The Minnesota Design Center (MDC) engages in system design in Minnesota and the upper Midwest. We seek innovative solutions to the design of physical systems such as infrastructure and open space as well as non-physical systems such as public health or service delivery, helping our region seize the opportunities that lie in the social, technological, environmental, and economic disruptions of our time.
The MDC uses design thinking to do this systemic work, enabling communities and organizations to develop their assets and leverage their potential. We approach design as an empathetic, creative and community-based process applicable to a wide range of human activities, in urban and rural settings and with the public and non-profit sectors.
The MDC operates as an open platform in which a diversity of people that share its vision and strategy can work in pursuit of relevant projects. Unlike most university centers that revolve around the research of a single individual with a narrow expertise, the MDC provides a place where system designers – be they affiliate faculty and practitioners, senior research fellows and MDC staff and students – can do their best work in an open and collaborative way.
The MDC, as a research unit in the College of Design (CDES) at the University of Minnesota, began in 1986, with a generous endowment by the Dayton Hudson Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Dayton Hudson (now Target) Corporation. The gift came at the behest of the philanthropist and former CEO of the Dayton Hudson Corporation, Kenneth Dayton (1922-2003), known for his generous patronage of the arts and his keen interest in civic issues and the quality of life in the Twin Cities. In a 1980 speech Dayton stated, “It is immoral for a company to take profit out of a community without putting something back in,” and the MDC continues Ken Dayton’s legacy by “putting something back in” the communities we serve.
In 1988, the Center – then called the Design Center for American Urban Landscape – received its first directors, William Morrish and Catherine Brown (1988-2001). Its second director, Ann Forsyth (2002-2007) changed the name to the Metropolitan Design Center, which continued through the tenure of an interim director Lance Neckar (2007-2009) and its third director, Ignacio San Martin (2009-2014). Following interim director, Mic Johnson (2014-15), Thomas Fisher, the former dean of CDES since 1997, became the MDC’s fourth director in July 2015. In 2017, the name of the center was changed to the Minnesota Design Center to better reflect the statewide nature of its work. Occupying studio space in the lower level of the 2002 Steven Holl-designed expansion of Rapson Hall, the MDC has a number of senior research fellows and affiliate professionals as well as graduate and undergraduate students working in the center, all of whom help our region achieve a more sustainable, equitable, livable, and resilient future.