Creating Citizen Designers

John McCabe, IDSA, Earns Young Educator of the Year Award

Nov 9 2016 - 11:23am

“I’m honored and humbled to be recognized by IDSA for what I love doing every day. This was a great surprise! Truthfully, I’m excited y’all still think I’m young!” quipped John McCabe, IDSA, as he was honored with IDSA's Young Educator of the Year Award at the IDSA Awards 2016. “What really drives me are not the professional accolades and IP that my students have created for companies—but knowing I’m helping to create citizen designers who are changing the world for the better.”

McCabe’s design career began not with ID, but with architecture—at Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction. His thesis was designed and built at the world renowned Rural Studio under the direction of Samuel Mockbee and Andrew Freear. McCabe then worked as an associate architect designing for education and healthcare. He returned to Auburn to earn two more degrees—a bachelor’s degree in environmental design and a master’s degree in industrial design—then with Jerrod Windham, IDSA—co-founded Fulcrum Collaborative, which developed urban planning solutions, award-winning wakeboard boats, packaging and branding for lifestyle products and training equipment for professional sports organizations.

For nearly a decade, McCabe served as program coordinator for the User Experience Design, Service Design and Design for Sustainability Programs at Savannah College of Art and Design. As a mentor and professor, he facilitated more than 30 projects with Gulfstream, Google, TTI, Remington, Fossil, HP, Chick-Fil-A, Dell, AT&T, BMW, Disney, P&G and many others. His experience in facilitating these service and product development efforts for Fortune 500 companies provided him the insight to create a dynamic and effective client-sponsored project process that was implemented through non-typical student experiences. McCabe managed those integrated, cross-disciplinary design teams through off-campus study abroad experiences to more than 17 countries around the world. He also served as the IDSA Student Chapter faculty advisor.

After experiencing firsthand the forces affecting institutionalized education, he felt the industry needed to be pulled in a different direction. McCabe began connecting with leaders and change agents to create a community that would develop a strategy for change. The outcome of those meetings is the non-profit, Aether—co-founded in 2016 by McCabe; Owen Foster, IDSA (IDSA’s Education Award 2015 winner); and Tom Gattis, IDSA.

The think tank is focused on developing advanced, educational curriculum and immersive collaborations—creating transformational experiences to develop empathic and strategic leadership at all levels. The ripple effects of one of its platforms—SHiFT—already is being felt globally. The students and professionals who attend the design camps not only are changing each other’s lives, but taking home lateral thinking methodologies; desire for positive global change; and most importantly—the power of empathy. Aether is collaborating with organizations from around the world to find and educate those who will be at the helm someday.  “A hell of a fun adventure is waiting for them—and I want to make sure they are more than prepared to be leaders of their industry,” says McCabe determinedly.