How Design Makes Us Think

Presented by Sean Adams




Great design is hard to qualify. In some ways, it is like the United States’ Supreme Court position on pornography: I’ll know it when I see it. But the best solutions always illicit a response that can be visceral or intellectual. I understand the aesthetic cues that tell the viewer the message is happy, angry, honest, efficient, and so on. But I wanted to know why we make these associations, and more importantly how does design overtly, or covertly, convince us to think a certain way. Digging deeper, how and why, as human beings, do we experience these responses. Why did the poster make me angry and want to vote? Why is shopping stressful except at one particular retail environment? Why do I assign high value to the small amounts of expensive perfume?


Recognizing precisely what reaction we want to create and how to reach that requires more than an intuitive sense of something feeling “happy” or “sad.” Let’s delve into the sociological, psychological, and historical reasons for our responses. What visual and conceptual cues resonate, and why? This was my constant question. In the end, how does design make us think?

About Sean Adams
Sean Adams is the Chair of Undergraduate and Graduate Graphic Design at ArtCenter College of Design. Adams continues his design practice with The Office of Sean Adams. He is the author of multiple best-selling books including The Designer’s Dictionary of Color and How Design Makes Us Think. Adams is also an on-screen instructor for LinkedIn Learning. He is the only two-term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100-year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. Adams is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Institute Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka. His clients have included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, the Museum of Natural History, Nickelodeon, Richard Meier & Partners, and Sundance.


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