Instead, he says he's trying to make something "special for Phoenix, uniquely Phoenix."

He adds, "I was just like, 'Oh, we should do this,' and I had no idea if we could pull it off and we did. As far as what it becomes, who knows?" — Heather Hoch

Mary Stephens, Urban Vision
Becky Bartkowski
Mary Stephens, Urban Vision
Mary Stephens, Urban Vision
Becky Bartkowski
Mary Stephens, Urban Vision

Mookesh Patel | Design
When Mookesh Patel was growing up in India, a career in graphic design was unheard of. There were only three choices when it came to work for young men.

"Medicine, medicine, medicine," he says with a laugh.

Raised by his maternal grandparents, he lived with an uncle who pushed him toward a career as a doctor. After two years in medical school (during which time, he says, he never cut open animals for practice, choosing instead to draw the practicals so accurately that his teachers didn't discover until his sophomore year that he wasn't participating), he'd had enough.

"I broke the news at our New Year's party. There was pin-drop silence," he says. "My uncle didn't say anything for about five minutes. At the end of those five minutes, he said, 'Do what you want!' and got up and left the table. He was furious."

But Patel took that advice. He boarded a train the following day, headed first for architecture school and then, when he realized the admissions deadline had passed, the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, Gujarat — the first of its kind in the country. He graduated in 1975, though he would return as a teacher only a few years later. That position eventually moved him to the United States in the mid-'80s, first to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design for graduate school and then to the Valley for a job at Arizona State University.

His lengthy résumé grew to include consulting for Phoenix Art Museum and his alma maters. His work with both the Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority, as an employed designer for Malcolm Grear Designers, and the government of India for a major traveling exhibition to Russia, "My Land, My People," sparked his interest in visual communication — a departure from the commercial design, chiefly for area hotels, that made him successful in his first business ventures.

Part of his work with the Phoenix Art Museum consisted of designing collections of books related to exhibits. Book design, from cover to cover, quickly became a passion project. He continues creating print formats for everything from academic papers to anthologies related to the design field.

The designer will present his own paper, titled "What Does It Mean? Sense Making of Contemporary Information Transmission," in China this June, as information design is a topic he has recently become devoted to. Computer programs, like Excel, are useful for data collection but lack accessibility. Through controlling what seem like incidental components, like color and typeface, one is able "to give a visual form to complicated data," he says. "[But] I love print more because I can control a lot of things."

Patel, one of one of only two tenured professors in ASU's Department of Visual Communication Design, found himself the subject of breaking news articles in 2009 when his office was the scene of the suicide of a graduate student. The harrowing event shook the College of Design, but Patel never stopped teaching.

After 22 years in the field, the 61-year-old prefers teaching third-year and graduate students — many of whom have gone on to be prominent in the graphic design field. Danielle Gerard, now based in New York City, has worked on web designs for Steve Madden, while Lauren Weiss, part of Studio W Group in Los Angeles, has done product design for cosmetics company Arbonne Intl. and Coco's Restaurant & Bakery. And Justin Holloway, who graduated from the school in 2012, returned to ASU — this time as a web designer for the School of Sustainability.

Those are the moments, as students near the end of their collegiate careers, when the creativity flourishes, Patel says. Students are directed on what to do up until that point, so when the opportunity for self-exploration through design presents itself (something with which he is personally familiar) — well, the process is always rewarding. — Janessa Hilliard


Daniel Mills | Urban Vision
Daniel Mills spends his time thinking about the big concepts: identity, sustainability, and place, to name a few. The 22-year-old ASU English grad got his start as a blogger, covering the local art beat at, but last fall he decided it was time to take his passion for telling stories to a new level. Thus, was born.

"Whenever you talk to people here who are trying to do something a little bit innovative or outside the box, the focus is not just that they are doing something ambitious, it's that they're doing something ambitious under the weight of living in Arizona," Mills says. "We constantly see ourselves as struggling against the hostile desert environment and the hostile cultural environment, but I see this as very retroactive."

With Sprawlr, Mills hopes to combat the corrosive mentality, offering up an alternative way of envisioning our desert home.

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I'm going to bookmark this article to send to people who think Phoenix is nothing but tired retirees, soulless suburban sprawl, and right-wing politicians.  Lots of innovation going on in America's sixth-largest and fastest-growing city. 

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