Carnegie Mellon University

New Center to Explore Transdisciplinary Design Fusion

Joseph Ballay Center for Design Fusion Officially Opens Sept. 30

written by
Pam Wigley

This spring, Carnegie Mellon University alumnus and emeritus faculty member Joseph Ballay and his wife, Sue, established The Joseph Ballay Center for Design Fusion in the university’s School of Design through a $10 million gift, the single largest ever presented to the College of Fine Arts. On Friday, Sept. 30, the CMU community officially welcomed the center during a dedication ceremony on campus. It will be located in Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall.

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. When presenting the gift, Ballay said that 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. Through the center, we will continue interdisciplinary work using design thinking to solve problems. Carnegie Mellon is the right setting to make this happen.”

 Joseph Ballay

“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 long-standing 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 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.

“Through Joe’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."

Bruce Hanington
Head, School of Design

Ballay’s interest in design began early, when he was growing up in Ambridge, Pa., a steel town about 16 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. His family owned the local hardware store, and Ballay eventually took his turn at working there.

“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.

Now, through The Ballay Center, he will help others learn to do the same. Creating the center in Pittsburgh and at Carnegie Mellon, he said, was an obvious choice.

“Carnegie Mellon 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.”

for a full biography on Joe Ballay:

view his biography on the School of Design's website

more about the gift:

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.