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December 15, 2020

Five Questions with Elaine Lopez: Designer and Educator

Designer, Educator, and INVT21 Speaker Elaine Lopez believes design has a significant role to play in helping us to learn about each other.

Elaine Lopez is a Cuban-American designer, researcher, artist, and educator whose work explores the intersection of cultural identity, equity, and diversity within the field of design. She earned both her BFA (University of Florida) and MFA (Rhode Island School of Design) in Graphic Design, and she currently teaches graphic design and Risograph printing at the Maryland Institute College of Art as a recipient of the AICAD Postgraduate Teaching Fellowship.

We ask all our In/Visible Talks speakers who their heroes are, and Elaine called out two: Harriet Tubman “because she did what was right, no matter the enormous risk to her safety” and Sister Corita Kent “for her bold, joyous, and socially conscious work.” Can’t you just imagine these two women joining us in exploring how our roles as designers are evolving to include activists, visionaries, artists, change makers, bridge builders, creators, and stewards? (Learn more about INVT21’s theme of Re:Design here.)

Elaine will challenge and inspire us on January 14 through her talk on “Making Common: Using Design to Work Toward a More Just Society” and in her Workshop, “Bound Together.”

Here are some insights into Elaine’s creative process.

What did 2020 bring into focus for you that you want to Re:Make, Re:Think, Re:Imagine, or Re:Design for 2021?

Design students today are more knowledgeable about the challenges that face our society than ever before, and they are ready to take action. As an educator, my job is to give students the confidence and resilience they need to change this industry for the better. We need people from many different backgrounds to study design and bring diverse points of view. The challenges we’ve faced in 2020 have strengthened my resolve to continue empowering the next generation.

What is your relationship to the creative process?

Temperamental? It depends on what requires creativity. Sometimes I feel inspired and solutions come quickly; other times I struggle and need time to incubate an idea. Whenever possible, I try to be intuitive

How or where do you find inspiration?

In learning about history, especially as a first-generation Cuban-American. There is so much I don’t know about my family’s history—a common occurrence for people who migrate to the US—and I find inspiration in learning and sharing these stories through design. I believe design has a significant role to play in helping us to learn about each other.

What was one of your biggest creative challenges?

Overcoming my insecurities as a designer. Many of us struggle with confidence in this industry—even more if you don’t see yourself represented. Going to grad school and being challenged in such an intense environment allowed me to feel more comfortable experimenting, failing, and learning about what I like and dislike about design.

When did you first realize you needed to be in a creative field?

I think I have always been creative. As a kid, I enjoyed art classes more than other subjects. I attended a state school for undergrad and was fortunate enough to take courses in different subjects, but I knew early on that I wanted to focus on art. I feel most grateful for having the opportunity to work in a field that I am passionate about.

Bonus Round: What drives you to create?

A desire to share and communicate with people.