Terry Irwin

Terry Irwin

Professor and Director of the Transition Design Institute


Terry Irwin is Director of the Transition Design Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and from 2009 until 2019 she was the Head of School. Terry has been teaching at the University level since 1986. Her research is in Transition Design, a new area of design study, practice and research that argues for societal transition toward more sustainable futures. Terry, along with Gideon Kossoff and Cameron Tonkinwise developed Transition Design and integrated into programs and curricula at the School of Design in 2014.

Terry has been a practicing designer for more than 40 years and was one of the founding partners of MetaDesign, an international design firm with offices in Berlin, London, San Francisco and Zurich. She served as the Creative Director of the San Francisco office from 1992 to 2002 and worked with Fortune 500 clients such as Nike, Apple Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Barclay's Bank, Ernst and Young (EY), Nissan, Sony, and Berlin's Transport company, BVG. MetaDesign worked on projects in the areas of computer software and interface design, brand identity systems, exhibition and way finding and information design.

In 2003 she moved to Devon, England to undertake a Masters Degree in Holistic Science at Schumacher College, an international center for ecological studies. After completing her studies, she joined the faculty at Schumacher and taught ecological design thinking and design process to students with backgrounds in biology, ecology, physics, sociology and activism. This experience convinced her that large, complex problems can only be solved by transdisciplinary, collaborative teams and that design has a powerful role to play as a catalyst for positive social and environmental change.

In 2007 Terry moved to Scotland to undertake PhD studies at the Centre for the Study of Natural Design at the University of Dundee. In Dundee, Terry taught on the masters and undergraduate programs in design until 2009 when she moved to Pittsburgh to take up the post as Head of School at CMU.

Terry has held faculty positions at Otis Parsons School of Design, Los Angeles (1986-1989), California College of Arts & Crafts, San Francisco (1989-2003) and the University of Dundee, Scotland (2007-2009). She has guest lectured and taught at numerous schools in Europe and North America including Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles, The University of Washington, Seattle, Arizona State University, Tempe, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, University of the Arts, London, The Free University of Bolzen-Bolzano, Italy and the ICIS Centre, Denmark, among others. She holds a masters degree in design from the Basel School of Design, Switzerland (1986) and an honorary doctorate of letters from Emily Carr University, Vancouver (2019).

From 2010 to 2013, Terry led a series of faculty retreats and work sessions to redesign curricula at the School of Design to place design for society and the environment at the heart of its program. The School launched all new programs and curricula in fall, 2014.

Terry lives with her husband, Gideon Kossoff, a social ecologist and design theorist in Pittsburgh. Her research and teaching materials on Transition Design can be found on her Academia.edu site.