The Journey Here…

AS I APPROACHED the end of my Masters in Fine Arts in Integrated Design, I was questioning what my thesis would look like. I recall having a strong desire to approach it from an expansive perspective, to go beyond my little niche in visual communication. 

After many discussions with one mentor and prompted by an interesting article on, I was given the opportunity to develop my own independent study (we called it Hybrid Thinking in Design) in the Spring of 2017. I wanted to explore how my prior career as an accountant could integrate with my education in design. I was very interested in design thinking, but I also wanted to understand why it failed sometimes, when it was so successful in other instances. It was during this time I first encountered Richard Buchanan’s “Design Research and the New Learning” – while almost 20 years old at that point, it was eye opening and had a significant impact on the trajectory of my research and ultimately, my thesis.

In the summer of 2018, I completed my practicum on AARP’s Enterprise Strategy team, as their Social Impact Agenda intern. In this position, I was on the front lines of a strategic transformation – watching a large, bureaucratic, and traditional “top-down” organization attempt to shift into a design centric, nimble and innovative one. The struggle was real; many people had been there over twenty years, which was both a blessing and a curse. Culture was ingrained; identity molded. The Enterprise Strategy team was the [relatively] new man on the block, and was still in the midst of defining and establishing itself – it was tasked with the difficult duty of influencing the mindset, goals and activities of those they ultimately had no formal authority over. 

I was the only designer that had applied; most (if not all) of the other applicants were MBA students. To me this reflected a larger shift in the business world’s perspective (as well as a testament to the open-mindedness of AARP) and a sure sign that organizations were interested in approaching the “same old problems” with new, outside the box approaches, by integrating creative processes to solve dilemmas that addressed the human dynamics at the root of becoming and being innovative. 

My thesis today is built off this and various other hybrid-discipline experiences: a childhood defined by imagination, an accountant by trade, a designer by education. My desire to include so many facets of these experiences initially made for a very large bite to chew and I narrowed it down by using the very designerly processes I explored in Design the Conversation.

Ultimately, a focus on conversation condensed into a [slightly] more manageable meal. I’m fascinated by how a process that is such an integrated and considerable part of every person’s day is largely ignored in today’s workplaces, rather than seen as a vastly untapped opportunity. But as words like culture, mindset, and engagement become more important to today’s leaders, I believe taking a hard look at our organizations’ conversations is a portal to understanding our coworkers and our corporate identity better, to achieve alignment around strategic initiatives and company mission, to aid in tackling silos or a corrupted culture dynamic, as well as to reduce the massive costs and emotional toll conversational bloat takes on how individuals rate their value or success within their company’s established paradigm, regardless of whether it is perceived or real.

Design the Conversation is a journey for you too. I hope it opens your eyes and excites you with possibility – just as it has done for me.

pre-covid thesis concept poster