Assistant Professor Dave Pabellon on Design, Equity, and Communities of Protest

Dave Pabellon
Why leaning into connections and fostering relationships is more important than ever.

For Assistant Professor Dave Pabellon, the journey to Columbia and working in the field of Design as Protest started as an undergrad at California State University East Bay (formerly Hawyard). “I was always trying to make content more engaging,” Pabellon says. As an artist who favored visual communication, the field of design offered countless pathways to illuminate material that might otherwise be overlooked or ignored.

Pabellon’s first encounter with Columbia was shortly after he earned his MFA in Graphic Design at UIC. After a successful semester, however, he found himself drawn to a design studio, Faust Associates, where he spent eight years honing his craft. Still, the call to teaching felt strong, leading Pabellon to a position as Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Dominican University. That experience reaffirmed Pabellon’s love for teaching, so when a tenure-line opened at Columbia, Pabellon jumped at the chance to work at an arts college.

At Columbia, Pabellon offers Graphic Design 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 as well as Publication Design and a graduate course in the Civic Media program. He intends to familiarize himself with the entire curriculum through instruction. Connecting design skills to real-world problems is a perfect fit for Pabellon, who has long been involved with the Design as Protest Collective, a group co-organized by BIPOC designers who “exist to hold our profession accountable in reversing the violence and injustice that architecture, design, and urban planning practices have inflicted upon Black people and communities.” In the classroom, Pabellon extends this mission by dedicating significant time to fostering awareness of unjust practices in architecture and design so that his students can seek out opportunities to provide correctives in a historically inequitable space.

Pabellon knows that for many artists, being able to work towards a sustainable and financially viable career is paramount. “I tell my students when you get out of school, it's not just going to be you and the internet just trying to find work. It should be you, and the person sitting next to you, and me, and the career center, and all the other professors you've encountered” Pabellon says. “Every other person that you've entered based with here on campus or in a freelance job or even in the student center [is in it with you]. This idea of community is what really helps you get your kind of foot in the door.”

Today, Pabellon looks forward to continuing to grow his relationships at Columbia and to bringing his networks outside of Columbia to the campus. To students looking ahead to the future of the field, Pabellon stresses the importance of building sustainable skill sets and communications practices that will transcend ever-changing technology and platforms. After all, he says,Who knows what kind of impact automation will have on the field? [But by encouraging] designers to innovate, experiment, and articulate, their success and trajectory in the profession will be more sustainable.”