Q&A With Alissa Walker

Written by
AIGA Colorado
November 7, 2012

Alissa Walker took some time to chat with AIGA Colorado about the GOOD Ideas For Cities Initiative, why she writes about design, and her favorite sub­ject of all: gelato!


Please tell us a bit about the GOOD Ideas For Cities Initiative and how you got involved. How could this ini­tia­tive be imple­mented in Denver?

AW: Four years ago (this week, in fact!) I was talk­ing to a graphic designer who had just spent months vol­un­teer­ing to help get Obama elected. He was excited to keep this civic-minded momen­tum going by work­ing on issues that were impor­tant to L.A., but he wasn’t sure where to start. At the same time, I was writ­ing a lot of arti­cles about local pol­i­tics for GOOD and spend­ing a lot of time in City Hall, hear­ing dif­fer­ent city lead­ers talk about var­i­ous ini­tia­tives that they wanted to launch, but didn’t have enough time or fund­ing to explore. I real­ized that GOOD was in a unique posi­tion because it had this incred­i­ble engaged com­mu­nity of cre­atives, but also had insight into the big urban issues the city was fac­ing. So with GOOD’s cre­ative direc­tor Casey Caplowe, we planned an event where we assigned design­ers to L.A. chal­lenges as cho­sen by urban lead­ers and had them present their solu­tions to a live audi­ence. It was so suc­cess­ful that other cities started ask­ing us to host events, and last year we part­nered with the urban think tank CEOs for Cities and got a grant from ArtPlace to take the pro­gram to six more cities across the coun­try. We now have over 100 incred­i­ble solu­tions to urban issues posted on our site: http://​www​.good​.is/​i​d​e​a​s​f​o​r​c​i​t​ies and about 25% of them are imple­mented or mov­ing towards imple­men­ta­tion. We are devel­op­ing a toolkit that will allow any city to host their own event, and I would be thrilled to work with Denver to orga­nize an event here for 2013.


What is it about design that inspires you to write about it?

AW: I see design as a tool for solv­ing prob­lems. There are the obvi­ous phys­i­cal prob­lems being solved by design, like design­ing safer streets or more effi­cient houses. But graphic design­ers in par­tic­u­lar are really good at cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful, vibrant, acces­si­ble ways for peo­ple to under­stand issues and take action, and that’s incred­i­bly pow­er­ful to me. Great design is about hav­ing a point of view, and the best design projects not only stop you in your tracks visu­ally, they inspire you to do some­thing about what you’ve just seen or experienced.


What aspects of design do you like to write about the most?

AW: It’s def­i­nitely shifted since I started writ­ing about design. At first, since I came from the world of adver­tis­ing, I was really inter­ested in the then-emerging indus­tries of motion graph­ics and inter­ac­tive design. As I got more con­fi­dent in my writ­ing I began cov­er­ing indus­trial design and archi­tec­ture, with a big focus on sus­tain­abil­ity. And now, since I’ve become immersed in urban design through my transit-related activ­i­ties, I’ve become more and more focused on trans­porta­tion design, bik­ing infra­struc­ture, and pedes­trian advo­cacy. I’m super-nerdy about a whole bunch of really wonky issues around redesign­ing our streets and sidewalks!


Have you ever owned a car? Does walk­ing and tak­ing pub­lic trans­porta­tion make you feel more con­nected to the city?

AW: Up until six years ago, I’d owned a car pretty much all of my adult life (with the excep­tion of my 3.5 years at CU). It’s funny, I never really thought it was an option *not* to have a car in any of the cities I lived in. And even though I loved to walk for exer­cise, I never con­sid­ered that a method of trans­porta­tion. I decided to stop dri­ving just to see if I could do it because every­one in L.A. said it was so impos­si­ble — it was not really for any envi­ron­men­tal rea­sons. But yes, what I real­ized, quickly, is that walk­ing and bik­ing and rid­ing tran­sit con­nects me to L.A. in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way. I’ve become more engaged in my city and I feel more invested in its future. Plus not dri­ving makes going places an adven­ture, and I look for­ward to tak­ing these lit­tle vaca­tions in the mid­dle of my day. It’s fun!


What advice do you have for up-and-comers out of school who strug­gle to land that first design job?

AW: I have two pieces of advice that I find go against the advice of many teach­ers and par­ents. First of all, don’t move to a city because of a job. Decide where you want to live because you LOVE IT THERE, then worry about mak­ing a liv­ing once you’ve fig­ured out what your life there will look like. I’ve seen too many of my friends get stuck in places they don’t want to live just for a job. Not worth it. Second, you don’t need to land “a job” — you can totally be free­lance right out of school, and you might be more attrac­tive to an employer if you’re more finan­cially flex­i­ble. The biggest issue for my gen­er­a­tion com­ing out of school was that we needed a job so we could get health insur­ance. But now since you’re cov­ered by your par­ents until you’re 26, all you need to worry about is get­ting lots of great expe­ri­ence under your belt so when you hit 26 you’ll be estab­lished and secure enough to pay for your own health­care. And with the abil­ity to set up a web­site, port­fo­lio site, blog, social media accounts, etc. you’re able to brand your­self and mar­ket your work to poten­tial employ­ers — even make work that you can sell directly to your audi­ence. Set up your own com­pany as soon as you get out of school; it’s really easy and it’s fun!


What’s your favorite fla­vor of gelato? Where can we find the best gelato around town?

AW: My favorite tra­di­tional fla­vors of gelato are strac­ciatella, pis­ta­chio and olive oil (sounds weird but is so deli­cious) but I really love when peo­ple get super cre­ative with ice cream fla­vors. In Denver, I’ve always been a fan of Liks, but I’d love to give a shout out to another Colorado insti­tu­tion: If you find your­self in Crested Butte any­time soon, try Third Bowl. They catered our wed­ding this sum­mer and made us three incred­i­ble fla­vors using local ingre­di­ents: Cherry Chocolate Chile, Peach Coconut, and Sweet Corn and Lime (amazing!).



You will not want to miss Alissa’s pre­sen­ta­tion this Thursday at the Denver Art Museum! It’s sure to be excit­ing, enter­tain­ing and insight­ful! Register here.

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