"Transmedia projects activate the senses and the imagination in unexpected ways." Quickfire Q&A with Social Designer and TEDx Transmedia 2012 Speaker Andrew Shea


Today’s Quickfire Q&A is with New York-based Social Designer, Andrew Shea. He talks everything from wanting to be Michael Jordan to writing his recent book, Designing For Social Change.

To see Andrew live register here for TEDx Transmedia 2012

Hi Andrew, Please can you tell us what led you into social design and what your relationship is with Transmedia? 

I’ve always worked on projects that aligned with my interests and curiosity but it wasn’t until graduate school at Maryland Institute College of Art that I learned more about how design can address social problems in meaningful ways.

I don’t have a particular relationship with Transmedia, though I’ve worked across various media.

What’s the most important part of Transmedia for you? In your experience, what makes a great Transmedia project? 

Transmedia projects activate the senses and the imagination in unexpected ways.

One project where I tried to do this was called “Listening Watching.” It was a radio show at MIT that a friend and I started in 2007. We prepared for each two-hour show by choosing words (usually nouns) that conjured up a visual, like “train,” “newscaster,” cruise ship,” or “buzz.” Then I would search YouTube for videos using that word. The radio show consisted of mixing the audio from the videos that we found with sounds effects and music in order to create a listening experience that was visual and imaginative.

What do you see as the future of Transmedia storytelling? What possibilities are there in a networked world? 

I’m not sure there are any limitations to storytelling. Everything we do seems to become possible from remote locations and I expect that this will increase in the ways stories are told. 

You’re a writer, designer and educator. What’s been the most fun job you’ve had and why? And what’s been the most rewarding and why? 

This is a great question. I can’t say that I like one of these jobs more than another because each seems essential to me for different reasons. I like both writing and designing because they require creative problem solving skills and lots of tinkering. 

Teaching graphic design has been my most rewarding job. I like working with students and watching them develop their skills and mature as professionals during the course of the semester. While not all students improve dramatically during a semester, I try to think of my work with each student as a collaboration, which motivates me to motivate them.

You’ve just written Designing for Social Change. Tell us a bit about the book and what you tried to accomplish with it?

Designing for Social Change is a compact, hands-on primer for graphic designers who want to use their unique problem-solving skills to help others. I wrote the book to learn more about how to become more effective and efficient when working with communities and organizations. The book features ten proven strategies for working effectively with community organizations. These strategies can frame the design challenge and create a checklist to keep a project on track. Twenty case studies illustrate how design professionals and students approach unique challenges when working on a social agenda. The book is an essential guide that provides design educators with a valuable teaching resource and professionals with a set of tools to use in their practice. I even included a chapter on how funding solutions can aid designers as they take on their own projects.

The theme of this year’s TEDx Transmedia, WEKids, is about harnessing child-like wonder and courage to make media that has a social impact. What do you see as the potential of that approach? 

The approach can positively influence both individuals and societies. We do a lot of things out of habit, not because they’re the most effective way of doing them. By asking simple, kid-like questions, we can rethink the way we do things and start to redesign broken systems.

What did you want to be as a kid? What were your dreams and aspirations? 

I wanted to be Michael Jordan when I was a kid. I’m a dreamer!

What’s your inner child like?

A friend once told me that many of my books have questions in the title. I think that’s my inner child: I’m curious and I’m driven to learn and do more.

The TEDx Transmedia 2012 subheading is Dreamers, Geeks, Mindshifters; which do you most identify with and why?

Dreamers. I’m an eternal optimist. Even when things seem to be collapsing around me.

What attracts you to speaking at TEDxTransmedia in Rome? What are you most looking forward to?

Transmedia is a compelling theme to organize a day of talks around. I’m looking forward to meeting new people and planning future collaborations.

TEDTalks are renowned for their inspiration, energy and focus on the personal. Can you give us a taster of what you want to bring to Rome?

I’m fascinated by human nature: how and why we act the way we do. My talk will touch on design’s role in creating meaningful behavior change.

What in your life are you most passionate about?

Telling meaningful stories through design.

And something a bit more personal (if you don’t mind?), what do you enjoy doing outside of work? 

Hiking, swimming, and biking are some of my favorite actives. Since moving to NYC, I now even like to like to run. I live not far from Central Park and going for a run in the park is like going to the woods. It’s quiet and meditative, even if I run into a crowd of tourists. I also keep busy weekend schedules. I also love to travel. In August, I visited friends in San Francisco, family in Washington DC, and went on camping and sailing weekend trips.

Interview by Hannah Wood