Dave Pabellon on Being a Design Practitioner and Why He Chose Columbia

Columbia faculty member talks about design, maintaining human connection, and dismantling privilege and power structures as an artist

Dave Pabellon, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design in Columbia College Chicago’s Design Department, recounts his experience with typography as a child as his introduction into the world of design. In this interview, he tells us about his 20 years of experience as a design practitioner, his challenges and accomplishments in the field, and why Columbia students are the reason he chose Columbia.

When did you first become interested in design? 

I'm not even sure I understood design as a young person, but I distinctly remember tracing letterforms/typography out of this book for my elementary school assignments. I continue to hone in on my craft and interest in typography to this day.

Why did you choose Columbia College Chicago? 

The students, hands down. Columbia College Chicago is home to the most hard-working and innovative young creatives in the country. It's been an honor to work, lead and collaborate with them. In addition, I knew the College would provide me with the resources and community to thrive as a practitioner and academic. The facilities and access to faculty have been vital to my growth. 

What is your experience in the field? How do you bring your experiences into the classroom?

Before returning to academia, I worked as a Senior Designer at Faust Associates, an award-winning studio whose clientele includes Forbes 100 companies, Chicago non-profits, and cultural institutions. In combination with that position and my previous design jobs, I've accumulated over 20 years of practice in graphic design. That knowledge and understanding of the practice have fingerprints in all of my academic work, from my research to instruction.

What is the greatest challenge of working in design today? How have you approached overcoming those challenges? 

This sentiment goes beyond just design but creating and maintaining a human connection and building valued relationships with clients, peers, and students throughout this pandemic have been a struggle. To combat that, I have dedicated more time and energy to my soft skills by being more available, albeit virtually in most cases. 

Can you tell me about past projects you are most proud of? 

Currently showing at the Glass Curtain Gallery is YOU ARE A(NTI) RACIST, the work of the Design As Protest (DAP), of which I am a member and serve as a Core Organizer. We are a collective of designers mobilizing strategies to dismantle the privilege and power structures that use architecture and design as tools of oppression. The community built through DAP has been a beacon of light and motivation. I couldn't be more proud that Columbia College Chicago is illuminating the group's work. 

Any honors or awards we can mention?

Through the YOU ARE A(NTI) RACIST publication DAP Collective has been included in this year's STA 100 and selected to exhibit in Typeforce 12

What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing design as a career? 

An idea I try to instill into all of my students is that designers are not defined by technology but rather by their mindset, adaptability, and attention to detail. Applications and code will continue to evolve and change. The longevity of a designers' success will be determined by their ability to be flexible/open-minded and humanize the work.