New IDer: Sara Jo Johnson

by New Idiom


Photo: Amy Palit

Please quickly introduce yourself in a quick sentence.

Sara Jo Johnson

Where are you from? Major, age, etc.

I recently hailed from the South—quaint Savannah—but actually have midwestern roots: Minnesotan. In my early twenties, I relocated to San Francisco and gradually became an adult over the next 10+ years. I have a BA in Journalism and have written in many capacities. I’m presently plodding through the MDes program.

Married? Children?

I’m hitched. We eloped in Savannah on Tybee Beach, overlooking the Atlantic.


If Obama [had been] out (AND the hockey mom is second in demand), ex-patriotism may [have] become the only option.

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

I was pursuing a traditional MFA in Graphic Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD, I know, stoo-pid acronym), when I became privy to such concepts as third and fourth order design and wicked design problems. I realized that I didn’t want to churn out logos and letterheads—nor predominantly focus on the aesthetic. Instead, I wanted to find where design intersects with larger, looming (perhaps social) issues. The fact that this would involve multi-disciplinary teams and potentially link to different realms appealed to me. So I received my MA and scoured the graduate scene for a program focusing on human-centered systems.

What are your first impressions about ID?

Eureka! A program focusing on human-centered systems. I often wonder: if we could cross-pollinate with the IIT grads…

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

I’m interested in fusing design and writing—I’m sure other folks feel the same. Otherwise, refer to the last question for some present obsessions.

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

I pine for the Kabuki Springs in SF—a Korean-style public bath facility that removes all stress. And no, the all male, vodka drinking Russian baths in Wicker Park do not compare.

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

I’m faithful to the quarterly Design Issues—edited by Victor Margolin and Dick Buchanan. In the graphic design realm, there are lots of powerful, cerebral females that balance writing, design, teaching and other pursuits: Ellen Lupton, Denise Gonzales Crisp, Kimberly Elam, Meredith Davis…I just attended the AGI Chicago conference. SF designer John Bielenberg, through Project M, is somehow doing this hands-on relief work via the medium of graphic design.

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

Especially relevant during our newfound depression: I’ve been exploring a (potential) sustainable shift in our day-to-day behavior. We’ve heard wind of services models v. ownership models. It’s true: we don’t need to own everything or constantly exhaust unnecessary resources. But instead of talking about this in theoretical terms, wouldn’t a list of bonafide, existing service options benefit us (think Netflix, ZipCar, purse rentals, In Chuck Owen’s Information Structuring class, I recently analyzed domestic products for potential closed loop models and/or service/share options. Discovering similarities in products but dissimilarities in available services models has proved thought provoking.

What are the websites you could not live without?

My usual haunts: nytimes, designobserver and designspongeonline (I like the furniture guides).

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

Therapize via cooking, obsess on food and restaurants, frequent some dance classes, gobble up books, bike instead of drive, tinker around with bookmaking, locate some favorite haunts, find time for the husband, family and friends…