Recognized for deftly embodying the many dimensions of communication design and for inspiring and guiding people and organizations to use design for social innovation as a strategic tool to improve the human experience.
Cheryl Heller has built her career around creating new paths where there were none and bringing innovative new ideas into reality. She founded a design
department in a major advertising agency, created the Sappi Ideas that Matter program, which has since granted more than $12 million to designers working
for the public good, and is founding chair of the first M.F.A. program in Design for Social Innovation at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Growing up, Heller wanted to be an artist, and painted constantly. After college, she got a job at a design studio in Boston to earn money for graduate
school, where she went from being a young neophyte in the office to running the studio within a year. When she was told she could never use her creative
skills at work because she didn’t have a design portfolio, that was all the incentive she needed.
As Heller began winning design awards, she was invited to launch the first design department at a large advertising agency. Beginning the undertaking
alone, she quickly adapted and thrived, developing a national reputation as a creative pioneer in advertising and design. When a British firm bought the
agency, her department was spun off as a separate company, HellerBreene.
She left Boston for New York City in 1990 to run the Image Group for Mary Wells Lawrence, followed by an eight-year stint as executive
creative director at Siegel & Gale. In 2001, a conversation with the founder of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education led to a major pivot,
during which she spent two years rethinking the role of design in the environment and business.
Through a self-imposed transformation, she dedicated herself to integrating the principles of sustainability into the process of design. She stopped making
artifacts and focused on writing and transformation strategy at her newly formed agency (now called CommonWise). She joined the PopTech Board and helped
develop their Social Innovation Fellows program, bringing together world-changing technological innovators working to address the issues around climate
change, poverty, health care and energy.
Around this time, designer and educator Richard Wilde asked Heller to teach a class at SVA. “I had been frustrated because designers are typically taught
self-expression and some tools, but not how to design for an intended purpose,” Heller says. So she created a project-based course called Design for Good,
to teach students to consider the impact of their work as well as its creation. Five years later, that class served as the inspiration
for the master’s program she was asked to develop for SVA, the first M.F.A. for designers who want to become leaders of change in business and society.
Today, the new field of social innovation design is being defined through her Design for Social Innovation program.
Heller has devoted thousands of hours to mentoring and inspiring people and organizations committed to working at a systems level to solve the challenges
we face. She has led transformational programs for corporations and foundations around the world, and writes about what she’s learned for numerous
Paul Polak, founder of the nonprofit product development company D-Rev, says, “Cheryl has been an inspiration for me for the past 15 years. Her razor-sharp
mind and no bulls*** approach to design are creating a new generation of designers who address the problems of the other 90 percent.”
Cheryl Heller will be presented with the AIGA Medal at The AIGA Centennial Gala on April 25, 2014, in New York City.
Meet the 2016 AIGA Medalists! The distinguished AIGA Medal is awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements in the field of design.
Section: Inspiration -
AIGA Medal, design educators, students
A short film about designer Cheryl Heller, who was awarded the AIGA Medal at “The AIGA Centennial Gala” in New York City in April 2014.
Section: Inspiration -
AIGA Medal, interview
AIGA’s design community will gather in New York City on April 15 to honor the AIGA Medalists and support national design initiatives. The 2016 AIGA Awards Gala is presented by LG.
Section: Events and Competitions -
AIGA Medal, Event, awards
Bob Greenberg was recognized with the AIGA Medal for boldly envisioning the future and then designing for it, effortlessly leading his agency through decades of strategic change.
Understanding the dynamic qualities of typography through analogies with sound and music.
Section: Inspiration -
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