Once a month we share our noticings, amplify important voices, and keep asking big questions.

Same same, but different. 

Issue Nº 4, March 2021
Hello fellow people!

What do you mean by design? This is a question we ask, and get asked, frequently. There is no simple answer to this question and indeed it may be complete folly to attempt a singular definition. Picking up the quest of design leader John Maeda and his attempt to answer the question, “what is design?” I’ve been curating my own list for years. Design is … noun and verb, process and artifact, joy, responsibility, future making, sense making. Design is a paradox. The more I “know” about design, the less clear it seems to be. So we focus less on what it is, and more on what it means to practice design.

As someone who has had the personal motto “see beautiful every day” for over 20 years, I delight in a bit of graphic design eye candy. A bold block type poster or a smartly designed label is a joy to behold. But design things have also consumed us, drawn us in to spend more, do more, buy more. The elegance of designing for use, for learning, for empowerment, for self- or community-actualization, for healing, for justice. These are challenges design is worthy of.

Weaving together design, evaluation and strategy we are constantly learning and expanding our skills and awareness of what design is, how it shapes us, and how we can design responsibly. It is an exciting time to be practicing design.

Hit reply, I'd love to hear from you!

With so much gratitude, 


What is emerging?



Some of the questions we are living into at Picture Impact are, “What does design practice offer as we look to create movement within the tangled, wicked, and seemingly intractable and complex challenges of our world?” and “how might we practice design responsibly? What does it mean to be a designer across culture and context?”

In the last decade our idea of what design is and what it can do has evolved rapidly. While the roots of this change are deep and old, these newer sprouts feel like that bright green hopeful epicormic growth after fire has ravaged a forest.

These new sprouts look like:
  • Pluriversal design -- decolonizing design research and design practice and beginning to see what design means in a world of many cultures
  • Design ethics -- growing our understanding of design responsibility and the impact of weaponizing design
  • Countering bias in design and equity centered design -- More and more projects and studios teaching inclusive design practice, design for equity and using design for justice
  • Designing for cognition -- bringing an interest in how our nervous system works to how we design for how people learn, for use, and for healing.
Fellow designer George Aye and Greater Good Studio published the Social Change by Design Database v2 this week -- a robust start to a list of people practicing design in these new ways. We are delighted to find ourselves in company with some of our favorite co-conspirators and thought leaders. What struck us in turning our evaluator’s eyes to this list is how many studios have opened up in just the past 5 years and how many of these practices are small, nimble and transdisciplinary teams. Design is evolving. It is an exciting time to be thinking about and practicing design.


Here are some fun, thought-provoking, engaging, and otherwise beautiful stepping stones we passed by this month. What might this plant in your life?
“Perhaps embracing the inherent incompleteness of what we know of the world is a form of hope, allowing us to remember that there’s always something left to unfold or be discovered — and not always in the way we might’ve been conditioned to expect it. May we allow ourselves to listen, and even delight in its surprises, as we work alongside the richness of this incompleteness.”
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Krista Lin, OnBeing
Picture Impact is a women-owned small business.

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