Interview by Hannah Sprouse
Mercè Graell-Colas loves building relationships and showcasing her passion for design. She works hard to truly get to know her talented CCAD students while interacting with local companies and nonprofits. Mercè shares her passion for design with industries and sectors around the world.
Where did you grow up, and what brought you to Columbus? I am originally from Barcelona, Spain. Some years ago, I graduated from The Ohio State University with an MFA in Design Education & Research. That’s how I came to live in Columbus. My daughter was born in Ohio, as well, so I have a close personal and professional connection to this area.
Give us a snapshot of your career path: I’m currently a Professor and Chair of the Master of Design in Integrative Design program at Columbus College of Art & Design. But over the years, I’ve worked to bring design thinking, service design and strategic design to a number of different industries and sectors. As a graduate student at OSU, I worked with faculty at OSU to create one of the first Design Thinking curricula in the U.S. Back in Barcelona, I worked as a strategic design director for Designit, the largest strategic design consultancy firm in Europe, and implemented those practices with Fortune 500 companies and major universities in Spain.
Tell us about your current career role: As Chair of the Master of Design program at CCAD, I’m in charge of developing the curricula, overseeing the program, and establishing connections with the professional community in Columbus. In the program, our students work on projects with a number of real businesses, from Cardinal Health to John Glenn Columbus International Airport. And I work to build relationships with companies and nonprofits around town to connect them with our talented students.
What is ‘Integrative Design’ all about, and what types of careers/industries do your students work in? Integrative Design is about using design to better equip people and companies for innovation and change. It combines new ways of thinking — design thinking, systems thinking, future thinking, to name a few — with new ways of designing — experience design, strategic design, service design, business design — while keeping holistic, human values front and center.
Designers go on to work in a number of industries and sectors, from healthcare and insurance to finance and retail. We’re graduating our first class of Master of Design students this May at CCAD, and we can’t wait to see where they end up.
What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek? Our students get me up and through the week. They’re so talented, and they really inspire me.
Also, every morning I reflect on a poem by Joan Manuel Serrat. It’s called Today it can be a great day, and it goes:
Today it can be a great day
Impossible to retake
A unique specimen
Don’t let it go
What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way? I’ve had so many incredible mentors who have helped guide me in my career. And I think the best advice I’ve received is that the answer to almost any question is “it depends”.
Explain some of your work-life balance challenges. How do you achieve success in spite of the hustle and bustle? Prioritization is crucial. Telling yourself that you are not irreplaceable and to not take anything personally helps.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind? I’m a big fan of tai chi, yoga, connecting with nature, and seeing a good performance.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a fiction writer, a math professor or a circus performer to see the world.
What might someone be surprised to know about you? I am a tree-hugger, I speak Romance languages and I love to travel to hidden, unusual places.
What would your autobiography be called? Tap Dancing Design Advocate
If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would you choose? Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean. I admire that he started his career by looking himself at the mirror. The best of a human being: funny and smart.
What are among the top places you’d recommend to someone who is visiting or new to Columbus? The Franklin Park Conservatory any day. The Park of Roses in spring. Copious Notes on a Sunday evening. And the Beeler Gallery anytime.
What organizations are you involved with in the community? I’m involved with a number of organizations both personally and in my role at CCAD, including the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio, Erase the Space, Freedom a la Cart, US Together, Cardinal Health, and OhioHealth.
Tell us about a community initiative that you’re most passionate about. Professional development through design is my passion. So, initiatives that can bring growth to the professional community resonate in CCAD’s Master of Design program.
What’s the most exciting thing about Columbus right now? The vibrant, young professional population and the expanding urban area.
What are three things that you think Columbus needs?
1. Public transportation to go anywhere without the need of a car.
2. More unexpected encounters and the possibility of wandering.
3. Wider cultural influence.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? The pulse of bits. Technology is in the air.