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Case Studies

Good design is sustainable.

We believe that good design is sustainable and that designing with sustainability in mind actually pushes us to create better and more inventive work. It’s an opportunity to achieve many ends at once: reducing waste, energy and costs, making materials work harder and better.

For us, sustainability is not just minimizing environmental impact but inspiring our audience to think and act differently too.
Can we achieve more with less?
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Converting used exhibit graphics into graphic bags
We always look for opportunities to extend the life and use of materials on our projects. When the studio developed the Design With the 90% exhibition for the Gates Foundation Discovery Center, we printed large black and white exhibit banners onto Tyvek, a durable, non-tear construction material. When the exhibition came down, we retrieved the banners and reached out to the RAI (Refugee Artisan Initiative) for a craft collaboration. The banners were cut into pieces and transformed into a series of large and small carrier bags.
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Can we use recycled, reclaimed or other eco-friendly products?
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Eliminating plastic in favor of local timber
This 11,000 square-foot visitor center for The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation features over 1000 individual graphics and uses an absolute minimum of PVC (a.k.a. vinyl). Almost every graphic in the Discovery Center is printed directly onto locally-sourced wood. The result is a warm and inviting feeling, suited to its Pacific Northwest home.
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Is there an opportunity to minimize the energy we need?
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Public consultation for the Olympics, powered by bicycles
A unique community consultation program used a fleet of modified bikes to engage citizens across five London boroughs. Public opinion was collected using a kit of interactive materials. Using bikes was a positive message not only about sustainability but also about the Olympics and the role of sports and healthy living. Designed at thomas.matthews, London
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How can we encourage ‘greener’ behavior?
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Money in the Trash
We joined forces with Prof. Karen Cheng for this installation at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business that educates users to sort their waste correctly. UW pays $145 for every ton of waste landfilled, but only $60 for every ton of compost, and recycling is free. Trash sorts found that up to 88% of items dumped in UW landfill bins are actually compostable or recyclable. Thus the university could save $290K every year if bins were used accurately. Our Money in the Trash screen installation rolls out in 2016 and if successful can deploy to other locations across campus.
Can we lend our design support to great green projects?
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Raising the profile of a great green initiative
We donated our time to help Pollinator Pathway creator Sarah Bergmann tell her story: an initiative to re-think our urban landscape and create connected, pollinator-friendly gardens through cities. From an initial brand identity the project blossomed into everything from a Seattle Art Museum exhibition to a Pathway-inspired table for a fundraising dinner at Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park, where we used reclaimed materials to turn diners into bugs.
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Can we build to last?
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Choosing the right material for the job
When the right material is used, it avoids the need for replacement, and a double-whammy on cost and materials down the line. Our Change Elevators installation, designed in collaboration with Prof. Karen Cheng, needed to last as long as this new, “one hundred year building.” Stainless steel type is set into stone tile floors on six levels of the UW Foster School of Business building, both inside and outside of the elevators. As the elevators move, different phrases are created at each floor—for example GLOBAL CHANGE, LOCAL CHANGE. Despite their high-traffic location, they continue to wear very well.
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Can we encourage healthier living?
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Getting people out of their cars
Market to MOHAI is a unique urban pedestrian trail stretching between Seattle’s downtown waterfront and nearby neighborhoods. It encourages Seattleites to slow down, look around and enjoy a stroll through their city. To mark the way we developed a visual brand, then designed interpretive panels for light posts which provide intriguing nuggets about the surrounding neighborhoods. Quotes underfoot reflect on life in the city, and on the pleasures of walking.
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Teaching others keeps us on our toes.

Sharing our design knowledge with students is an important part of Studio Matthews. Teaching keeps us connected to the fundamentals of design and nimble in our ability to communicate effectively. Plus, interacting with students hungry to explore new ways to communicate with the world keeps us ready for anything.

We’re particularly interested in projects that bridge the studio and the classroom: giving students real-world experience and the studio team an opportunity to give back.
UW's Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity 2021
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A collaboration between studio, students, and history makers
UW’s Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity approached Studio Matthews to design an exhibition to mark their 50th anniversary. Kristine Matthews proposed an approach bridging classroom and studio. First, students in her Exhibition Design course learned about the vibrant history of the OMA&D, including a talk by Emile Pitre, who had participated in the 1960s sit-ins that prompted the OMAD’s founding. The students then developed concept designs, the strongest of which were evolved into a finished installation by the Studio Matthews team.
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Open to Question 2021
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A celebration of political and social activism
A grad student in the University of Washington’s Museology program came to Kristine Matthews with a folder of old newspaper clippings and extensive research into the history of political and social activism in Seattle. She had a small grant to create an exhibition out of this research, and Kristine integrated the project into her Exhibition & Installation Design course. Rough concepts evolved into a full-fledged installation which went on display in multiple locations.
Waste of Space 2019
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Installations designed to make waste data tangible
Students were challenged to dig into research on waste, choose a topic and then express and explain that statistic through a unique material installation. The students dove into material exploration. Some collected and worked with waste materials, some experimented with new techniques: sewing, laser-cutting and 3d printing. For their final documentation, teams fanned out across campus and into the city, installing their pieces to striking effect.
Give Me a Sign 2020
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Re-thinking what a humble sign can do
Students in Kristine Matthews’ Exhibition and Installation Design course were challenged to: 1. Determine a place / thing / situation where you feel a sign could help. 2. Design and make a temporary sign, or sign series. It must be for a public place. 3. Create your sign(s) and document them in use.
Storefront Challenge 2019
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Taking over empty storefronts to educate people about waste
This challenge, in Kristine’s Exhibition & Installation Design course, prompted students to see an empty storefront as a communication opportunity to change behavior, habits and perspectives. Their objective was to educate people about waste. The type of waste was up to the student team, as was the choice of empty Seattle storefront. The installations were designed to be experienced from the street and included a call to action, to help solve the problem presented.
Redefining Campus 2018
Throwing new light on their own campus
Kristine’s students researched little-known aspects of the University of Washington campus, and then designed installations to reveal that story to visitors and the campus community. Solutions ranged from explaining the origin of the crazy gargoyles that peer out across the Quad, to celebrating the fresh food that is cultivated behind the scenes at UW Farm, to a concept app called Echo, designed to celebrate the spots across campus where personal moments of connection once took place.

Self-initiated Projects

Exercising our creative muscles.

Self-initiated projects are our opportunity to experiment with new materials, new (and old) technologies, and different ways of thinking and working together. A love of craft, working with our hands, and never-ending curiosity run strong in our studio.
Vacant Seattle 2021
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Filling the voids in a post-pandemic Seattle
Our Vacant Seattle installation for the 2021 Seattle Design Festival encouraged visitors to participate in a creative re-imagining of Seattle. Visitors used stickers to flag what changes they wanted to see in neighborhoods across the city, as we emerged from the pandemic. On the outside, they ‘filled the vacancy’ with their hopes for the city’s future.
Dear Seattle 2011
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Making urban planning meaningful
We invented the Dear Seattle pop-up space for the first ever Seattle Design Festival. Low-tech interactives got citizens talking about how design can play a major role in creating better, healthier places to live. Participants were invited to write a giant, communal letter to the city, create a map pinpointing Seattle’s hidden treasures and hot spots, and provide a street-wise design critique.
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#OurSpace 2018
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Creating a moment of connection between strangers
This two day pop-up for the Seattle Design Festival set the stage for hundreds of conversations between strangers. Pairs were introduced and could choose from a range of conversation prompts to get things started. Afterwards they took a Polaroid to celebrate the connection. This project was developed in collaboration with the Gates Foundation Youth Ambassadors; a program designed for high schoolers to create projects that inspire positive social change and engage their community.
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It’s in the Bag 2019
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Converting used exhibit graphics into graphic bags
We challenge ourselves to make physical materials work double-duty, to extend their usefulness and reduce waste. When the studio developed the Design With the 90% exhibition for the Gates Foundation Discovery Center, we printed large exhibit banners onto Tyvek, a durable, non-tear construction material. When the exhibition came down, we retrieved the banners and reached out to the RAI (Refugee Artisan Initiative) for a craft collaboration. The banners were transformed into a series of large and small carrier bags.
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Design-at-Home Challenges Ongoing
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How the studio team stayed creative when the pandemic sent us all home
We had only just moved into our new, freshly renovated studio space when the pandemic forced us all home, to work at cramped kitchen tables, trying valiantly to stay connected via Slack and daily noon calls (“what’s for lunch today, everybody?”). To make the best of our new working environments, we set ourselves Design-at-Home Challenges: working independently but together and sharing the results on @studiomatthews. From color-led photo studies of things around the house, to sunprints we made on our window sills, it has helped to keep us inspired and maybe a bit more sane. We’ve been gratified at the response, and the practice has continued even since we’ve been back together working under one roof.