Professor of Design
Faculty Undergraduate Adviser
Susan Verba is a designer and Professor in the UC Davis Department of Design. Susan is principal and co-founder of Studio/lab, where she leads research-based projects and advocates for the value of design in corporate, nonprofit, and government communications.
Susan’s academic research focuses on information design for public benefit and explores issues of accessibility, safety, and civic participation. She is particularly interested in the needs of underserved individuals including seniors, beginners (anyone faced with a new situation and choices), and persons with disabilities. In using design as a tool for understanding, Susan seeks to leverage the power of social media for the collective redesign of everyday things—for example, public documents, forms, graphics, and systems that are confusing and frustrating to use.
Publications and Work
With support from a Hellman Fellowship and faculty research grants at UC Davis, Susan established the Orphan Projects in Design Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to identify artifacts that need improved clarity and accessibility—emergency exit maps, jury summons forms, student visa documents, mortgage loan disclosures, food safety labels, elevator “door open/door close” icons, and hospital discharge instructions, to name a few—and propose design solutions that benefit all. Through workshops, public lectures, classes, and other collaborative activities, the initiative mobilizes research and design professionals, engages students and educators from a variety of academic institutions, and advocates for the need to design prototypes and guidelines for broader implementation.
In collaboration with Dr. Sarah Tasker (Haas School of Business, Finance Group, UC Berkeley), Susan explores interdisciplinary connections between design thinking and business. One aspect of this work involves developing materials and tools for teaching information design principles to MBA students, and includes the creation of a new course at UC Berkeley, Designing Financial Models That Work.
Before joining UC Davis, Susan taught information design and typography in Hong Kong and in San Francisco, where she was Assistant Professor in Graphic Design at California College of the Arts. She led the Emergency and Evacuation Design initiative of AIGA’s Design for Democracy program, part of a national design effort to increase civic participation by making interactions between the U.S. government and its citizens more understandable, efficient, and trustworthy.
Previously, Susan was a design consultant for Adobe Systems, a member of the design team at IDEO, and a design engineer for Chevron. She was awarded a Fulbright grant to study museum exhibit design in Italy. As an Art Director at Sottsass Associati in Milan, she led projects for international clients including Campari, Fiat, and Cartier.
Courses taught: Letterforms and Typography; Pattern, Form and Surface; Visual Communication: Graphic Design Studio; Designing Information.