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DSI / Social Design

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136 W 21st St,
5th Fl.
New York, NY 10011
(212) 592–2205

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The Story of a Class with Big Ambition and Broad Reach

In DSI’s second semester, the Communication Design class is where students first put the principles of communication to use. A combination of theory, inspiration and process put into practice, the class is billed by DSI chair Cheryl Heller as “…messy, like real life.” Each year, students choose from one of five clients that have been carefully selected and briefed in preparation for the fifteen weeks of creative partnering that follow. The clients are intentionally diverse in industry, size and the types of problems they pose.

Over the course of the semester, students immerse themselves in the organizations, conduct research and landscape audits, write their own briefs, reframe the problems, align around a shared vision, and create comprehensive programs to realize those visions. Through this work, they form relationships with clients, experience what it’s like to work with organizations driven by purpose, learn about, and work with some of the most exciting innovators in the world today.

Students master skills in this class that they will use not only for the rest of their time at DSI, but for the rest of their lives: framing, articulating new ideas, persuasion and cogent logic, story telling and writing, creative development, presenting. Most of all, the ability to use communication to open minds and hearts, and to collaborate.

In past years, clients have included L’Oreal, Plum Organics (A division of Campbell’s Soup) The Graduate! Network, Bon’App, Local Orbit, Green Map and Community Solutions’ Brownsville Partnership, among others.

This year, teams worked with Micromidas, a company that develops completely compostable bio- plastics that replace petrochemical based materials. The challenge was to create interest among consumers about what is in the packaging they buy, and to engage them in learning where it comes from. While consumers have become more accustomed to looking at what’s inside the packaging they buy, particularly when it comes to food, they don’t currently think, and often don’t care about the packaging. The team, which included JiaJing Wu, Michael Raineri, Siqi Liang, Carmen Lopez and Eda Tankal developed a comprehensive communication system that included a label and QR code on the package, video campaign and website.

Threshold GlobalWorks, founded by Dr. Laurie Leitch, has developed a model that builds capacity in individuals and communities to respond to extreme stress or trauma, called the Social Resilience Model. SRM has been used all over the world to help victims of war and natural disasters, and while it is effective and affordable, it’s not widely known. The challenge the students took on was how to create awareness and understanding of SRM among clinicians and practitioners, and help it scale. On this team were Nada Azem, Sara Al Kuwari, Mohammed Al Thani, Agnieszka Golebiowska and Linjie Deng.

The Threshold Global Works team developed a campaign that included web platform, incorporating news, users profiles, a forum for story-telling and technical assistance, and a knowledge base to deliver online training and learning modules.

The Threshold Global Works team developed a campaign that included web platform, incorporating news, users profiles, a forum for story-telling and technical assistance, and a knowledge base to deliver online training and learning modules.

The Internet of Earth Things, was created by Shah Selbe. According to the DSI team that worked with Shah, it is “a monitoring technology that will make an immediate connection between people and the environment, inspiring them to care and conserve it.” Irene Rojas, Andrea Cisneros Ruiz, Tanvi Kareer, Hind Alessa and Haoshi Jiang helped Shah focus his vision, and created a concept that taps into the current trend for the “quantifiable self,” by monitoring the health of the planet in addition to an individual’s, using real-time data sharing to embed environmental messages into our daily interactions with technology in unexpected ways, including touch IDs, emojis, mapping apps, activity trackers, calendars and alarms.

Basura Cero Puerto Rico (Zero Waste Puerto Rico), has a mission to promote a zero waste lifestyle and reduce dependency on landfills. It’s a difficult task they face, with few resources but grand ambition and commitment. The DSI team, consisting of Kendall Murphy, Karina Davila, Karla Despradel, Pragya Mahendru and Marlyn Martinez Marrero, developed a program for schools and communities, designed to catalyze, and then reward, behavioral change. They provided Basura Cero with the tools to create systemic change, despite the small size of the organization.

From left are James, Carlos, Steven, Nicolas, and Jose.

In their Communication Design class, students choose among a group of clients, then work with them for fifteen weeks, learning and using their communication skills to create new programs and products. In this photo, a group of Puerto Rican students helped test an idea for Basura Cero. From left are James, Carlos, Steven, Nicolas, and Jose.

City Health Works hires, trains and deploys local health coaches to support the East Harlem community in achieving better health. Community health workers have proven to be effective in many parts of the world, where doctors are scarce and patients difficult to access, but in the United States, the case for their importance still needs to be made. This is what the DSI team took on. Jade Broomfield, Wen Tang and Genieve Ramrattan worked on a program to help scale the City Health Works model.

Part of the campaign to help scale City Health Works, which creates jobs and better health for residents of East Harlem.

Part of the campaign to help scale City Health Works, which creates jobs and better health for residents of East Harlem.

Many wise people have said that all change begins with language. In other words, new ideas can’t be manifest until we put them into words. It’s how we share, how we expand and extend understanding and creativity.

We agree, and believe that language is one of the essential tools of social change. We also believe that the vast majority of problems facing business and humans and the planet can be solved with communication. Even wars, if people would just sit down and listen to each other at the appropriate moment. Communication is the basis of all relationships, and good communication is the way strong relationships are maintained. But it takes skill and deep human understanding and craft.

136 W 21st St,
5th Fl.
New York, NY 10011
(212) 592–2205

SUBSCRIBE