Friday Fives: Michael Ellsworth, Civilization

January 17, 2020

Every Friday we give #highfives to a different designer from our extended family of PNCA students, faculty, alumni, and guest lecturers. 🙌🏾🙌🏻🙌🏽 We ask them five questions.

As the director of Civilization, Michael Ellsworth has led over a decade of far-ranging design work meant to spark systematic change and create meaningful connections. Civilization builds identity systems, digital experiences, printed materials, environmental graphics, exhibitions and campaigns striving to be empathetic, socially relevant, and sustainable.

In conjunction with their studio work, Civilization produces a variety of public programs such as the free Design Lecture Series in Seattle; the podcast interview series Beyond This Point, and prominent graphic design gallery project Non-Breaking Space.

Civilization is a recipient of the National Design Award for Communication Design from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in honor of “excellence, innovation, and enhancement on the quality of daily life.” Their internationally-recognized work is included in the permanent collection of SFMOMA and the Milton Glaser Design Archives at SVA. Their long list of awards includes a Webby Award for Best Activist Website, and they are regularly featured in major global media outlets such as The Guardian, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and NPR.

Graphic Design Department Head, KRB, spoke with Michael in December, 2019.

Protest posters, workshops, and exhibit: The Design of Dissent.

Q: How do you want to shape design?

A: I hope our studio’s work can inspire others to use their talents to do work that isn’t in the service of consumerism.

Q: What do you do to get “unstuck?”

A: I'll take a break and watch a documentary, walk through a museum, or take a nap.

Michael Ellsworth has led over a decade of far-ranging design work meant to spark systematic change and create meaningful connections.

Q: What music (or podcasts) are you listening to, or what are you reading right now?

A: Music to hang out to: Knife Knights and Nick Hakim
Music to work to: Hiroshi Yoshimura and Masahiro Sugaya
Podcast to be inspired by: Scratching the Surface
Current Reading: Against Creativity by Oli Mould, and P!DF by Prem Krishnamurthy

Q: What advice would you give your former self?

A: You should really stay in school.

Q: If you could get critique from one artist (living or dead), who would it be?

A: Tibor Kalman of M&Co.

Civilization hosts the Design Lecture Series in Seattle, FREE at the Seattle Public Library's central branch. Left: Ellen Lupton speaks. Right: Tote bags, awaiting the audience.

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Follow along with our #fridayfives on instagram @pncadesign.

Come visit with Michael at the Design Lecture Series on January 29, 2020.

See more from Civilization at, or follow them on instagram @builtbycivilization.

All images courtesy of Michael Ellsworth.