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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 gelatobaby.com!