2018 SEGD Educator Award: Kristine Matthews, Associate Professor of Design and Chair of the Visual Communication Design program at the University of Washington in Seattle and Owner + Principal of Studio Matthews
The SEGD Educator Award recognizes an individual for demonstrating innovation in the theory and practice of design education that not only integrates the needs of the industry but serves to advance the field. Recipients foster the development of the next generation of designers through creative and innovative curriculum as well as the promotion of forward thinking research and scholarship in the field.
Kristine Matthews is an Associate Professor of Design and Chair of the Visual Communication Design program at the University of Washington in Seattle. Dovetailing professional practice with education, her advanced exhibition design course creates cutting-edge design in the environment with a focus on audience engagement and sustainability.
Matthews is also the owner and principal of (six-time SEGD Global Design Awards-winning) Studio Matthews, which specializes in the sustainable design of exhibitions, installations and print projects. Clients in the U.S. have included The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, Amazon, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Tacoma Art Museum. Her work has been published around the world.
We recently caught up with Matthews and asked questions about her career in design education.
Tell us about your role and experience in education.
I started teaching in the University of Washington’s design program at the start of 2008 as a full-time faculty member. At the same time I started my own practice, Studio Matthews, which carried on with the same approach to EGD projects as my previous, London-based studio thomas.matthews, which I co-led with Sophie Thomas from 1998 to 2008.
In 2013 I went up for tenure and was promoted to Associate Professor. Studio Matthews meanwhile has grown to six full-time staff, so I spend my time sprinting between campus and studio to keep all the plates spinning.
I find that the teaching and the professional practice benefit from each other and I look for ways to integrate the two as often as I can. For example at the end of last year when the UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity approached Studio Matthews to design a temporary exhibition for their 50-year anniversary, I proposed instead that it start off as a concept design project that I would set to my UW Exhibition Design students.
The Studio Matthews designers participated in critiques of the student work and we are now busy translating several of the best student design concepts into a real exhibition which will launch in May on the UW campus. Along the way the students are learning a huge amount about how a design gets from a concept sketch all the way through to a constructed finished piece. Meanwhile the designers at Studio Matthews enjoy teaching the next generation, and the client gets to directly engage with and inspire current UW students with their story. So I like to think it’s a win-win-win situation.
What led you to a career in design?
Growing up, I was interested in type and image, though I’m sure I called it ‘lettering’ and ‘pictures’ then. Even my entry as a 10-year-old for the Youth Art Contest at the Lane County Fair was a typographic illustration of the Fair’s name. I turned the ‘O’ in county into a Ferris wheel and the ‘A’ in fair into a fortune teller’s booth and so on. It was a bit of a blatant suck-up to the fair’s judges, but I have to admit it worked!
Somewhere along the line I learned this was actually a career and was called graphic design. I started looking into design programs, applied to the University of Washington in Seattle in order to major in design there, and was off and running. I’ve never wanted to be anything but a designer.
What courses and topics do you teach and why?
At the moment I teach courses at each end of the UW design program. I teach a freshman ‘gateway’ course into the design major called Design Foundations with 120 students in addition to several senior-level studio classes, including Exhibition & Installation Design, a Senior Capstone course and Design Exhibition where seniors create the visual identity, website and exhibition for their graduating show each June. The Exhibition & Installation Design course includes a mix of seniors across Visual Communication Design, Interaction Design and Industrial Design.
I put the students into teams with a mix of skill sets, which gives them a sense of the collaborative nature of professional EGD work. It’s a nice opportunity for them to collaborate across majors, after they spend much of their junior and senior years honing their particular design skills.
What role has design education played in your life?
Speaking for myself, getting my master’s degree at the Royal College of Art in London was a complete game changer. Your learning environment—and fellow students—can reinvent you as a designer. There were students from every part of the world at the RCA. It was fantastic. (If I have one word of advice for design students, it’s this: Travel.)
After getting my degree, I jointly ran a studio called thomas.matthews in London for ten years. Then I returned to the Pacific Northwest and that’s when I started teaching at the University of Washington, ten years ago now. It has been a real eye-opener to teach as opposed to just practice.
When you need to explain the why, when you need to judge others with many different points of view and backgrounds, it makes you question and challenge your own design approach and methodology. That’s a good thing. Also, being around college students can’t help but keep you on your toes. You need to stay one step ahead of them and they are always charging ahead!
The students at UW work incredibly hard, the rest of the faculty are excellent. I’m proud to be part of a program that continues to produce excellent design leaders and thinkers.
What have been a few of your favorite student projects and why?
Every year I’m very proud of the UW Design Show experience created by the seniors for that year. I’m really just a facilitator (and cheerleader) for that massive team effort, but I love seeing how each class pulls together as a cohort to create something unique, that speaks to their own experience in the Design program. It’s fun to take students to a press check and watch their eyes get big seeing their own poster design roll off the press.
In Exhibition Design, there are many great group projects but there are a few oldies but goodies from my first few years of teaching that I love: ‘NonCents,’ which was a campaign to get rid of the penny and ‘The Want Store,’ which was designed to educate college students how to be smarter with their money. They each brought a sense of humor and a refined visual language that I still enjoy.
How did your relationship with SEGD begin?
After I started teaching at the University of Washington, I learned that I was required to enter my work in awards competitions. This is part of the ‘peer review’ necessary in academia. This was news to me and I was actually rather annoyed by it as we had an informal policy at thomas.matthews, my London studio, of not wasting our time and money on awards competitions.
In asking around, I quickly learned that SEGD was the go-to top-tier award program for environmental graphics and experiences. But when I looked further, I learned about all of the great programs and support that SEGD provides—both for educators and for students—and quickly felt a bit sheepish about my disdain for awards! Now I direct all of my Exhibition and Installation students to SEGD in general for resources and to the SEGD Awards Archive in particular for inspiration.
Congratulations to the 2018 SEGD Achievement Award winners!