Ranee Lee, IDSA
Associate Professor | OCAD University
Prior to becoming a full-time faculty member in the Industrial Design program at OCAD University, Ranee Lee worked as a product designer. She operated a design business for 15 years, manufacturing home products and furnishings in both Canada and the Philippines. Ranee distributed to clients such as: Indigo Books, Four Seasons Hotel, Roots Home and Takashimaya NY in North America. Her professional practice in product design transitioned into non-profit design work, dovetailing with her Master's in education on participatory design framework from the University of Toronto, and resulted in research-creation and curriculum design at the intersection of design and social good. Ranee is also the co-founder of Thinking Forward, a registered charitable organization in Toronto since 2010 and an approved partner of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the largest school board in Canada and fourth largest in North America. Ranee continues to serve as a board member for Thinking Forward, designing programs in arts-based leadership for priority neighbourhood schools in Toronto.
As the first WOC/POC tenured professor in the ID program at OCAD University, Ranee’s teaching pedagogy reflects her professional practice. As a course lead for studio courses, she sees the importance of keeping the curriculum relevant in order to help students stay engaged and connected to the real world. Since 2015, she integrated design for social change by engaging with a group of immigrant women who sew for income generation in Regent Park, a former social housing neighbourhood in Toronto, as part of the city’s poverty reduction strategy. These initiatives helped her realize that design education is never to operate in isolation, but rather in a collaborative industry to solve problems in the world we live in and focusing on contextual research to address the needs of the user. Ranee sees a studio course like a laboratory of life. She piloted and implemented the first offsite course in Regent Park in 2018 and again in Baycrest Hospital in 2019, where the curriculum is aligned with what is outside the four walls of a classroom.
In 2021, Ranee designed a brand-new curriculum as a response to the social and racial injustices along with isolation from the pandemic. The outcome won the 2021 DesignTO Best Exhibition Award during Design Week in Toronto while disseminated through a window exhibition at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH Hospital) bringing design to the forefront of mental health dialogue during a critical time in a global pandemic. Ranee continues to see design as a tool for disruption and response. She is currently embarking on a design research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) until the year 2023 on alternative economies in marginalized Canadian communities.
Statement of Candidacy (Districts Committee - Northeast | 2022-2023 term)
I am interested in representing the Northeast District of IDSA from Toronto, the newest city to this district. Because I find myself at the intersection of design/education/community work in a city that is uniquely diverse, I think my contribution to IDSA and its membership will be about fresh perspectives and the intersection of ideas. As a designer, my work has always been collaborative and participative/codesign in nature, as I strongly value the narratives of lived experiences.
I also believe that design can be a tool to combat poverty, not just through policy and systems design, but simply through thoughtfully designed everyday products. I believe that designing with/for the community is often messy and slow work, and the design process might just look different if we truly want a sustainable outcome that is ‘good’ for the community. I believe it is important for designers to be thoughtful and humble, yet agile in order to stay relevant and use design as a catalyst to disrupt, create awareness and engage with the needs around us to produce meaningful outcomes.
My past design research work informs the current themes of my work and my teaching portfolio. I design projects for studio courses in Design for Health, Circular Design and Design for Social Innovation. For example, our class project with a group of immigrant women from a former social housing neighbourhood was based on a collaborative and participatory project that addressed our city’s poverty reduction strategy. Classes have engaged with clients from children with special needs in public schools to older adults living with dementia. We produced awareness and engagement while creating concrete, meaningful outcomes.
I recently gave a talk for a graduate seminar at Cornell University about decolonizing design and what ‘respectful design’ means, and the discourse that resulted from the conference was deep and thoughtful, leaving us all (myself included) inspired to do our individual work in our own spaces and places. For me, design is an approach that extends beyond my practice. Last year, I received tenure in the ID program at OCAD University, the only WOC/POC tenured designer in the program. I see that as much as ID has changed over the last decades, there’s much work that we can do for design to be truly inclusive.
This is how I see my role as a representative in this district: to create a space for open dialogue and exchange, so that we can be advocates and experts in our workplaces, schools, and cities. I want to affect what our collective industrial design field is and what it is becoming through individual agency, advocacy, and inspiration.