Cheryl Heller joins ASU as director of design integration

Headshot of Cheryl Heller, designer and author who joins ASU as director of design integration.

Designer and author Cheryl Heller, founder of the first MFA program in social design at the School of Visual Arts in New York, will serve as ASU's director of design integration.


Designer, inspirational author and trailblazer Cheryl Heller will create more new pathways in the next chapter of her career. Heller joins Arizona State University as the director of design integration, a joint position between the W. P. Carey School of Business, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Heller will serve as professor of practice in innovation design and also lead the growth and scale of ASU’s Innovation Space in The Design School.

“The director of design integration at ASU is a new role, one that could only be filled by a truly exceptional innovator,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute. “We’re delighted that Cheryl Heller is joining us to serve as ASU’s leader in design thinking and process integration, pioneering new strategies for integrating transdisciplinary education and the design process into curricula across the university — and connecting the work to real world issues through funded projects.”

Heller will head the Master of Science in Innovation and Venture Development program, integrating learning from business, engineering and design in a transdisciplinary, experience-based learning program that prepares leaders with the mindset, skill sets and practice needed to launch successful ventures in any industry or sector, inside existing organizations or as new entities. Graduates will acquire both the expert and soft skills needed to think across complex systems, lead multidisciplinary teams, identify needs, evaluate opportunities and create and launch scalable business models that provide value to all stakeholders in a world of growing uncertainty and ambiguity.

Before joining ASU, Heller founded the first MFA program in social design at the School of Visual Arts in New York, a cohort-based experiential learning program that teaches students to use the design process to address the complex social and environmental challenges facing humanity. Graduates of the program are leading change and innovation in federal and city government, industry, health care and the social sector, including at Google, Microsoft, Arup, the Peterson Health Institute, the Arnhold Institute for Public Health at Mt. Sinai, RGA Associates, Dalberg and UNICEF.

Her latest book, “The Intergalactic Design Guide: Harnessing the Creative Potential of Social Design,” asks the question: Can human beings design their way out of the mess that industrial civilization has made of the world?

As someone who believes that the design process is a powerful tool that increases agency and new possibilities for all who practice it, Heller thinks design should be available to everyone and was drawn to ASU because of President Michael Crow’s reputation as an innovator in the field of education.

Heller developed a research project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to investigate the contribution design can make to human health. Additionally, she is working on a national project to diminish the flow of young people from foster care to homelessness, and helping the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus revitalize their city through the development of an innovation district there.

Heller has deep experience in the corporate, philanthropic and nonprofit worlds, often leading multisector collaborations. She is a recipient of the prestigious AIGA Medal for Lifetime Achievement for her contributions to the field of design and a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellow. She is the former board chair of PopTech and a senior fellow at the Babson Social Innovation Lab. She created the Ideas that Matter program for Sappi in 1999, which has since given over $14 million to designers working for the public good, and partnered with Paul Polak and the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum to create the exhibition “Design for the Other 90%.” She is currently working on her PhD in social design at RMIT University in Melbourne.

“People talk about design as problem-solving,” Heller said. “But that’s a limited view. The most exciting aspect of design is its capacity for creating conditions that have never existed before. We need that now. We need to create new ways of being on this planet, and with each other. Design is the process for accomplishing that.”

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