Alissa Walker Shows Denver a GOOD Time

Written by
Lauren Welborn
December 5, 2012

For those who aren’t acquainted with Alissa Walker or her work, let’s get famil­iar­ized. She writes for a num­ber of peri­od­i­cals, which includes the col­umn Design is a Verb for GOOD mag­a­zine. She is also a writer for Fast Company, a unique edi­to­r­ial web­site focus­ing on evo­lu­tion of busi­ness and how it is chang­ing the world we live in. Some titles from Alissa’s recent news­feeds include “Wanted: Blankets and Napkins Printed With Personalized Maps,” and “Sleek Bike Charges Its Own Headlights And Your iPhone.” Her vibrant word­ing and unique top­ics give her a voice that stands out.

Last month, Denverites were lucky enough to have Alissa as a guest speaker for AIGA Colorado at the Denver Art Museum to tell us her story. Alissa was born in Colorado and went to CU Boulder where she majored in jour­nal­ism & adver­tis­ing. That led to mul­ti­ple jobs at adver­tis­ing firms until she found her­self in Italy.  While Alissa was there, she started writ­ing about the things hap­pen­ing around her, eat­ing five gelato cones a day. She then decided to be a free­lance writer, nam­ing her­self “gelato baby.” Alissa branded her­self accord­ingly, print­ing her logo on gelato spoons and iron-on patches.

As social design started to emerge, she stopped writ­ing about cool look­ing chairs and started to write about sit­u­a­tions in the world.  She real­ized she was hap­pi­est when “I was writ­ing about L.A., I was away from my desk, I was col­lab­o­rat­ing with oth­ers, I was eat­ing ice cream.” She pledged to focus only on the place that she lived: Los Angeles, CA. In her pre­sen­ta­tion, she sum­ma­rized her guide to hap­pi­ness in three steps.

“How my city made me hap­pier, health­ier, and more fulfilled.”

  1. Hitting the streets: Alissa got rid of her car, pho­tographed her shoes as she walked around town, updat­ing Twitter with her expe­ri­ences.  She would write about rid­ing her bike, tak­ing the bus, and not­ing which streets are busy, which streets are beau­ti­ful. People started inter­act­ing; they began to share their own paths to work, pho­tos of their feet, and par­tic­i­pated in a large move­ment in which they ditched their cars.
  2. Change Your per­spec­tive: Alissa always walked to find mate­r­ial for her sto­ries. She even­tu­ally started a col­umn about things that hap­pen on the street. Topics included bus benches being paid by adver­tis­ers, Korean bars inside of old boats, and a six-foot tall patio wall jail­ing peo­ple from the street. These unique top­ics are what set Alissa apart in her writ­ing, and they have made her career much more enjoyable.
  3. Meet your neigh­bors. When writ­ing for GOOD mag­a­zine, Alissa started a cam­paign to con­nect design­ers to food grow­ers. Many groups of peo­ple need cre­ative prob­lem solv­ing, pos­si­bly with­out know­ing it, but don’t know how to reach out. Conversely, design­ers don’t know who needs the help.

The solu­tion to this prob­lem was an event in L.A. called “The City’s Biggest Designers & the City’s Biggest Problems.” More cities caught wind and requested their own event to be held. Alissa then received a grant for ARTPLACE, which raised 11.5 mil­lion dol­lars to take on urban chal­lenges. The pro­gram had many pos­i­tive impacts, includ­ing: a New Orleans busi­ness owner who cre­ated a nice area for peo­ple to wait for the bus, an inter­ac­tive phone charger, made by the city of Portland, which could be placed on bike racks, and St Louis high school kids who adopted a build­ing to hold classes for at-risk youth.

The great­est impact hap­pened to a home­less group home in Los Angeles. They said their biggest obsta­cle was get­ting paper­work off of their desks. A fur­ni­ture designer cre­ated a board game to train vol­un­teers how to host boot camp events in order to fig­ure out which steps they could elim­i­nate from the process in their spe­cific com­mu­ni­ties. The vol­un­teers claimed that the game cut their pro­cess­ing time in half. Problem solved.

Alissa is a unique writer and in her pre­sen­ta­tion she explained how fluid our paths in life can be to achieve our own pur­pose and hap­pi­ness. In real­ity, real world prob­lems can be solved with design; all we have to do is step up to facil­i­tate the changes.

Most recently, Alissa has gone back to Italy, eat­ing gelato every­day. It seems to be the source of her power!  At the end of her pre­sen­ta­tion, she brought every­thing full-circle when in clos­ing she com­mented: “Eat More Ice Cream.”

AIGA Colorado is extremely grate­ful to Alissa for com­ing out and speak­ing with us, thank you so much! Be sure to check out her web­site at gela​to​b​aby​.com!

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