Creating Community by Design

Miriello with students at poster show web
Miriello with graphic design students at CSU last fall

By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)

After graduating with a major in graphic design, Ron Miriello (B.F.A., ’75) moved to San Diego and, in 1982, founded a very successful business, Miriello Grafico, Inc. His clients range from Hewlett-Packard to TaylorMade Golf to SONY. Even more profound than his clients’ satisfaction, however, is his creation of community through a process called “design thinking.”

Miriello with current and former CSU graphic art professors
Miriello with current and former CSU graphic art professors

It started when he purchased an old boat repair warehouse in which to locate his design business. It was in Bario Logan, a Hispanic working-class waterfront neighborhood in San Diego. He knew that if he was going move his business there, he would need to demonstrate to the community that he “was there for them.” He noticed a lot of “tagging” in the neighborhood, so he asked around and identified taggers, then hired some to do tags on his building. Miriello says, “they did a great job,” and that invitation helped convince the community he was moving in “not to paint over but instead to celebrate their culture and customs.” He also held art events for the local community at the building.

So, what is design thinking? According to Miriello, a designer cannot impose his idea on the client but instead finds ways to clarify, restate, and illustrate the client’s idea. Designers help make connections that may not be obvious but help spark innovation or a resolution. Oftentimes a problem also holds within it the seeds for solution. He says, “It’s how we were taught to work, starting right here at CSU,” and it is the foundation of the design-thinking process he has used so successfully. He thinks of the process as having “two rails: 1) What do you want to do? and 2) What community do you want to build? When you’re lucky, those two rails begin to cross.”  Miriello says that, by staying curious for decades, “now I can’t tell work from play.” He continues, “a designer’s job is to inspire people or a company, to encourage them not to let empirical challenges thwart their vision and creativity.”

Miriello, left, with his former professor, Phil Risbeck, right
Miriello, left, with his former professor, Phil Risbeck, right

He argues that art is essential for a healthy culture and for human connection. Design thinking is a way of focusing on human connection by helping us create a vision and maintain it over time. Design thinking enables us to reconnect the value of art and community. Miriello is a National AIGA Fellow and a board member for Urban Discovery Academy  ̶  charter schools with a design-thinking focus.

An important step in his own journey was a 1975 scholarship to study in Italy, where he discovered his heritage and learned the language. It was the start of a 40-year love affair and is the place where he is “still learning and being inspired.” He now has two lives, as he has a second home in Radicondoli (Siena), a small village in Tuscany. “These places are fragile jewels, yet smart change is essential to their survival in the modern world.”

Soviet Poster Show at CSU
Soviet Poster Show at CSU, fall 2019

Miriello was on campus recently. He purchased a collection of 100 posters from the Gorbachev era of Glasnost and Perestroika to preserve them and make them available for shows. The posters were displayed at CSU 30 years ago and returned this past October. The Soviet Poster Show is another fascinating illustration of how art can inspire community as well as political change.