Design Educator Profiles: Lisa Maione

Interview by Kelly Walters

Design Educator Profiles
We are excited to share profile interviews with some of this year’s AIGA DEC conference presenters. In this month’s edition we share a brief profile of design educator Lisa Maione. At the 2020 AIGA DEC Virtual Summit, she participated in the roundtable called Teaching the History of Graphic Design in the Contemporary Global Context alongside Roshanak Keyghobadi, Dori Griffin and Angela Riechers.

Recently, you participated in the Teaching the History of Graphic Design and the Contemporary Global Context SHIFT roundtable – what were some of the key takeaways from that discussion?

One of the biggest takeaways from the SHIFT panel discussion has been appreciating how much work is happening right now to bring together better resources, particularly for students, to be exposed to the ways that design has manifested in different places around the world. Connecting more educators from multiple parts of the world, to have a conversation such as this one, felt refreshing and critical. Most of the conferences I have participated in around design history have felt more European- or American-, or western-focused. Seeing more resources, hearing from so many voices, especially in the chat was a boon to all of us as participants. For me, this panel opened up the possibility that this kind of online multiple-interface format may lead to more in-depth connections and conversations cross-culturally in the conference space.

Over the past few years, there have been more publications that have been published aiming to highlight a more inclusive history of design. One book, Parallel Narratives: Annotated Student Bibliographies toward a Broader History of Design edited by Natalia Ilyin and Elizabeth Patterson is a book that I have been referencing as I’ve been teaching graphic design histories. This panel highlighted  there is much more that I can do, right now, in my teaching practice. I can offer more connected examples and adjacent narratives for me and my students. We can start off from a very different texture and understanding of design histories. 

Do you think the virtual format allowed for a different kind of dialogue that wouldn’t have happened in person?

It felt full and vibrant — perhaps fuller than a typical in-person panel like this at a conference. Having the Zoom or Slack chat can feel overwhelming sometimes, however it felt like we had this whole parallel layer of audience engagement which was powerful.The panel also felt like an offering and participants had an opportunity to add to the discussion with one another in a way that we might not have been able to achieve in a physical room without a chaotic cacophony. The discussion elicited an immediacy of contribution and it was exhilarating to be part of it — everyone felt so close very quickly. It felt similar to the way we have hallway conversations at physical conferences, and the Zoom or Slack chat allowed for immediate responses and additions. While I miss that particular kind of hallway spontaneity, the flow from synchronous to asynchronous activity went smoothly during this conference.

What are you currently looking at in your design practice right now? 

There are a few tracks I am currently paying attention to. One of those is how design histories function as a subject and a construction. I am considering how I am activating inclusivity in the classroom when teaching, and considering ways I can relate that work more deeply in my personal practice. The relationship with the screen, as a surface, as a mutable space, and as a partner to thinking processes continues to be a subject I explore within my artistic practice.

I am collaborating with a few designers as part of a design collective, called Fazed Grunion, that we started in 2015. We have been revisiting our older work. In this digital context, it feels really ripe for investigation and I think we’re excited to think about how those strategies fit within the current moment. This includes not only strategies we’ve developed in working with students, but with making as a whole. Our group has evolved over the last few years. I think when we started, we had about 12 people in the collective and then it became 9 people for a long time. There’s about four of us now that are still working collectively. We use Slack to communicate and that holds our whole archive. Even though we’re not geographically close to each other, Slack is a way for us to connect and to mentally get back into the headspace of the things we were thinking about during a particular moment in time.

How has your research shifted or is in the process of being shifted?

I appreciate this part of these questions you are asking, this notion of “the process of being shifted”. I often encourage  my students to recognize that research is a creative practice, not one only of citations and funky punctuation (though I love those bits, too). I’ve always held multiple research projects at once — the nature of screens and light-based media; the nature of raw and processed materials (in language, cultural, social, technology); and the nature of language, memory and miscommunication as material for creative work. In some ways, this year has one for increased focus and quieter attention. I feel like I’m trying to pare it down and understand what the core threads of these research areas are. 

In research and in teaching, I tend to do a lot of spontaneous work in person. When trying to translate that spontaneity into the space of the video call, I don’t always find it completely natural. I struggle with this shift because I think that very energy is part of why I love being in the classroom with people and activating it as a laboratory. It’s where ideas develop and find possibilities that haven’t completely been figured out yet. It feels like such an important part of teaching and learning, or certainly a part of the way that I learn from others. One example that is currently manifesting — is a collaboration with Dina Benbrahim, where we each have a group of students who have been corresponding via email and sharing research work in design histories. I hope to keep up this idea of the extended-classroom post-Covid.

How is your institutional or your personal community shifted or are being shifted right now?

Since spring of 2019, I’ve been collaborating with a group of colleagues on diversity and inclusion-related recommendations for our college. As conversations evolved on campus over this past spring and summer, I’ve been part of a new IDEAS council — dedicated to understanding inclusion, diversity, equity, access, and sustainability at KCAI. We are setting it up to be a forum through which students, faculty, staff, alumni, administration and board members can meet through the demands and recommendations our campus must work through. Being an intimate art and design school in the midwest, this kind of space for transparency and collaboration is essential to build in a deliberate and generous way. It is challenging to listen, understand, and build plans around a shifted culture. We have to, and it has proved to be an inspiring and hearty challenge to take part, as I work alongside my colleagues.

I am consistently inspired by other educators in design and architecture, including Teresa Moses (UM Duluth) and Lori Brown (Syracuse University). I see them navigating academia while integrating their advocacy work into their teaching as something I aspire to, learn from, and hope to offer through my service work and teaching practices. 

Volunteering and mentorship are both activities I’ve been taking on more deliberately outside of my classrooms and daily students. I’ve been regularly speaking with a handful of young and energetic designers from different parts of the world — from across town in Kansas City to Richmond, Virginia, to NYC to the Philippines. And while I might be technically a mentor, versus the mentee, in these correspondences, I feel very much that they are becoming young mentors for me and this has been enriching. I hope these conversations keep going, even after Zoom wears off its novelty.

What are a few top books or resources that you might recommend to a new educator, or something that you’re reading right now that you might recommend?

Natural Enemies of Books: A Messy History of Women in Printing and Typography 
By Maryam Fanni, Matilda Flodmark and Sara Kaaman
I just started reading this book. So many women have been part of printing for hundreds of years, yet we haven’t ever heard about many of them. This book is a great example of lesser heard stories around women in printing and typography.

The Book
By Amaranth Borsuk
In The Book Amaranth, elegantly summarizes the history of the codex – from the scroll to the interface. It smoothly brings us from the past to the present with a continuum that looks at the book not just as a way to read content, but as a format to interrogate.

Extra-Curricular: On and Around the Topic of Self-Organized Learning, Curriculum, Experiments, and Alternatives in Graphic Design Education
By Jacob Lindgren

A New Program for Graphic Design
By David Reinfurt
Without reading a traditional history book about the industrial revolution to the present, this book brings us through design history and connects us to the present in a thoughtful way in the introduction.

Lisa J. Maione is an art director, designer, and educator. Born in Japan and raised in the U.S., Lisa cut her teeth at New York City studios including 2×4, Pentagram, mgmt. design and Wolff Olins, and later at the publication, Metropolis magazine. In her independent design and art practice, clients range from architects, community organizations, artists, and publishers. Since 2008, she has taught undergraduate and graduate design courses at Parsons School of Design, Queens College City University of New York and Oklahoma State University. Lisa holds a BFA and MFA in Graphic Design from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and a post-graduate certificate in Typeface Design from Type@Cooper NYC. Lisa is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Kansas City Art Institute.

This interview was led by AIGA DEC Steering Committee member Kelly Walters, Assistant Professor of Communication Design at Parsons School of Design, The New School.

By Kelly Walters
Published December 9, 2020
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