By January 2, 2017 Read More →


DesignView: How Might We…?
by Lee Davis, Founder, Modesto Design School

Design shapes all aspects of our life. Design is a creative and collaborative process that helps to uncover different and better ways of making, doing, and thinking. Designers create all of the objects we interact with and all of the spaces where we live, work, play and pray. Designers imagine innovative ways to solve complex business, government and social problems. Designers also imagine, envision and create the processes and systems that we experience around us. Design can inspire us to envision and imagine new approaches, possibilities and opportunities.

Modesto’s design history is anything but modest. Our city has a rich and remarkable heritage of design, innovation and invention dating back at least as far as 1873 with John F. Stewart’s design for a “duplex windmill,” the first registered patent of a Modesto inventor. This culture of design has continued over nearly 150 years with design innovations and inventions across all areas, industries and sectors of Modesto and across all design disciplines – architecture, graphic design, interior design, product design, fashion design, urban design, and design for social innovation. The “Modesto Design” exhibit I curated for the Modesto Art Museum in 2014 demonstrated that Modestans have created inventions, innovations and designs in all sectors and segments of our city, including in agriculture, the arts, health, industry, transportation, public service, etc.

According to the most recent Otis Report on the Creative Economy of California, design-led industries created 1.6 million jobs in our state (more than New York and Texas combined), representing nearly $375 billion dollars in economic activity, and generating $15.5 billion in tax revenues for the state. A vibrant creative economy that elevates and values design creates employment, attracts and retains top talent, generates tourism and cultural attractions, and improves overall economic development and quality of life in a city. Simply put: design creates value far beyond simply making things look pretty.

When designers approach a new creative challenge, we often start with a “How Might We…” question, i.e., “How might we find a new way to improve X, reimagine Y, or accomplish Z?” “How Might We” questions open us up to more possibilities, creative options and solutions. As we embark on the new year of 2017 and approach our proud city’s sesquicentennial in 2020, we should draw inspiration from our rich design heritage and collective creative spirit to ask: How might we reclaim Modesto’s long and strong heritage of invention, innovation and design? How might we spur a culture of design, invention and innovation in all sectors and segments of our city? How might design help us to move Modesto to the forefront of innovation across the business, government and social sectors? How might design help us to create an ambitious, inspiring and collective vision for Modesto for 2020 and beyond?

the logo for the “modesto design” exhibit curated by the author in 2014 for the Modesto art museum highlighted the rich heritage of design, invention and innovation in our city.

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The STANISLAUS COUNTY HALL OF RECORDS, designed in 1939 BY modesto architect RUSSELL DELAPPE, is a classic bauhaus style building and one of several examples of mid century “Modesto modernism” architecture.


this 1873 patent for the duplex windmill by modesto inventor John F. Stewart is only one of hundreds of others that demonstrate the long and strong tradition of invention and innovation in modesto.

The zig zag table of acclaimed furniture design firm leavitt weiver, founded by Modesto designers craig leavitt and stephen weaver, is one of many examples of award winning interior and product designs by modesto designers.



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About the Author:

Lee Davis currently divides his time between California and Baltimore, Maryland, where he is the Co-Director of the Center for Social Design and Faculty in the MA in Social Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Prior to MICA, Lee was co-Founder and served for 16 years as co-CEO and Chief Innovation Officer of NESsT, an incubator for social enterprise start-ups in emerging markets. Lee is Co-Chair of the Board of the Winterhouse Institute, dedicated to advancing social design education, and is a Social Enterprise Fellow at the Yale School of Management. He has worked for corporate design firms in the USA and Japan, and was the first in-house designer for CARE, the international aid and development organization. He holds a BA from Connecticut College and an MA in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins University. Originally from New York but now a proud Californian, Lee has called Stanislaus County home for the last 15 years. He currently lives in Modesto with his Brazilian partner Daniel, a composer, conductor, and professor of music. Lee is currently working on establishing the Modesto Design School as well as a book and exhibition on the history and heritage of design, innovation and invention in Modesto.