Maymoon Design
slides rise3.jpg

Wicked Problems Film Series

Movies You Cannot Be A (Conscientious) Designer Without Having Seen: A film series in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University


Voluntary, self-initiated project that employs film and video to concretize wicked problems that are often discussed in the abstract.

November 2018–present


Cameron Tonkinwise started a film series in Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design called "Movies You Cannot be a Designer Without Having Seen." In continuation of that legacy, I started a "Wicked Problems Series" where, instead of showing films that highlight beautiful filmmaking or storytelling, I wanted to show documentaries and films that address the nuances of the complex, wicked problems that we as conscientious designers need to be aware of in our work. At every event we invite a subject matter expert to view the film with us and help lead a discussion afterwards. Films are screened every three to four weeks in the evenings.

A bit of context on why this film series is important: In the school of design, especially at the graduate level, we talk a lot about wicked problems, complexity, systems, and serious problems like climate change, but always in the abstract. We also talk a lot about empathy, but what does it really mean for the people directly experiencing those problems? Yes, at the Interaction Design or Product Design level, we can do user research, but when talking about global, complex problems, we don’t really know what it’s like for the people in the midst of it—those suffering the most or those in the arena who are fighting to create change. 

I believe the true visual storytellers when it comes to wicked problems are documentary filmmakers—not only do they make these issues real and palpable by putting you in the place of people who are most directly affected, but they are very adept at capturing the nuance and complexity of the problems.  

As we know, there are no solutions to wicked problems, so we do not intend to arrive at any answers through these films. But the hope is that, by raising these concerns in our consciousness, we become more informed, more critical, nuanced, and sensitive designers who can then go on to use our unique skills to work towards more sustainable and just futures.


If you would like to receive emails about this film series and upcoming events, please sign up here. For any questions, comments, or suggestions, please email me at


September 5, 2019
Topic: Behavior Change
Video: TED Talk by Jose Miguel Sokoloff
Guest facilitatorDr. Dan Lockton, Assistant Professor in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University

April 18, 2019
Topic: Change Makers
Film: Tomorrow
Guest facilitatorsDr. Gideon Kossoff, Adjunct Professor in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University; Dr. Edson R. Severnini, Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University

March 28, 2019
Topic: Cooperative Economic Model
Film: Food for Change
Guest facilitatorFrancis Carter, PhD candidate in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University

March 6, 2019 (co-organized by Langston Wells)
Topic: Cities in Transition
Episode: Parts Unknown: Pittsburgh
Guest facilitatorDr. Joel Tarr, Professor of History and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University

February 6, 2019
Topic: Creative Policy Change
Film: Life is Sacred
Guest facilitatorSofía Bosch Gomez, PhD candidate in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University

November 15, 2018
Topic: Gentrification
Film: San Francisco 2.0
Guest facilitatorsStefani Danes and Stefan Gruber from the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University

November 8, 2018
Topic: Indigenous Land Rights
Episode: Rise, a Vice documentary about the Dakota Access Pipeline
Guest facilitatorsDr. Noah Theriault from the Department of History and Dr. Alexa Woloshyn from the School of Music at Carnegie Mellon University

September 22, 2017
Topic: Race and Police Brutality
Film: La Haine (Hate)
Guest facilitators: Silvia Mata-Marin and Kevin Jarbo, PhD candidates at Carnegie Mellon University


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

—Theodore Roosevelt