Discovering Design with Jason Nam

Article by Kacie McGeary, published on 23 January 2018

Have you ever wondered why schools teach art but not design?

This question first entered Jason Nam’s mind when he was just a teenager. While attending a summer program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, he realized that creativity takes more forms than those taught in his classrooms. All it took was a bit of encouragement and a newfound understanding for him to see that even he could become a designer.

After continuing his education at Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design, Jason returned to this question again and again. He conducted research and found that most high schools offer art classes but rarely provide anything in the realm of design. And although art and design have much in common, they also have distinct differences.

For Jason, (good) design is collaborative; it’s about meeting people from all backgrounds with a goal of creating something beautiful and useful. It’s a joyful, ceaseless quest to improve the world we live in. And, most importantly, it offers a valuable perspective that should be included in standard curriculum.

The more he learned about design, the more he was sure of this.  

To put it simply, Jason believes there’s something wrong and outdated about the global education model, and that the world loses potential designers each time a creative-minded teenager gives up because they believe they’re not “artsy” enough.

This notion is what drove Jason to start a nonprofit organization in his home city of Prague that would encourage high school students to explore design through studio work. He called it Design Disco.

Officially speaking, Design Disco (“disco” being short for “discovery”) was founded in 2013, around the time Jason completed his degree at the Architectural Institute of Prague. But he likes to say that it began back at the summer program at Harvard, because that’s where the vision of the organization originated: that young generations from all backgrounds — not just those who can afford it — should have equal access to creative pursuits.

So in 2013, Jason and his co-founder Ben started Design Disco with a visit to a local high school in Prague. From that very first workshop, they knew they had to continue to develop more programs that would introduce students to the possibilities of design, with the goal of instilling a passion for diverse creativity in the city’s youth. But as they led more workshops, they saw an opportunity for Design Disco to grow into a bigger movement — a global network of passionate designers giving back to their local communities. They then launched a chapter in Bergen, Norway, and have continued to encourage more countries to start Design Disco chapters in their cities as well.

Although expansion is on their horizon, Design Disco’s flagship location continues to take full advantage of the fact that Prague is like a living 3D-architecture textbook. Since the city is filled with an energy of transformation and potential, Jason and his team use their workshops to connect with local charities and other nonprofits to create design products that cater to what the city actually needs, all while helping teenagers discover their creative potential.

Today, Design Disco has grown to more than 30 team members in Prague and Bergen, and represents schools such as ARCHIP, Czech Technical University, Harvard Graduate School of Design, UMPRUM, Virginia Tech, and Bergen School of Architecture. While Jason admits that the story of Design Disco is a bit unusual, he believes its success has come from having a clear vision rather than a clear plan.

As Jason puts it: “We want students to see the world through the window of design. That doesn’t mean all of them will become architects or professional designers, but that they will hopefully notice and appreciate the beauty of this world, and strive to improve our future by asking the right questions.”

Here’s to opening up new doors and ways of thinking.

 View the full interview here

Selected Works:

Creative/Art Direction: Design Disco Summer Camp / Máme otevřeno (We Are Open) / Czech Design Week / Maker Faire / KIMCHI / Rice Privilege / Fotografiska Days: Cultural Fabric / Fotografiska Berlin Museum Grand Opening Week
Talks: TEDx Talk: “Great design starts with empathy” / TEDx Talk: “Why you deserve design education” / Work 3etter conference / Bauhaus Study Rooms / Towards a Bauhaus School Europe: Workshops for the whole earth
Education: International Students’ Conference / The Big Draw Festival / Riverside International School / Harvard GSD Design Discovery Youth
Graphic Design: Album Covers / Posters / KIMCHI / Rice Privilege
Research: Growing Up with Design
Interviews & Mentions: After TEDxUNYP: Jason Nam / To See The World Through the Window of Design / Discovering Design with Jason Nam