John Cary is a connector, writer, speaker, and curator focused on social change, with an emphasis on design for the public good.
John is a strategist for the $1,000,000 TED Prize, a session co-host for the annual TEDWomen conference, and a frequent coach for TED speakers. John is also an advisor to Aspen Global Health & Development, a member of the IDEO.org Advisory Board, a global advisory board member of Possible Health in rural Nepal, and a member of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB)‘s Design Council. In Fall 2014, John and partners Courtney Martin and Vanessa Valenti co-founded FRESH Speakers, Inc., a next generation speakers bureau, focused on diversifying thought leadership.
John is currently completing his second book, Design for Good: A New Era of Architecture for Everyone, focused on the dignifying power of design, due to be published in Fall 2017 by Island Press with a foreword by Melinda Gates. His first book, The Power of Pro Bono: 40 Stories about Design for the Public Good by Architects and Their Clients, was designed by Paula Scher of Pentagram and published in 2010. John was also the founding editor of PublicInterestDesign.org (acquired by Autodesk in July 2013, which he lead the effort to rebrand as the Impact Design Hub) and his writing has appeared in an array of publications as diverse as The New York Times, CNN.com, and Fast Company.
In addition to his writing, John speaks widely on design, philanthropy, and social change, frequently lecturing at universities and professional conferences around the world. In January 2013, he was invited to accompany The Aspen Institute‘s Global Leadership Council on Reproductive Health on a delegation visit to Malawi, and to address President Joyce Banda, members of her cabinet, and international aid organization leaders on the power of design. John’s photos from the trip have subsequently been published in The New York Times and The Atlantic.
In 2012, John spoke at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, the theme of which was “Designing for Impact.” Also in 2012, John served as the commencement speaker for the University of Minnesota College of Design. In 2011, John served as the commencement speaker for the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. In May 2013, John gave the commencement address for the University of New Mexico School of Architecture & Planning.
In 2012, John and partner Courtney Martin served as the first guest curators in residence at the Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco, for an exhibition on design and storytelling–titled “Public Interest Design: Products, Places, & Processes.” The exhibition opened in October 2012 to a capacity crowd of 480 people, and will be on display and travel over the next five years. In March 2013, it was showcased at the TED2013 conference in Long Beach, Calif., and in June 2013 at the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 2013, John served as the founding executive director and ultimately founding curator of the Autodesk Foundation, a philanthropic venture of Autodesk, Inc..
John was also previously a research fellow, focused on the public interest design field, within the University of Minnesota College of Design as well as founding chair of the first annual Public Interest Design Week in March 2013. John also advised and consulted with a wide range of nonprofit design, urban advocacy, and philanthropic organizations as well as corporations, building on seven years of experience as executive director of Public Architecture, during which time he built and directed the largest pro bono design program in the world, leveraging an estimated $35 million in donated services annually.
Among other honors, in 2006, at age 29, John became the youngest person ever recognized as a senior fellow of the Design Futures Council, alongside the likes of Nobel Laureates Vice President Al Gore and Energy Sec. Steven Chu. In 2007, John was among the inaugural class of fellow of the Aspen Institute‘s Ideas Festival. In 2008, he held the Rome Prize in design at the American Academy in Rome. The following year, he was honored as co-recipient of the 2009 Designer of the Year Award from Contract Magazine. John was also a resident of the Rockefeller Foundation‘s Bellagio Center in 2009. In 2010, John was recognized as a BMW Stiftung Herbert Quandt Young Global Leader, a program of the BMW Foundation in Berlin. In 2012, John became a resident of the Santa Fe Art Institute and a Boehm Media Fellow of the Opportunity Collaboration “un-conference.” Also in 2012, John was recognized by Surface Magazine among its “Portfolio of American Influence,” aka Top 20 Tastemakers of 2013. Also in 2013, John was given the Social/Economic/Environmental Design (SEED) Award for Excellence in Leadership, named among the “GOOD 100” by GOOD Magazine for his philanthropic work, and recognized as the inaugural Young Alumni of the Year by the University of Minnesota. In 2014-2015, John was among the inaugural class of Bartos Fellows as an artist in residence at United World College in Montezuma, N.M.
Trained as an architect, John earned his Bachelor of Arts, summa cum laude, from the University of Minnesota, and his Master of Architecture from UC Berkeley. In between those programs, he served as the elected National Vice President of the American Institute of Architecture Students, based in Washington, D.C.
A native of Milwaukee, Wis., John lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the Temescal Commons co-housing community in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, with his partner and wife, author and speaker Courtney E. Martin, their daughters Maya and Stella, their cat, Kima, and their vintage VW Bus.
John is an avid runner and nine-time marathoner having completed the 2008 Rome Marathon, 2009 DC Marine Corps Marathon, 2010 Chicago Marathon, 2011 New York City Marathon, 2012 Twin Cities Marathon, 2013 Chicago Marathon, 2014 San Francisco Marathon, 2015 Twin Cities Marathon (PR), and 2016 Chicago Marathon–with the 2017 New York City Marathon up next.