Alumni Profile: Dr. Arianne Collopy

Our discipline is Integrative Systems + Design. What does that mean to you?

In Integrative Systems + Design, it’s really a mindset of how to see the world and what the world can be. I really see the integrative piece is important in terms of bringing together different ways of thinking about opportunities, and what potential solutions are out there to make the world a better place to be. It’s a way of framing opportunities and our role in creating those opportunities.

Why is the field of ISD so important?

We all see the world is a very big, complicated place that’s full of ambiguity, full of uncertainty. Where we all care as people. What will the future be? What can the future be? And integrative systems are what we see and interact with. The field of ISD is a way of really approaching those, making them understandable, making them interpretable and tangible things we can work with, things we can understand and process and framing the problems of today and tomorrow as problems of where people are interacting with technology is a really powerful way to make a meaningful impact to come up with good solutions that actually mean something and deliver value to people.

What is the future of ISD? Where will it be ten years from now? 25 years from now?

I see ISD as really flexible. That’s a huge value for the future because what that means is we can adapt, we can focus on timely questions because ISD is largely about mindsets, the set of tools we have framing questions, framing opportunities that will stay the same. But how we apply that to challenges of the future will be what the future will look like.

What is the value the field of ISD provides to society?

I’m going to focus on the design part of ISD. In design, the focus is really about people. What are the needs? What are the values of real people? How do we kickstart every design process to take us down the path of what technical solutions, what social solutions are appropriate and keeping that perspective of people and society helps us make better decisions in terms of where we focus, where we put our resources and energy and if we do that well. We can make a real impact because we’re solving the right question. We’re finding the right opportunities.

Why did you choose to pursue a degree in ISD?

My academic journey took me from an undergraduate degree in chemistry to a master’s program in aerospace engineering and another master’s program in operations research. Through that time, I became interested in systems, how people interact with systems, why systems are the way they are, and design science. I saw ISD as a great opportunity to explore some of those questions from a very holistic perspective, particularly looking at how people and systems interact. So not just when people are saying sort of a transactional interaction, but really how do people perceive systems and how does that change the way they live their lives? There are a ton of questions there, and I think about them in a completely different way now than I did before I entered the Design Science program at ISD.

How has your ISD degree helped you in your career?

Some of the biggest things I’ve learned from being in the Design Science program and studying ISD is how to see things from different points of view. That’s absolutely critical. And in any field of work or practice, it helps to communicate things better, understand what people are saying, ask different questions and find the right and the most meaningful opportunities. So for me, it’s opened a lot of doors because I can fit in a lot of different roles on teams that I’m in. I can put on different hats, and a lot of that is because of the training I received in ISD at the University of Michigan.

What specific lessons did you learn during your ISD education that you apply regularly in your career?

Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned from ISD is to consider people as part of the frame you’re looking at. So if you were thinking about a technical concept, there are always people involved somewhere. And what they’re doing, what they’re trying to do well will inform what you do with that technology, what that technology looks like at the end of the day. So the biggest thing is really just expanding that frame of reference so you can zoom in and look at something more specific and make sure you’re looking at it the right way.

Why would you recommend ISD to prospective students or professional partners? What’s the value proposition?

ISD is a way of thinking about problems and particularly the messy problems, the ones we don’t really fully understand, the ones that might look different in a couple of years, but being able to focus on the interconnections between things and think about how they might evolve, looking at opportunities from the perspective of a designer we have agency over, where we’re going, what decisions we make, how we make those decisions really that can fit into any domain. It’s a really broad generalist skill set in a lot of ways, but also a strategic focus on where we’re going and why we are going that way.

What are the best qualities of an ISD graduate?

I love meeting other ISD graduates because they’re all so unique. There’s so much flexibility in an ISD program. You can focus on a lot of different angles of things, but again you’re building that common shared mindset of how to approach things. So we’re all big-picture thinkers doing really interesting things, but I love seeing different alumni come together and learn from each other because we’ve also learned how to learn and ask interesting questions about where we’re going.

Why did you choose to join the ISD Alumni Board?

When I was a student in the Design Science program, one of the most fun aspects of the program was the community. And it’s something I really cherished. I was really proud to belong to that community, and I see the ISD Alumni Board as a chance to give back and develop that on a much larger scale. ISD has a lot to offer and we can share it with each other, build a strong community, recognize that value for ourselves, but also project it wider and make sure what we have to offer is something people are aware of.

Anything else?

I’m thankful for the ISD program. It’s the piece in my own education of my own development and my career as a professional that has helped me round out my expertise and bring together lots of different interests and skills. And because it’s such a unique program, I could make something that really adds value for me individually. Bringing together courses from all over the university to see different ways people think about systems, different ways we can make systems interpretable and connect to the people actually doing design work to make those systems real.