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Interview with Julie Yost – Design Curator + Creative Strategist

Julie Yost is the Design Program Curator and award-winning* Head of GIFs at SXSW Eco. She created Place by Design for SXSW Eco 2013, and currently oversees the competition and all related programming. Her goal is to make SXSW Eco a destination for creative urbanists, and she is continually plotting strategies to engage and connect our multi-disciplinary community. She has a MFA in Historic Preservation from SCAD, where her award-winning** thesis proposed creative placemaking and public art as methods of cultural preservation in areas where the historic built environment is compromised. A fifth generation Texan, she misspent her award-winning*** youth trespassing in and photographing abandoned west Texas, an ongoing pastime that likely sparked her obsession with places and their potential. She has an award-winning**** pitbull with no eyes, a pitbull with two eyes and a miniature dachshund who looks even funnier in that context.

*Head of GIFs 2015 SXSW Eco Award, as designated by Exec. Producer Morgan Catalina
**Best Departmental Thesis Award, as designated by SCAD Historic Preservation Faculty
***Those Beethoven and Bach busts you got at piano recitals, as designated by Mrs. Dwyer
****Cutest Dog in the World Award, as designated by Julie Yost

Q: Design Change is…

A: The idea that small-scale adjustments to the world around us can affect our behavior, experiences and the systems in which we operate. I believe this to be true, but I also believe it’s too easy to put all of our faith into a single salvation. Design has the potential to shape our environment and guide our interactions; it’s also been used to disenfranchise and oppress. Can design undo what poor design, planning and execution have done in the past? Not design and only design. But design plays a role.

Q: What’s the big opportunity for design in Seattle?

A: The first time I visited Seattle was this summer, and I was blown away by the spirit and vibe of the city (it didn’t hurt that the weather was so beautiful). I certainly can’t speak as a native, but even an outsider can see that the development occurring throughout downtown and surrounding neighborhoods poses a great opportunity and is probably also viewed as negative. In Seattle as in Austin, over-development and rich tech companies are contributing to rising housing costs and gentrification. I’d like to see design play a greater role in preserving the cultures and characters of communities as these shifts occur.

Q: What and where are the greatest opportunities for design to create change?

A: Building off of what I said above, the potential for design to influence cities is where I believe a lot of change lies. On a national scale, I think the greatest current opportunity for design lies within the areas of social equity and inclusion. Design has long been used as a tool of oppression and division in our cities, from Robert Moses and the urban renewal movement to the modern tech booms in cities like Seattle and Austin. Low income communities and communities of color are often ignored, sub-divided or built on top of to benefit communities with greater capital and political influence.

What’s exciting to me is to see design undoing some of these past wrongs, and regenerating place by fostering creativity and inclusion. The O.N.E. Mile project in Detroit is an incredible example of this that involves architects, community organizers, food justice advocates, farmers and union organizers. I learned about this project and curated the architect (Anya Sirota) and organizer (Bryce Detroit) as speakers at last year’s SXSW Eco and this past SXSW. I finally got the opportunity to visit O.N.E. Mile last month during a trip to Detroit, and I’m very inspired by what’s happening there. It’s a merger of design, creativity and necessity, and I would love to see more projects like it throughout the country.

Q: If you could change one thing about your design profession, what would it be?

A: My role in the design world is interesting, as I have the opportunity to meet many different types of designers, and to learn how design is treated and practiced in a range of fields. Through the experiences I’ve had, I’ve learned that designers can be both elitist and insular. If I could change one thing about design as a whole, I’d make it more accessible. I think there are a lot of people who don’t identify as designers or have formal design education and therefore don’t think design is for them. There are others who view design as frivolous, a luxury or an afterthought to their work. The truth is that there are all kinds of designers, and every profession and field benefits from a design lens. I realize that I’m treading dangerously close to some sort of “we are all designers” TED talk quote, but design shouldn’t and doesn’t require any specific accreditation or education. Part of using design as a vehicle for change lies within opening up design and its intrinsic role in the world.

Q: What shouldn’t change about design / what should stay the same?

A: The fluidity of the term design is part of its power. Design means logo and identity, interaction, communications, look and feel, structure, creativity, product, process, services and sense of place. Design should remain all of these things and continue to be more. I view this multi-faceted term as key to defining the role of design in our age. The world is moving faster and faster and design should continue to evolve with it while shaping our experiences. If it can do that and in the process create systems and places that are more inclusive and equitable, all the better.

Learn more about Julie’s work:
Twitter  – @julie_yost
Instagram  – @julie_yost
Email  – [email protected]