To: College of Design faculty and staff
From: Tom Fisher
Re: Design Institute
In the late 1990s, in Mark Yudof's first year as President of the University, he identified five strategic initiatives he wanted to pursue, one of which was design. He received funding from the State Legislature in support of his five priorities and the Design Initiative was launched as a result of that investment. In November 2000, Janet Abrams came as the first director of the renamed Design Institute. With funding from the State and, in 2001, a $1 million gift from Target, the DI had a tripartite mission: to create connections between the design disciplines across the University; to engage in outreach and public education about design; and to pursue research that would define new areas of design thinking and application.
Many inventive new ideas and projects emerged from the Design Institute under Jan's direction, including the development of "Twin," a dynamic typeface that responds to the Twin Cities' weather and other urban variables; the establishment of a Design Camp for teens, offered six years in a row from 2002; the creation of the "Big Urban Game" in 2003, the first of the genre now widely known as "Big Games"; publication of the "Knowledge Circuit" review of design and new media conferences, on the DI website; two television programs co-produced with TPT; and over a dozen Knowledge Maps on diverse topics. In addition, until late 2007, the DI also administered and formalized the interdisciplinary Design Minor, significantly expanding its enrolment and curriculum, with the creation of eight new elective courses.
In the last two years, the DI has supported "D-labs" in areas such as Design and PK-12 education, and produced Knowledge Maps of the digital fabrication facilities on campus and around the Twin Cities, and of the sustainability research going on at the University. With the publication of its award-winning book Else/Where: Mapping -- New Cartographies of Networks and Territories, in 2006, the Design Institute opened new territory for designers, evident in the popularity of the book, soon to be in its second printing.
With the formation of the new College of Design, however, the University withdrew the central funding for the Design Institute. That left us with the task of rethinking the Design Institute as a "soft funded" center, dependent on outside funding for its entire operation. During this past academic year, the DI staff has made significant efforts to achieve this goal, in a challenging economic climate. But, in view of the short time to secure the DI's full financial independence, Jan Abrams has chosen to pursue a new opportunity. With her departure, we have decided to end, at least for the time being, the experiment that was the Design Institute.
Jan's last day will be on Friday, June 27, while Wendy Friedmeyer will stay on through the summer to complete the current slate of "Parallel Play" projects; Don Haney has successfully found another opportunity at the University. Jan and Wendy invite you to join them at the Design Institute's studio in Northrop, room 308, on Thursday June 26 from 5-7 pm, to help celebrate nearly eight years of intense activity, productivity, camaraderie, and design hi-jinks.