Renée Walker


My full-time job is Associate Professor of Visual Communication Design at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Here I teach in the undergraduate program of Visual Communication Design and a Master’s in Health Communication Design, where I specialize in typography, information design, and systems. I also practice under my studio alias Gold Collective, working with institutions and partners on branding, information design, and other visual design projects. When I’m not teaching or working with partners, I research formal systems and information, play with type and grids, and am the mother to two future do-gooders.

Tell us how and why you became involved in socially responsible communications, any thoughts on why design can be an especially effective tool for this goal, and, if you wish, give us an example of a project of which you are proud.

I think I officially crossed over into socially responsible communication when completing my MFA in interdisciplinary design at California College of the Arts. Here I became focused on how to rethink how we receive everyday information that affects our choices. A project I developed for a new kind of food label that proposes a commonsense approach to how we could select our food took wind with some locals in the food and nutrition community and entered into a public conversation. I saw how design could influence how we think about some of the more challenging issues we face as a society.

At Jefferson, I’ve worked with students and partners across disciplines to address ways visual communication design can help patients with long covid, create calming environments in hospitals, and address community needs.

Using design processes, methods, and techniques to speculate how design can make a fundamental shift to better our world, I believe, has the potential to influence real change. Working with young designers with the energy and enthusiasm to make these shifts enables me to explore exciting pathways that could potentially make systematic changes through design for future generations.

Given the confluence of events and challenges our society now faces, does this moment in time present any special opportunities, urgencies, obstacles to designing for good?

There are so many ways to think about using design to better our society at this moment in time. One of the biggest obstacles is finding the exact right time, context, and audience to ensure the messaging and ideas are heard. We must train future designers to be thought leaders and influencers rather than just manipulators of graphics and materials. A better understanding of how design influences our larger social, cultural, and economic systems is crucial for designers looking to make an impact.