Q&A With Alissa Walker
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/ideasforcities 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.