Friends of School of Design alumnus Joseph Ballay gathered recently at Carnegie Mellon University , to recognize the $10 million gift he and his wife, Sue, made during summer 2022 to the school. It will establish the Joseph Ballay Center for Design Fusion, which will focus on cross-disciplinary problem-solving. Ballay was joined by his family both virtually (wife, Sue; and daughter, Kate, via Zoom) and in person (son, Jamie; daughter-in-law, Ilse; grandson, Kozar; and granddaughter Klara.
School of Design Head Bruce Hanington welcomed the crowd who came to honor Ballay, who also served as a faculty member, head of the school and is now a professor emeritus. Many former students, several classmates and colleagues at CMU and MAYA Design (which Ballay co-founded) were in attendance. “The Ballay Center,” Hanington said, “will truly be the front door of the School of Design.”
Following a dedication video, Ballay thanked those gathered for being there and said he was overwhelmed by seeing so many friends. He also offered his gratitude for his CMU education.
“The great thing about CMU is, you don’t have to ask permission to do great things when you’re here,” he said. “You just do them.”
He said he looks forward to being part of the future projects that take place within the center.
“I’m sure that, through the center, we will teach great things,” he said. “I chose to contribute to a vision that’s shared through a transdisciplinary process, because sharing those ideas really solves problems. We’re going to be learning a lot ourselves, and that’s a good thing.”
The center establishes a formal presence of design expertise and outreach at CMU and also will serve as a central hub for design courses for the CMU campus community, executive education, sponsored projects and collaborations, and design research.
Establishing The Ballay Center is the culmination of his life’s work, which has been a study and practice of the arts and sciences.
“There is, I believe, an artistic base in all that we do, which satisfies human needs,” Joe Ballay said. “Through the center, we will continue interdisciplinary work using design thinking to solve problems. Carnegie Mellon is the right setting to make this happen.”
“We are extremely grateful for Joe’s vision and support. By establishing The Joseph Ballay Center for Design Fusion, he reinforces Carnegie Mellon’s culture, in which the creative and the technical live side-by-side, strengthening each other,” said Carnegie Mellon President Farnam Jahanian. “It has been our longstanding belief that the arts and technology together make us stronger as individuals. Growing out of its roots in the arts, design thinking approaches problem-solving with a transdisciplinary approach that respects the aesthetic forces of human productivity.”
Ballay is a 1960 management graduate of Carnegie Mellon, then known as Carnegie Tech. He earned his second bachelor’s degree in industrial design from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and, in 1970, he earned his master’s degree from the College of Fine Art’s (CFA) Department of Design. He was named head of that department shortly after joining the faculty and swiftly rebuilt its focus, curriculum and administration, ultimately helping to establish the School of Design within CFA. He returned to teaching and research in 1985 and is an emeritus professor of design.
In 1989, along with two CMU colleagues from psychology and computer science, Ballay founded MAYA Design, Inc., an interdisciplinary design consultancy, applying design theory and practice to complex contemporary problems. In a little more than two decades, MAYA had transformed itself into a technology design lab, spun off four other companies, and had grown to 50 people.
Helping more people to learn about design thinking and the process by which it resolves the world’s issues is just one goal for The Ballay Center. Built at the center’s core is a blend of education, outreach and partnerships.
“The Ballay Center will be the ‘front door’ to design at CMU. Joe is a visionary who knows the School of Design inside out, having been one of its formative faculty. He understands exactly what is needed to infuse design thinking throughout all aspects of human endeavor and is showing us how to throw that door wide open,” said Mary Ellen Poole, the Stanley and Marcia Gumberg Dean of the College of Fine Arts.
“Through Joe and Sue’s incredible support, we will be able to meet the growing demand for design courses across the CMU campus community, increase our capacity for professional executive education, continue to build on our success with corporate and nonprofit partnerships, and enhance the profile of design research,” said Bruce Hanington, head of the School of Design. “Having Joe’s name on this center is a true honor. We are grateful for the Ballays’ generosity and excited to share Joe’s vision for outreach to all those who will benefit so greatly from design thinking.”
“I eventually realized that when I was waiting on customers, this was the beginning of my design education because I had to deal with the practicalities of putting things together and envisioning the needs and wishes that each person was involved in,” he said. “It was solving problems, essentially.”
Now, through The Ballay Center, he will help others learn to do the same. “I’m proud that the people who’ve come after me have continued this course of seeing design as an interdisciplinary thinking style,” Ballay said.
Making this happen in Pittsburgh and at Carnegie Mellon, he said, was an obvious choice.
“Pittsburgh is a city that has had to reinvent itself several times and continues to do so,” Ballay said. “With all its advances, though, Pittsburgh is still a steel town, and it reminds you that in this world, progress takes effort, it takes hard work.
“That’s a lot like Carnegie Mellon, which is very special to me,” he continued. “It not only has the components to make this center a reality, but also to make it happen with deep commitment. And by components, I mean a tradition of breaking rules and being willing to take chances. If you fail, you fail. But if you succeed, ‘Wow!’ Our goal, above all, is making the world better.”
The Ballays’ gift is the latest commitment to be announced as part of Make Possible: The Campaign for Carnegie Mellon University. The multiyear effort aims to raise $2 billion in private philanthropy to support CMU’s strategic priorities across the university and its seven colleges and schools. To date, more than 55,000 supporters have contributed more than $1.84 billion in support of the university.