Board member spotlight: Karen Hofmann
Our board is comprised of experts in their field, who generously lend their time and aptitude to MADWORKSHOP. Karen Hofmann, a board member since 2017, was recently named Provost of ArtCenter College of Design — the first woman to hold the position. We couldn’t be more proud of her. Here Karen shares some of the lessons she’s learned along the way.
Can you talk to us about your career trajectory? How have you ended up where you are?
I was a late bloomer when it came to becoming an industrial designer. My first degree was in psychology, after which I worked with friends in the television industry. In my late 20s, I decided to study Product Design at ArtCenter College of Design. I graduated in the late 1990s, when the automotive industry was hiring students with diverse skill sets, and I found my ideal job working in the advanced design studios at Johnson Controls Automotive Interiors in Michigan. A skunkworks-like project led me back to Pasadena, and finally, in 2004, I left the automotive world to set up my own consulting practice and teach in the product design department of ArtCenter. I’ve now been teaching for over 15 years and have never looked back. I’ve been serving as the Provost since 2018 and while it is an incredibly challenging job, I am absolutely inspired every day by the work our students and faculty are doing in the studios.
Can you talk a little about your philosophy or approach to design education?
ArtCenter has always been very industry-driven, but the last decade has seen a much greater demand for students to demonstrate critical thinking, an understanding of business needs, the ability to work in teams, leadership skills — all of the ‘soft’ skills that were overlooked in the past. As design thinking and human-centered design have emerged in the industry, so has the need to expand the curriculum to reflect those practices. It is no longer just a portfolio employers are looking for — they need young designers with real-world experience and the ability to contribute to their organization beyond traditional design skills. Our approach today is to ensure that our students are developing their ‘experience portfolio’ along with their expected art and design skills, and we encourage them to engage as creative citizens. This training will differentiate them from other young designers.
What advice would you give to emerging designers today? Are there common mistakes you see students making?
Find your passion and understand WHY you want to be a designer. If you go into a design education with a passive approach (just taking classes, doing what you are told, acquiring skills without knowing why they are important), you will not get a maximum return on investment — so why bother? Don’t hesitate to network like crazy and ask questions — to anyone. Don’t be afraid to pivot and go where your interests take you. And don’t forget that you will learn just as much from your peers as your teachers so don’t take for granted who is sitting next to you in class — they may end up hiring you later down the road or vice versa. Time in design school is precious and will go by extremely fast, so fully engage and enjoy every minute of it.
Can you talk a little about your role with MADWORKSHOP? What inspires or excites you about the foundation’s work?
It is an absolute honor to be part of the MADWORKSHOP family. Thanks to David and Mary sponsoring projects at ArtCenter, I was able to see this remarkable new foundation emerge and was taken by their desire to invest in the next generation of artists and designers. The investment in the fellows program and the dynamic sponsored projects taking place at colleges all over the world is tremendous. So many incredible projects have happened in such a short amount of time.