Lisa Abendroth (BFA ’91)

Lisa M. Abendroth is Professor of Art and coordinator of the Communication Design program at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She earned her 1991 B.F.A. in Communication Design (back when the department was known as Communication Arts and Design) and her M.F.A. in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1995. Since 2005 Lisa’s research has embodied community-centered public interest design focused on issues of social equity towards marginalized audiences. Working across diverse disciplines, her activities include practicing, evaluating, and writing about design that addresses underserved people, places and problems. Lisa believes design must be accountable—she demonstrated this in the critically acclaimed international exhibition, “Substance: Diverse Practices from the Periphery”, which she organized and curated. She is a founding member of the SEED Network and coauthor of the SEED Evaluator design assessment tool. Lisa is a 2013 recipient of the SEED Award for Leadership in Public Interest Design and is a regular contributor to the Public Interest Design Institute. Along with Bryan Bell, she is coeditor of the Public Interest Design Practice Guidebook: SEED Methodology, Case Studies, and Critical Issues (Routledge, 2016). She has lectured, presented, exhibited, and published nationally and internationally.


Public Interest Design Practice Guidebook: SEED Methodology, Case Studies, and Critical Issues.
Published by Routledge in 2016, Abendroth is coeditor with Bryan Bell. The book documents an array of international community-centered projects through methodology and case study formats demonstrating how critical social, economic, and environmental issues are being addressed through the diverse disciplines of design. Themes including public participation, issue-based design, and assessment provide benchmarks toward an informed practice.

Public Interest Design Practice Guidebook: SEED Methodology, Case Studies, and Critical Issues.
Shown are spreads from Case Studies: Skill Champ (Design Team, Greater Good Studio), People Organizing Place—Neighborhood Stories (Design Team, bcWORKSHOP), and SAGE Affordable Green Modular Classrooms (Design Team, Portland State University led by Margarette Leite and Sergio Palleroni). Design: Routledge.

CDES 4100 Community-Based Design, Fall 2014, Metropolitan State University of Denver.
With a deep professional and pedagogical commitment to community-based practice, Abendroth regularly leads community projects where students work directly with a partner organization on a variety of needs. In this project students, faculty, and the non-profit human trafficking organization Street’s Hope developed a time-based triptych installation as part of an education component for a special event. Using light and illumination as a metaphor, two panels within the triptych display contrasting and alternating human trafficking statistics through data visualization.

A second project for the Street’s Hope organization was the creation of a mural design for a newly acquired shipping container repurposed into a functional therapy space. Working closely with organization leadership and the women at Street’s Hope, along with the sponsor organization Homes of Living Hope, the students created concepts that embodied the playful and transformative power of hope.

A student creates a template for the custom letter she designed for the Street’s Hope installation. The challenge was to reveal the lettering in the negative space of several hundred Christmas lights.

Lisa Abendroth on the web

What mattered about the BFA program?
My B.F.A. in Communication Arts and Design from VCU has been pivotal in my life. I didn’t know it at the time but I was so very lucky to find myself among a group of peers who were equally as passionate about design as I was. The opportunities afforded me at VCU (Richmond Arts Magazine, for example) allowed me to stretch my wings and envision my life as a designer. The program set the stage for new challenges which I greeted with enthusiasm. This enthusiasm was generously supported by the faculty and staff at the time: Philip Meggs who I credit with inspiring me to contribute to the field in impactful ways beyond the process of creating design; John Malinoski provided leadership and creative motivation to inquire deeply and make work vigorously; Rob Carter and John Demao both helped shape my world vision and thus stoked my commitment to my field of practice. My education at VCU launched my desire to expand my knowledge through graduate study something I was encouraged to explore by Pino Trogu. Today I feel exceedingly fortunate to be in a position to share my passion for what I do with students of my own.

Lead image by Sara Hertwig.