Karen Hofmann, IDSA
Throughout her teaching career, Karen Hofmann, IDSA, has been instrumental in the maturation and creative development of young designers. In recognizing her continued commitment to design education, IDSA granted Hofmann the 2018 Education Award, tendered officially at this year’s International Design Conference in New Orleans, LA. This announcement was made just four short months after Hofmann—who has served as ArtCenter College of Design’s chair of product design for the last nine years—added the role of provost to her already impressive CV. She is the first woman to hold the position in the 88-year history of the college.
Working in design education for over 15 years, Hofmann has had a profound influence on the next generation of product innovators. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in psychology with an emphasis in industrial psychology from California State University, Northridge in 1990, before going on to earn her Bachelor of Science in product design, with honors, from ArtCenter seven years later. Babette Strousse, a faculty member and senior strategist at ArtCenter, recalls crossing paths with a young Hofmann: “Karen [was spending] the summer term as an intern working in our design studio. It was evident, even back then, that Karen’s talents, attitude and passion for industrial design were far greater than those of most other students and that she was destined to have a successful career in design.”
Entering ArtCenter as an instructor for the first time in 2009, Hofmann eagerly accepted the challenge of directing ArtCenter’s Color, Materials and Trends Exploration Laboratory, which continues to serve as a unique and vital resource to students. Using this platform, Hofmann launched DesignStorm, an educational project model focused on color, materials and trends with an emphasis on sustainability and emerging technologies. This endeavor connected Hofmann’s product design students with representatives from a number of prominent companies, including Adidas, Disney, Microsoft and Volkswagen.
As chair of the Product Design department, Hofmann established a multidisciplinary culture that prioritized collaboration and community engagement. She encouraged her students to look beyond the borders of their field and to educate themselves on the different shades of design on display at ArtCenter. Hofmann hopes that this pedagogy will inspire her students to consider their projects from an integrative perspective. Fred Fehlau, a colleague and retired provost at ArtCenter, says, “Karen maintains a deep commitment to industrial design and its relationship with other art and design fields. She encouraged her students—and students from other departments—to find their voices within a rigorous and expansive set of design opportunities, often working with them to create their own pathways to successful careers.” Hofmann’s interdisciplinary approach to design is evidenced by ArtCenter’s Sewing Lab, which offers students from all majors space to design textiles (apparel, equipment, footwear and more) in a way that merges the human-centered design process, 3D fabrication and materials innovation.
Beyond the classroom, Hofmann has revolutionized the nature of ArtCenter’s Product Design department by seeking to hire a diverse body of faculty that represents more fully the expanding role of product design in the industry. Hofmann serves as co-chair of the school’s Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and led the first ever Women in Industrial Design Forum, which brought students, faculty and alumnae together to share their lived experiences as women in the industry. “[Karen’s] process in education and leadership,” says her colleague Fridolin T. Beisert, M.S., “is defined first and foremost through diversity and inclusion. In the classroom this has translated into design projects that solve problems across gender, ethnic and socio-economic boundaries, many of [which] have earned the prestigious IDSA awards.”
Hofmann’s integrated transdisciplinary approach to teaching design has also led to the development of an innovative study abroad program with the INSEAD international business school. In addition, she has developed fruitful partnerships with CalTech, UCLA and Portland State, and dedicates much of her personal time to serving The Martin Architecture and Design Workshop as a board member in support of technological craftsmanship in the arts and design.
Hofmann was recognized by DesignIntelligence as one of the Most Admired Educators of 2010 for her commitment to design education. She has contributed personally to her department’s extensive list of accolades, including those from IDEA, CORE77 and Spark.