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Women in Design: Mindy Seu

The designer and researcher is most known for her work involving digital archives. Below, she shares some of her thoughts with MomandItoday.

As a fellow student at the Harvard Law School’s Berkman Klein Center for the Internet & Society, Mindy Seu began an archive of global cyberfeminism spanning three decades. Her database Cyberfeminism Index was released and can be viewed at the New Museum. Besides her extensive studio and gallery curating experience, Seu is currently a professor at Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts has given lectures and workshops at Barbican Center, CalArts, Parsons, Pratt, RISD, Berkeley Art Museum, and A-B-Z-TXT, among others. I had the honor to interview Mindy Seu.

Jamie: Hi Mindy! Would you like to give us a little intro about you and what you do?

Mindy: Yeah! So, I have a pretty formal studio background. I was working in a studio called 2×4 for several years, and the Museum of Modern Art before that. Two in-house studios; for both of those, I was either doing installation design, identity systems, or interactive installations. Then, I wanted to go back to grad school to focus more on research-based practice. I spent two years at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Berkman Klein Center, which is an internet fellowship. This was when my interest in internet criticism was growing. Since then, I have been focusing primarily on my own work, like teaching at Rutgers and the Yale School of Art as well as working on some of my projects, like Cyberfeminism Index, which just came out at the New Museum. I’m also co-curating a show and writing a few papers—it’s very interdisciplinary.  

Jamie: How has your experience been working in the design field as a woman? 

Mindy: I have been very lucky to never have experienced any workplace harassment or biases. I feel I have been very fortunate to work in companies that typically had multiple women very high up. So with creative directors, CEOs, art directors, I typically worked with women. Even the men I have worked with that are higher up, have been extremely supportive. I would even call them allies. I experienced a really beautiful example of allyship. So if anything, I try to return that to the next generation to show that, yes, even if we are perhaps part of a marginalized community, there is still a lot you can do if you have the right support system. The mentoring process really helps alleviate a lot of stresses or internal biases.

Jamie: Going off this mentorship aspect, what is some advice you have for up-and-coming young woman designers in this field?

Mindy: I think one of the most valuable things I learned early on was the value of partnerships. Especially in the United States, you are typically encouraged to work really hard, do it on your own, and promote your own name. But I have found that when you are working with the right people, it’s so much more collaborative, so much more energizing, and the work naturally blossoms from that. Even in school, working with your peers is so valuable because you’ll likely keep working with your friends after you graduate. Meeting people outside of your discipline is also helpful because you can get this variation of opinions without everyone talking the same language. I think diversifying the people you know, and building close collaborations are very fruitful for all emerging designers.

But I have found that when you are working with the right people, it’s so much more collaborative, so much more energizing, and the work naturally blossoms from that.

Jamie: That reminds me, you have a group called CSS. Could you tell us a little about that?

Mindy: We intentionally didn’t want to be a design studio. We know a lot of people in studios who have started independent studios, and for the most part, all of us are designers with individual practices that are very studio-based. As a group, we wanted to focus on things we couldn’t typically do alone, like bigger projects and things that are writing or consultancy-focused. For example, we recently did a project for SPACE10, which is Ikea’s R&D lab. They basically gave us a brief, and we were able to propose a speculative design object. We are also doing a lecture series for UCLA’s Design Media Arts program. We also do external alternative teaching—Laura and I are currently organizing a workshop at the Southland Institute in Los Angeles, and we are working on a lecture on the politics of citation right now for the Carpenter Center. So we have some projects coming soon.

Jamie: That’s really awesome. How did it start?

Mindy: I think it all came down to this idea of alliances. We all live in New York; a hard place to live in! It’s competitive and expensive, and we all have three or four jobs while working on side projects. We wanted an excuse to spend more time together, as we were all friends first. We also wanted to show the public that even if our work was similar, you can pick all of us, rather than picking just one of us. 

Jamie: Taking a detour from CSS, any projects that you are really proud of or are working on right now that you would like to share?

Mindy: I have been working on Cyberfeminism Index for over a year and will continue to for over a year. It’s a database project, a website designed by myself and my collaborator, Angeline Meitzler. The website was just released, but we will continue to gather entries until around next May. Then, I will be starting a residency at Pioneer Works, which is a cultural institution in Brooklyn. From there, I will be working on a manuscript so we can publish the text by January 2022. These are my more long-term projects. On a shorter scale, I will be co-curating with A.I.R. Gallery, one of the oldest women’s co-ops in the United States. It has been around since the ‘70s and is a gallery space typically focused on women or marginalized people in the art world. That exhibition is hopefully coming out soon, but COVID pushed everything back, so the timing is tricky. I’m also working on writing a paper about indigenous technologies for a journal called DATA Browser, which will hopefully be done in a month. 

Cyberfeminism Index

Jamie: Speaking of COVID, how has the pandemic affected you or your work life?

Mindy: I think in many ways COVID was hard because it was antisocial, but it was good because it was generative. I was talking to my mom the other day, and she said, “I feel like this is the first break you’ve had since you’ve graduated undergrad.” I have been almost sprinting until now, and though I’m working on multiple projects, my partner and I go on walks all the time, we make food at home, and so it’s been a really nice work-life balance. I feel really lucky that I was able to transition easily, since many of my projects are online.

Jamie: Any closing thoughts you would like to share?

Mindy: I think a great thing to take away for the future is, in whatever designated role, evolve it and make it your own. I’m teaching a class called Design Practicum this semester—we had a guest, Joanne Cheung, who said, “If you are able to turn your paying job into a job that feels like yours, that is so enriching.” Even if you are a great designer, to experiment and try new things is incredibly valuable.

Visit https://mindyseu.com/ to learn more about Mindy and her work.

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