David Ofori-Amoah (MDes 2009), co-founder, Ghost Lab, discusses the importance of supporting students on #IDGivingDay: Inclusion and Impact (March 14–15). This year, all gifts support student fellowships, and the ID Board of Advisors will triple each gift. Join your ID community in supporting future ID alumni, the future of ID, and the future of design. Give.
What were the circumstances of your fellowship?
I graduated from Illinois Tech in 2003 with a degree in mechanical engineering and the belief that engineers created new products and brought them into reality, but the reality of engineering work for me was that it was much more focused on management.
In industrial design I saw everything that I was interested in doing. So I looked at grad programs. Then I heard about human-centered design. It seemed to be more meaningfully making a difference in the world.
I talked to Chris Conley (BS 1988, MS 1994, former faculty member, and cofounder, gravitytank), and learned about Patrick Whitney’s (former dean, ID) work in designing for the base of the pyramid. Those two interactions solidified the decision in my mind: no other program could provide the creative, technical, and societal thinking that I was looking for.
But looking at tuition, and knowing that I was going to be a Foundations student—primarily because I wanted as much exposure to design training and learning that I could get—well, receiving a fellowship helped me make my decision. The rest is history. Getting into ID and completing the Foundation program, that experience, changed my life and career more than I can measure at this point.
What’s been the best part of your ID experience?
The ability to really focus on a topic or series of topics, to really dig in was really valuable to me—the ability to have a space in which I could think deeply about things, discuss things. And the attitude around making at ID, the idea that you don’t talk about it alone, you show and prove that you can build solutions—that culture of making was really important to me. So was the level of thinking about problems. It wasn’t what color should we make this thing? It was at a systemic level as opposed to really tactical.
We were thinking about the bigger picture in which our ideas and solutions exist. The people at ID are central to what makes that happen. My business partner at Ghost Lab, so many people have guided me since I left the school. The people have been instrumental to all the good things about ID.
Do you think inclusion is important?
The definition of design that was driving at ID when I was there was really about human-centeredness. To me, inclusion is part of that definition—to create or use design to solve problems, you need to involve people. It has to be a collaborative process. You’re working with people that you’re designing solutions for or with.
One of the things I’ve seen moreso in design communities is an active interest in including people that don’t come from the same geographic, social, demographic backgrounds. Designers work to engage people that are not like them.
What do ID students uniquely bring to the table?
ID grads have always been some of the best people to step back and really make sure that we’re asking the right questions. ID grads are good at doing that thinking in a useful way, to help actually make action happen.
What would you like to tell potential donors?
It can be easy to forget how much time, energy, resources and life you give to learning. Helping to ease the economic burden for students can make their graduate learning experience much richer—they can really devote their time to practice. A lot of people who have done great things have something in common—they had a benefactor.
It makes a difference. Giving can help students who may be dissuaded from a fulfilling career by what may ultimately be a short-term challenge—paying for school.
What has your fellowship enabled you to do?
Most simply, the fellowship helped me get through the three years of a graduate degree. It might seem trivial, but it’s instrumental considering it allowed me to focus on learning, and less on covering my costs. Very importantly, the fellowship’s connection to Chris Edwards helped me maintain confidence and motivation to finish the program and get out there and do something.