated through the slow process of research, writing, and peer review before it’s considered a solid foundation on which to build.

I’ve read no more brilliant account of this conundrum than Louis Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University. Menand spends almost a fourth of the book developing this thesis on interdisciplinarity: the anxiety surrounding the topic of disciplinarity in American schools is really a displaced malcontent among professors with the intellectual system they collectively devised and a feeling of irrelevance within the larger culture.

He asserts that in the gradual shift from liberal arts education toward professional programs of study, American intellectuals created an institutional structure of clearly defined disciplines that could provide relative job security for professors within myriad fields of study (“Garbage may be garbage, but the History of Garbage is a discipline!”). But, that kind of specialization has also led to a professoriate with narrow boxes in which to operate and an ever-diminishing ability to engage in meaningful fights that can affect society: the proverbial Ivory Tower trap.

And so, this is the thicket from which SEGD practitioners emerge, degree from some field in hand, ready to tackle big complex design problems, but without much understanding of how to navigate into the cracks between the established disciplines. To help put a more detailed point on SEGD’s existential crisis, Julie Buckler of Harvard University provides the following dictionary to the prefix soup of disciplinary approaches:

Multidisciplinary work draws upon knowledge from more than one discipline, but preserves the disciplinary identities of these multiple disciplinary elements. Certain objects of study—opera and the city, to give two of my favorite examples—seem naturally suited to multidisciplinary investigation.

Crossdisciplinary work, in contrast, illuminates the subject of one discipline from the perspective of another, as when, for an example, a physicist discusses the acoustics of music production or a literary-studies specialist performs a “close reading” of a legal contract.

In contrast to multidisciplinary and crossdisciplinary work, interdisciplinary work ideally produces knowledge that integrates two or more disciplines, contributing to a new foundational unity of understanding, perhaps even a new hybrid field. Interdisciplinary work thus both creates knowledge and redraws the boundaries of that which can, in theory, be known, but interdisciplinary work also entails an understanding of the disciplinary norms that are being challenged.

To continue with our survey of disciplinary evolution: The term postdisciplinarity evokes an intellectual universe in which we inhabit the ruins of outmoded disciplinary structures, mediating between our nostalgia for this lost unity and our excitement at the intellectual freedom its demise can offer us. Is the era of postdisciplinarity upon us now?

Finally, transdisciplinarity refers to the highest level of integrated study, that which proposes the unity of intellectual frameworks beyond the disciplinary perspectives and points toward our potential to think in terms of frameworks, concepts, techniques, and vocabulary that we have not yet imagined. It must be acknowledged, however, that the very notion of transdisciplinarity may strike many of us as chimerical, sinisterly monolithic, or as a ruse for smuggling back in old dreams of objectivity and universal knowledge. Are we then right back where we started, or does our investigation of disciplines and the nature of knowledge maintain our historical perspective?

—Julie A. Buckler, Harvard University
“Towards a New Model of General Education at Harvard College”

This reminds me of the often-quoted model of the ideal design employee proposed by Tom Kelley of the design firm IDEO: he looks for what he calls “T-Shaped People” (perhaps the best model for EG designer?) They are people with broad understandings of the context in which design occurs but who also approach individual problems from a deep disciplinary perspective coupled with hard-won expertise. T-Shaped people can form teams that surround a challenge with interconnected cultural sensitivities and a formidable array of pragmatic skill sets. It looks like this:

IDEO's idea designerTeam Building

…which leads me to propose an expanded system of Kelley’s thinking using typography as a base for addressing disciplinary issues:

Undergrad / Grad

It has always seemed a bit overambitious to expect undergraduate design programs to produce truly T-Shaped people, hence I propose they instead shoot for “lowercase-t shaped” people and expect them to grow into Kelley’s ideal through graduate study and presumably a few years of practical work experience.


Those with purely disciplinary training (‘pure’ theory heads, master-apprenticeships, trade education) may take years to develop broad understandings of the interconnectedness of their skills with culture at either high or low levels while Interdisciplinarians attempt to occupy the areas between established fields and exploit their overlaps.


Perhaps postdisciplinarity is about connecting directly to the larger culture (‘popular’ scholarship) at several depths within a discipline while transdisciplinarity requires a broad interconnectedness of very deep disciplinary skills and perspectives…probably only possible with networks of coordinated specialists rather than within any one designer’s education.

Finally, I propose a new word, Diversciplinarity, to satisfy our collective bloodthirst to constantly commoditize new fields of study, and I end with a question: what shape should EG designers of the future look like?




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