New IDer: Ruth Schmidt

by New Idiom


Please quickly introduce yourself in a quick sentence.

Hi, I’m Ruth… everyone thinks I’m MDM because I’m 38 and I guess I look the part, but I’m am MDes graduating in Spring ‘09; I came in officially as Communication Design, but now that the tracks are disappearing I’m thinking of having a fling with Design Planning.


Yes - Dan’s an Endocrinology Fellow at Northwestern Memorial Hospital; we’ve been together since college and got married 4+ years ago.

Children? No, just two cats. Love ‘em dearly.


Ideologically I’m a lefty, but I’m kind of horrified at the state of US politics in general right now. It’s a fascinating design problem, actually. Fun facts: one of my first clear memories is of Gerald Ford being sworn into office. I’m also kind of obsessed with Watergate, which seems oddly quaint now.

Religion? Raised culturally Jewish, but basically agnostic.

How did you end up at ID? What were your motivations for coming? Where were you before?

I’ve worked in the e-learning field for 13 years doing interface and instructional design in Chicago, most recently as Design Director at a place called NogginLabs and as an independent consultant. It’s a weirdly incestuous industry - every professional contact I have can be traced back in one way or another to the first place I worked when I moved here.

I came to ID because I felt like I was solving the same kinds of problems again and again , and when I looked down the road 30 years in the future I couldn’t imagine myself doing the same thing. I took a experimental detour into Interior Architecture last year, and realized I missed the communicative user-focused nature of design; the more I learned about this program the better a fit it sounded. Now, naturally, I’m wishing I had come here years ago.

What are your first impressions about ID?

Most of the design folks I’ve known professionally seemed more interested in cool than usability, so right now I’m reveling in being surrounded by so many like-minded designers. I am also finding that there seem to be lots of “hidden functionality” here, so to speak - processes that seem somewhat mysterious and information that requires stumbling upon - but who knows, maybe that’s just part of learning a new place.

What do you think you could bring to the people here at ID? (culturally, socially, etc.)

  • appreciation and knowledge of films, music and books - recommendations abound!

  • a background in semiotics, which can be a useful filter through which to view design problems

  • I’m cool under pressure, which will come in handy for team-mates come end of term

  • knowledge of Chicago - geesh, it’s hard for me to believe I’ve been a midwesterner for 13 years

Is there anything from your home that you think people should not miss?

I still kind of consider myself an east-coaster, so if you go to Boston qua home check out the DeCordova Musuem and Sculpture Park; Fenway Park (yeah, good luck getting tickets); Harvard Square (though it’s not as cool as it used to be)

in Chicago: that small park along the Chicago River at Kingsbury and Ontario - I forget the name - especially in the summertime; the LaSalle theatre (kind of a hike at Cicero and Irving Park); Sullivan’s Auditorium Theatre on Congress just west of Michigan.

in my home: I’m a good cook, so don’t miss dinner.

Which designers/thinkers have impressed you the most lately or you are following now?

  • Martin Felsen and Sarah Dunn at Urbanlab are doing really cool sustainability-related urban design and architecture

  • Hans Rosling - visualizations that are visually compelling and crazy-informative

  • Malcolm Gladwell - one of the most design-thinking non-designers I’ve come across

  • Errol Morris - an old fave; non-fiction film-maker who just completed a series in the NYTimes about truth and narrative in photography

Tell us quickly about a project that you’re working on now that you’re really excited about.

Through a combination of brute force and coincidence most of my current projects are focusing on urban design, specifically transportation. I’ve always been fascinated by urban studies - how humans shape the environment and how the environment in turn shapes them - so I’m thinking about how to leverage this all into more of a meta-project that I can continue through my time here.

What are the websites you could not live without?

  • I’m kind of addicted to email, I guess that counts

  • the online New York Times

  • for when you just gotta know if ‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes’ comes before or after ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’ (answer: after)

  • Salon

  • google for the obvious reasons

  • and I have a variety of links to information design sites that I turn to pretty regularly

What kinds of activities are you planning to do in your free time (in case you have any) while at ID?

Nothing too out of the ordinary - socializing, catching up on movies, cooking, sleeping, traveling. I do enjoy a good roller derby match now and again, though.

This blank space is for you to tell people whatever you want about you. Thanks!

  • I can write backwards

  • I have a twin brother, but i only have one “spooky coincidence” twin story

  • I have a kind of phobia about balled up straw wrappers. Stupid, I know, but please be kind.