Looping Patterns, 2023
Vectoraccessible data visualization
Highland (Live), 2021
Tsimtsum, g(host), 2021
Acrylic on canvas
Budgeting softwarevisit halfdollar
Expandable Search, 2017
Derek Torsani, Say Their Names, 2021
Derek Torsani, Seeds, 2021
Sound Color Project, 2020
Spectrum translationvisit sound color
Study of Jantar Mantar, 2022
Wax pencil on paper
Below the Line, 2011
Twitter Notification, 2015
Intermission, New Life, 2022
2d animationsignals design system
It’s no wonder Derek found himself at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) earning his Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, after getting lost in the graphite worlds he created during his childhood. More recently, his past and present worlds collided when he moved back to Baltimore, Maryland with his partner, their child, and their dog—finding solace near the arts district he once called home.
Derek works for the Wikimedia Foundation, an organization at which he first became a donor, then an editing volunteer. Later in the same year, he joined as Lead Visual Designer, after building design systems at Plaid, Gusto, and Oracle, among others post college.
During his first stint in Baltimore, Derek not only learned how to utilize design to communicate a message but also how to tell a story using interactive media. When his grandfather tagged along to move Derek over a thousand miles to Miami in 2014, they were unaware that these would be some of their last moments together. Through a film titled, “Last Month”, Derek commemorated the life of his grandfather after his passing later that year.
This loss sparked a longing to be back near family, and so Derek began a transition northward. A geographic change was quickly followed by a career shift. What started as an exploration at the intersection of animation and design, turned into 100 consecutive days of creating user interface design prompts. The journey of completing the Daily UI helped Derek land his first role as a designer at a tech startup.
It wasn’t for another year, years ago now, that during a routine visit to the optometrist that Derek learned he views the world through the lens of deuteranopia — a type of red-green color blindness. Questions and self-doubt flooded his mind. What began as shame transformed into a public confession, and has since been a resource for theses from students globally.
The enlightenment of seeing differently led Derek to dedicate his design practice to the work of accessibility — helping others who are commonly marginalized feel included when using software. As a natural progression of this newly discovered passion, he created logical patterns to visualize data for people with varying degrees of color blindness.
Thinking about accessibility as the translation of a functional object for people with different abilities, Derek began conducting research to examine alternative forms of connecting with music and sounds. As he delved into converting live audio into the visual spectrum, he founded the Sound Color Project, which was featured in the Sound Scene 2020 exhibit with the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC.
Derek used the visual output of the Sound Color Project project as a way to guide the recording of his improvised, debut album, Seeds, released in 2021. The environmental light and color show also made an appearance during the live recording of Highland, one of the songs from the album.
In the same year, Derek wrote and released a protest jazz EP, Say Their Names. During the pandemic, Derek continued working with artists and friends across the country, releasing an alternative single, g(host). The years following, Derek would collaborate with his late friend, Shelley, recording what would become their twelve song, contemporary rnb album, New Life, released the same year of her passing on what would have been a monumental birthday.
His time at MICA constructed a mindset of including only what is truly intentional when communicating a message through a form of media, permeating through everything Derek produces, from incorporating rests in music to considering every tool within a design system. This mindset is rooted in one of his earliest physical pieces, “srsly” — a commentary on the threads of communication between people of his generation.
Intentionality has caused Derek to question everything in his practice. He wrote about the subconscious and the notion of good design going unnoticed in his article about the psychological component of design systems.
Building tools to help people work better together came naturally. But managing decision making for many different types of people can carry a burden. Derek created Weiigh, a formula to guide decision making. This tool has helped him navigate many changes in life, enabling Derek to consider the weight of options when he is privileged to have them.
Financial decision-making can also present its challenges when managing a personal budget. To help manage his own personal finances, Derek created Halfdollar, which began as a spreadsheet, was built into a software product, and has returned to its most simple and helpful form. Halfdollar has been used by people around the world in over ten different currencies such as baht and rupees.
Though he has never ventured to Thailand (yet), he has been to India in 2019, where he fell back in love with the feeling of putting pencil to paper, doing thirty-second gestural sketches during times of inspiration. Fleeting moments, like a meditation at the Lotus Temple, pickup cricket at Lodhi Garden, and a walk through Jantar Mantar.
On the other hand, painting has historically had a more troubling relationship with the quick sketcher, having been one of the studio classes he dreaded every week during his foundational year at MICA. In an attempt to reconcile the dislike he had for oil and canvas, Derek took to an old canvas he found in the basement to nurture his rapport with painting, scraping on paint with only a palette knife — eventually meeting face-to-face with his dog.