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60 Seconds with Lesley-Ann Noel ’18 PHD

Assistant professor, Media Arts, Design and Technology

Lesley-Ann Noel, author of Design Social Change
Photograph by Becky Kirkland, NC State.

By Rachel Young

Lesley-Ann Noel’s new book, Design Social Change, explores the connections between design and psychology, outlining strategies for anyone to create solutions to impact social change.

What is design for social innovation? Design for social innovation is about getting people to see the world around them and understand that they can actually make some change. I started off thinking about my book as a social justice cookbook — could we create a recipe that people could follow to somehow make change and influence the world?

Most people think of design as a way to make their world more appealing and useful, yet you seem to see a larger role for design, describing it as a “powerful changemaker.” We do need things that are beautiful, and I think that’s an important role for design. The way we think as designers . . . we could apply that to problems that are a little bit more “wicked.” We can take that same kind of iterative process into a lot of things and make more change by trial and error. People in the world of social innovation think we can bring those benefits to the design of systems, the design of structures, if we bring those kinds of approaches in.

Talk about the role that anger can play in design. It’s important for us to talk about emotions and do something with it, whether it’s anger, joy, pain, surprise. Anger can be a force that propels us into action. You can use the anger either to see what’s wrong in the system, or if you’re in the system and you are affected, you can use that anger to make you continue moving forward.

How have you used design to achieve certain goals in your life? I design actions, I design programs, I design education. Design is about action. I can brainstorm outcomes and take action and then I’ll reflect on what I did to see, “was that action actually what I expected to happen?”

Since NC State magazine first reported this story, Lesley-Ann Noel ’18 PHD was appointed dean of the faculty of design at OCAD University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She will begin her appointment July 1, 2024.

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