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Why Design: Neeta Verma

How did you become interested in social design…a design field very closely tied to community engagement work? 

Early on in my design career I began grappling with the idea of “otherness”. It’s funny, you’ll often find that what you end up doing in life will result from your personal experiences. Therefore, it wasn’t really a surprise that when I found myself in diverse spaces during and after graduate school, I was constantly trying to understand and sort through the manifestations of “other” that I was encountering. I became interested in familiarizing myself with the gender stereotypes that were projected onto myself and those around me. I realized that I was also passionate about equity and have constantly found myself addressing it through academia, specifically in economics, sociology, and design. Thus, this work has really always been a part of my experience. 

BY ANNIE BRINKMAN

What role do you believe that the university and public scholarship have in our most pressing social, civic, and ethical problems? 

Universities have the potential to do amazing work, but it means nothing if it isn’t accessible. The university is an extremely important player in some communities. Thus, they have the responsibility to not only do rigorous design, research, education, and what not, but to share in that. Mission statements often state this quite clearly; Notre Dame in particular. 

How should/can designers and design students be equipped to contribute creatively to civic commitments? What skills do designers naturally contribute to advance those projects? Should they even be involved?

Yes, they should definitely be involved. Design actually opens you up. So many fields of study are built in a way where they naturally silo themselves in. As a profession, design literally demands multifacetedness. It enables you to embrace a variety of perspectives and experiences and it places relationships at the core of everything. Designers have the unique ability to create the catalytic moments crucial to this type of work. Students in particular, when functioning within those long-term and sustainable projects can brings a great deal of potential and energy. 

How do you establish the relationship dynamics between you as designer (or team

of designers) and potential community partners and the other way around?

The largest challenge in any type of community work is finding a seat at the table. The most important aspect, is showing that you are worthy, qualified, and genuinely invested in being a part of that conversation. You can force your way in, which is where many people fail, or you can show that you are interested in being at the table and invest in developing the trust necessary to be there. All in all, power relations need to be obliterated. People need to realize that there is a difference between passively entering or forcing one’s way into another’s life and actively partaking—partaking in shared experiences. 

Especially in consideration of human happiness and collective good, do you think that Notre Dame can be categorized as a flourishing university, or are we far from it?

Siloing is what creates inequality within universities—something Notre Dame still struggles with. However, individual professors and centers have a crucial role and do really remarkable things on a base level. Overall, this is a tricky question. In order to answer it, one must focus on all the little details of a place, of research, and of specific acts, constantly asking, “What are the implications of __________?” You can’t be a champion of fighting injustice if you are harming the environment at the same time. Thus, both individuals in universities as well as the entire collective needs to consider, “Is my work impeding other goods/ responsibilities?”

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ABOUT NEETA 

Neeta Verma is a graphic designer who views the profession of graphic design as service. Throughout her practice she has defined her role and the role of graphic design as one that serves as a catalyst within a societal context. She believes that as designers we have both the ability and responsibility toward a practice that is not just determined by “need” but more importantly by “relevance”. She prefers to call herself a solution finder or an experience creator. This allows her to shift her clients from seeking tangible end products to focusing on analyzing and understanding what their design and communication needs truly are.

Her areas of research interest explore historical influences in graphic design and how these cultural differences have defined the profession today. Her early research focused on Sacred Texts: Image, Sound and Word in Christian, Hindu and Islamic Traditions. Growing up in India, a melting pot of religions, she has been fascinated by similarities and differences in the visual manifestations (architecture, artifacts, books, prayer and recitation) and the history of mark making within these religious traditions. 

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