Students Create Change Through Innovative Art and Design Projects
Amidst a sea of complex global issues, artists and designers are increasingly seeking ways for
their creativity to have a positive social impact. The Design Ignites Change initiative encourages
students to use design thinking and innovation to create messages for, and solutions to, pressing
social problems. Always at the vanguard of art and design movements, Academy of Art
University has contributed a variety of progressive projects to the initiative. An overview
of each is included below.
Sustaining San Francisco
The Sustaining San Francisco project includes
photography and a collaborative Paper Airplanes installation. Students explored sustainability
issues on a personal level and photographed them through their respective visual styles. The Paper
Airplanes installation began with the goal of gathering the Academy of Art University School of
Photography community to participate in a sustainable cause. Photographers, who often use a
considerable amount of paper, were invited to contribute their used paper in the form of paper
airplanes with participants’ thoughts about sustainability on the airplanes.
Tree Free Toilet Paper Goes Mainstream
As part of a Graphic Design and Sustainability course, School of Graphic Design graduate
student Jenny Pan developed the PULP brand of toilet paper to educate toilet paper users about
sustainable alternatives to the use of trees in paper consumption. In order to promote
tree-free fibers in tissue production, Jenny has created a sustainable brand that harnesses
agricultural waste and reduces deforestation. By communicating the benefits of renewable materials,
this project aims to shift personal value and behavior as it relates to environmental
Sustaining SF: Modern Heirlooms
School of Fashion graduate students recently embarked on a semester-long project to create
fashion collections that were socially aware and had a minimal environmental impact. The student
teams developed four collections across the disciplines of Design, 3D, Textiles, and Knitwear. Each
team was asked to create a collection of modern heirlooms and leave behind a legacy for successors
to build upon. The PI team used cutting room waste for their collection while the 1OAK team reused
discarded hospital scrubs. Teams also proposed a business model and implementation strategy,
including plans for service elements, distribution, retail concepts, marketing tactics, and
staffing. Each team also considered future labor and production practices through analysis of
each collection’s intended life cycles.
"R3: Rethink. Reimagine. Reuse." is a collaborative project by Academy students that promotes
sustainable design by examining product life cycles and creating more holistic solutions.
Students from the Print 3 design course were asked to identify an existing product and create a
book that documents that product's life cycle with an eye towards affecting positive change. The
resulting collection of printed samples showcases each student’s innovative solutions — and how
they directly benefit people’s lives. Solutions include a reusable and energy-efficient hair dryer,
and a recyclable refrigerator.
Giving RoHS Certification New Life
School of Graphic Design graduate student Vincent Lo reinterpreted the RoHS guidelines that
govern the consumer electronics manufacturing industry to create an appealing brand. His
updated branding and audit system gives visual unity to the compliant products and a way to display
the exact amount of hazardous substances found within them. The project added much-needed
life to a vague standard with little prestige or recognition, elevating the RoHS certification to a
coveted status and giving it new relevance in the industry.
As the Design Ignites Change initiative grows, the Academy of Art University community will
continue to devise innovative solutions to the world’s problems. While the goal of the
project is to reduce create social and environmental change, the participants emerge changed, as
In an interview on the site, Fashion student Nimontra Sethi spoke about how her involvement
gave her a new perspective on her ability to make an impact on the world's problems.
“I didn’t realize that we as artists, we as designers could do something. And I think
it’s made me look at every fabric, every button, every trim differently.”