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9 Questions with Lisa Carnevale

Lisa Carnevale is the founder & executive director of DESIGNxRI and principal of MYRANDA Group. She’s a community leader and strategic communications guru who’s passionate about public relations, advocacy and organizational development. We sat down with her to chat about DESIGNxRI’s upcoming DesignWeek and Providence’s position is a global design leader.

Why did you create DesignWeek?

When we were forming DESIGNxRI in 2012, we talked to designers about what they needed. One need that kept coming up was the need to showcase and market RI’s design talent. They needed a way to highlight design, make design understood and help people learn about all the design work that’s happening here.

That’s why we created Design Week. We talked about how we could pull together a great event by taking advantage of what was already happening. There are already two major design conferences that happen every year - BIF Summit & Better World by Design - that are just one week away from each other. That seemed like the perfect opportunity to create something that bridges those two. So they act as bookends to DesignWeek, and we curate the in between.

What do you hope people will take away from their DesignWeek experience?

We hope people will be inspired by the talent here, and recognize that design is a valuable skill that they need in their business.

We also hope people will learn how broadly impactful design can be. A lot of people just think design is about creating something pretty. They don’t think about the impact of fields like industrial design, experience design and design strategy. Design affects every industry sector and every aspect of our lives.

Why is Providence seen as a design leader?

Providence has so much activity in the design sector. We have the 3rd most industrial designers per capita. The state has the 3rd most creative jobs per capita. We’ve always known that we have a lot of arts and culture, but we also have a growing design business population that’s becoming more visible. With RISD here, it’s natural to think of RI as a hub of design activity. And it’s true. It’s happening here. 

At DesignWeek, we try to showcase and elevate that. We’re shining a spotlight on all the great design work that’s already happening here.

What could Providence improve to become an even stronger design leader?

There’s still a lot of work to do with understanding design and the value of design. There are professionals and businesses here who could use support with design. Just understanding the value of designers would be helpful to them.

We also need to find new ways to collaborate with RISD without burdening them. They are a great partner with us and we love working with them. But there’s a tendency in Providence to go to RISD for everything related to design, and that’s a problem for a couple reasons. Firstly, they’re an academic institution, and they need to make their students their priority. Secondly, going to RISD for everything doesn’t tap into practitioners that are working in the state. We need to focus on the breadth of design talent here, not just see it as coming from one source. And RISD feels the same way. We’re very good partners in that way.

So we’re trying to find ways to collaborate with RISD rather than using them as a crutch. We’re thinking about how we can get graduates into some kind of fellowship or internship program that gets them into design firms here. We’re thinking about how we can do things that are beyond RISD’s reach, and connect it all together and support each other.

How do you select speakers for DesignWeek?

It’s not a very formal process. We ask all our partners, board and committee members for suggestions. We also do a lot of research to keep tabs on what different designers are into here. We have some good relationships that we can tap into, where we can just call somebody and find things out very quickly. 

We try to diversify the week, and ensure there’s representation from all different design disciplines, from graphic design to industrial design to UX and so on.

While selecting the featured speakers, we look for someone who’s made a clear, awesome impact. We want the people we feature and the stories they tell to show the value of design and the impact it can have on the world.

What events are you most excited about?

I'm excited about our eat and speak lunch series. Different design firms from around the state open up their offices to host talks, tours or discussions. The number of these events have doubled since a couple years ago, and there are now 16 different lunch events to choose from.

I also get excited about the not-your-usual-characters that have reached out to us to participate in DesignWeek. We’ve received interest from all kinds of organizations. For example, the Superman Building is doing a talk & tour this year. And DownCity - an organization that organizes events downtown - is doing a DesignBlock. They’ve organized designers to create a one-of-a-kind design experience downtown.

And it’s exciting to see the political intrigue that DesignWeek is creating. We’re hosting a roundtable discussion with Senator Reed, and getting some interest from our congressional delegation that really wants to know what’s going on with design.

Organizing so many events sounds like a lot of work! How do you make it happen?

We don’t do it alone. Financially, our sponsors help us make it happen. Most of our events are free, so we wouldn’t be able to do it without them.

Also, everybody hosting an event is taking it on and putting energy into it. We curate and organize, but there’s so many designers, businesses and organizations involved in making it happen. It’s very community-driven.

Do you have any tips for how people can get the most out of DesignWeek?

Go to something you normally wouldn’t. Something you know nothing about. Obviously you should go to the topics you are really into too. But going to something out of your wheelhouse will help you understand just how broadly impactful design can be.

Do you have a favorite stories from past DesignWeeks?

In our first year, one of featured speakers was Eugene Lee. He’s this older, quirky set designer who’s been designing sets for Saturday Night Live since they started and has also done sets at Trinity Rep. What was awesome about his talk was that he didn’t stick to any of his slides. He just talked. And he had the audience captivated. The way he connected with the audience was so inspiring, and was itself was experience. He just took them on a ride.

I also love to hear the stories about the people that have gotten work out of DesignWeek. When people have an open studios, there’s often a commission or friendship or partnership that emerges from it. We hear about that a lot, and it feels like it feeds us. It feels like it’s working.

Want to learn more about DesignWeek? Check out their website here.

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