Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


Visual and Performing Arts

First Advisor

David L. Sigman

Committee Chair

David L. Sigman

Committee Member 1

Cheryl Zhenyu Qian

Committee Member 2

Shannon McMullen


Design ingenuity and sustainability can, and should, work together. Designers have an ethical responsibility to provide ideas that do no harm, and better yet, create positive solutions that nourish the environment, social and cultural structures, and the economy. This approach, referred to as sustainable systems thinking--in contrast to more common design approaches--looks at a problem as an integrated component of an entire network. Sustainable systems thinking helps designers, clients, and consumers to consider who or what is connected to the design outcome, where the project will have positive and negative ecological, financial, cultural or social impacts, and make the entire supply chain visible. This process requires a more holistic and deeply collaborative method that still emphasizes creativity and innovation like traditional design processes. This also calls for a redefined craft that explores new materials and processes to confront issues of sustainability and to better understand the interconnectedness of all parts of a system.

While some individual designers are taking the lead, unfortunately, sustainable systems thinking is rarely taught in communication design education. To become a guiding principle rather than an exception, the process of thinking in sustainable systems must be integrated into the fundamental curriculum in communication design education. This argument is the basis of my research agenda. The results of a survey I conducted indicate that sustainable systems thinking education is rarely taught in undergraduate design courses. This survey also shows the desire from students to learn about this topic in communication design programs. Through personal interviews, design educators shared their perspective on integrating sustainable systems thinking in curricula. Incorporating systems thinking into the core undergraduate education will allow students to begin thinking, at a visceral level, about problems as components of larger systems and connected concerns. As a result, it is my goal that the designers of tomorrow will have the power and knowledge to design responsibly for more social equality, cultural preservation, environmental viability and economic stability.