David C. Stairs

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David Stairs in India, 2012
Part of Stairs’ 2003 Sappi Fine Papers “Ideas That Matter” award

David C. Stairs (born 1952) is an illustrator, book artist, and design instructor.[1][2][3]

Early life

Stairs was born in Syracuse, NY. He is a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design (BFA 1975) and the University of Oregon (MFA 1993).[no citations needed here]


From 1988 to 1991 Stairs’ work frequently appeared in Northwest Magazine of The Oregonian. From 1991 to 2001 Stairs was art editor of Northwest Review.[no citations needed here]

Stairs has produced fifteen artist's books since 1980, several of which are in the collection of the New York Public Library,[4] and the University of Oregon Design Library[5][6][7][8], among others. One of the titles, “Boundless,” has been the subject of numerous reviews and anthologies,[9] including in Johanna Drucker's The Century of Artists’ Books.[10]

Since 1997 Stairs’ design essays have appeared both in print and online, including in Design Issues, Leonardo, and Design Observer. His 1997 essay “Biophilia and Technophilia,” was reprinted in the 2010 Bloomsbury Publishing’s anthology, The Designed World.[11]

In 2000 Stairs received a Fulbright Program grant to Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. During this stay in Africa he founded Designers Without Borders (2001), an organization dedicated to assisting individuals and organizations in the developing world.[12] In 2002 Stairs was the subject of an article in HOW Magazine’s international edition.[13] In 2003 Stairs and his partner Sydnee Mackay received an award from Sappi Fine Papers Ideas That Matter[14] program in support of DWB activity.

In 2006, the year he began to post articles on Design Observer, Stairs founded the Design-Altruism-Project weblog,[15] an online forum for discussions relating to social design initiatives. His 2007 essay on Design Observer, “Why Design Won’t Save the World,” a critique of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s Design for the Other 90% exhibit, proved controversial. In 2009, after posting the essay “Arguing with Success” at Design-Altruism-Project, Stairs was invited to debate Designer's Accord founder Valerie Casey on the Change Observer section of Design Observer.[16]

In 2012 Stairs received a Fulbright grant to India. The essay which resulted from that research, “Journeying Through the Sacred Profane,” appeared on Design Observer [17]in 2013.

Stairs’ illustration “Dick Clark at the Moulin Rouge” appeared in The Sunday Oregonian in 1990

Stairs has taught graphic design and art and design history at Central Michigan University since 1994. He lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.


  • Biophilia and Technophilia (1997, DesignIssues; 2010, The Designed World, Bloomsbury)[18]
  • Design and Deforestation (1998, Leonardo)[19]
  • Okuwangaala (2002, DesignIssues)[20]
  • Altruism as Design Methodology (2005, DesignIssues)[21]
  • One Axle or Two? An ICSID Interdesign in South Africa (2006 DesignIssues)[22]
  • Why Design Won’t Save the World (2007, Design Observer)
  • Post-Professional (2008, Design-Altruism-Project)
  • Arguing with Success (2009, Design-Altruism-Project)
  • The Visual Representation of the Human Genome (2012, DesignIssues)[23]
  • Journeying Through the Sacred Profane (2013, Change Observer)
  • Designing Ourselves to Death (forthcoming in 2020 in Ethics in Design and Communication from Bloomsbury)


  1. Chick, Anne; Micklethwaite, Paul (2011). Design for Sustainable Change. Lausanne: AVA. pp. 68–69. ISBN 978-2-940411-30-6. 
  2. Krier, Sophie (2010). I don't know where I'm going but I want to be there. Amsterdam: BIS. pp. 31–32. ISBN 978-90-6369-257-5. 
  3. Fishel, Catherine (2005). 401 design meditations (1st ed.). Gloucester, MA.: Rockport. p. 18. ISBN 1-59253-127-X. 
  4. Stairs, David. "Oblivion". https://browse.nypl.org/iii/encore/search/C__SDavid%20Stairs__Orightresult__U?searched_from=header_search&timestamp=1572808748151&lang=eng. 
  5. Stairs, David. "Casein". https://alliance-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=CP71173360350001451&context=L&vid=UO&lang=en_US&search_scope=everything&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=default_tab&query=any,contains,casein&offset=0. 
  6. Stairs, David. "Boundless". https://alliance-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=CP71115868220001451&context=L&vid=UO&lang=en_US&search_scope=everything&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=default_tab&query=any,contains,boundless&offset=0. 
  7. Stairs, David. "My Art Book". https://alliance-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=CP71126771940001451&context=L&vid=UO&lang=en_US&search_scope=everything&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=default_tab&query=any,contains,My%20Art%20Book&offset=0. 
  8. Stairs, David. "Asperity". https://alliance-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=CP71126771940001451&context=L&vid=UO&lang=en_US&search_scope=everything&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=default_tab&query=any,contains,My%20Art%20Book&offset=0. 
  9. Casper, Scott, ed. (2002). Perspectives on American Book History. Boston: University of Massachusetts. pp. 388, 398. ISBN 1-55849-317-4. 
  10. Drucker, Johanna (2004). The Century of Artists' Books (2nd ed.). New York: Granary Books. pp. 177–178. ISBN 1-887123-02-4. 
  11. Buchanan, Richard, ed. (2010). The Designed World. Images, Objects, Environments. Oxford: Oxford International Publishers. pp. 339–345. ISBN 978-1-84788-585-2. 
  12. Berman, David (2009). Do Good Design. Berkeley, CA.: Pearson. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-321-57320-9. 
  13. Davis, Susan E. (April 2002). "Design Without Borders". HOW XVII: 180–185. ISSN 0886-0483. 
  14. Stairs, David; Mackay, Sydnee. "Ideas That Matter Past Winners". Sappi Fine Papers. https://www.sappi.com/past-winners-0#2003. 
  15. San Martin, Macarena, ed. (2009). Blogs, Mad about Design. Barcelona: Page One. pp. 194–195. ISBN 978-981-245-715-8. 
  16. Lasky, Julie (2009). "The Kindness of Strangers". Observer Omnimedia LLC. https://www.designobserver.com/feature/the-kindness-of-strangers/11177. 
  17. Stairs, David (2013). "Journeying Through the Sacred Profane". Observer Omnimedia. https://www.designobserver.com/feature/journeying-through-the-sacred-profane/37565. 
  18. Stairs, David (Autumn 1997). Buchanan, Richard; Doordan, Dennis; Margolin, Victor. eds. "Biophilia and Technophilia: Examining the Nature/Culture Split in Design Theory". Design Issues (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press) 13 (3): 37–44. Template:Citation error. ISSN 0747-9360. JSTOR 1511939. 
  19. Stairs, David (August 1999). Gessert, George. ed. "Design and Deforestation". Leonardo 32 (4): 273–279. Template:Citation error. ISSN 0024-094X. 
  20. Stairs, David (Summer 2002). Buchanan, Richard; Doordan, Dennis; Margolin, Victor. eds. "Okuwangaala: The Persistent Vitality of the Vernacular". Design Issues (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press) 18 (3): 70–88. Template:Citation error. ISBN 0-262-75915-2. ISSN 0747-9360. 
  21. Stairs, David (Spring 2005). Buchanan, Richard; Doordan, Dennis; Margolin, Victor. eds. "Altruism as Design Methodology". Design Issues (MIT Press) 21 (2): 3–12. Template:Citation error. ISBN 0-262-75926-8. 
  22. Stairs, David (Autumn 2006). Brown, Bruce; Buchanan, Richard; Doordan, Dennis et al.. eds. "One Axle or Two? An ICSID Interdesign in South Africa". Design Issues (MIT Press) 22 (4): 81–96. Template:Citation error. ISBN 0-262-75932-2. ISSN 0747-9360. 
  23. Stairs, David (Autumn 2012). Brown, Bruce; Buchanan, Richard; DiSalvo, Carl et al.. eds. "The Visual representation of the Human Genome". Design Issues (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press) 28 (4): 57–68. Template:Citation error. ISSN 0747-9360. 

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