Back to Home
DSI / Social Design
About DSI

In Closing, Cheryl Heller in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne

Photo credits: Jess Gleeson (main photo) and Amy Woodward
Excerpts taken from articles originally posted on The Design Kids and Sex, Drugs, & Helvetica

Live blogging, and wonderful conclusion to Cheryl Heller’s talk at the Sex, Drugs & Helvetica conference.

Wrap up Sex, Drugs & Helvetica Conference: Brisbane & Melbourne

Session Three
Cheryl Heller, planet savior and Founding Chair of the first MFA program in Design for Social Innovation at NYC’s School of Visual Arts, came on stage and that was it, everything just made more sense. I had been pushing the sustainability subject to designers around me, but it was very blurry. Now, I’m more aware that it is all about simplicity – because nature is organized to be simple and logical. Additionally, using technology, education and data to connect and influence our tomorrow is important. My goal is now to reconnect with people through the basics of life and nature to show their beauty and support our tight-knit, fair-trade communities. Cheryl pushed designers through her programme to complete design projects that matter and that make a difference in the world.

“Redefine what success is in a way that is sustainable.” — Cheryl Heller

After Thoughts
Finishing on such an empowering Q&A with Cheryl, I think everybody just wanted to share, collaborate, and be able to actually design for what matters. Everybody met back in the lobby and beer and wine were served to celebrate the end of all of those inspirational talks. The idea of having a meet and greet was amazing, being able to talk directly to the speaker was great. Having said that, it was hard to get a hold of everybody! We finished the night with pizza, more beer and joined some of the speakers for a party on top of Brisbane at The Fox Hotel. It was great to meet such awesome people.

LIVE BLOG: Sex, Drugs & Helvetica 2015

Oh boy. It’s that time of year again. Welcome welcome welcome to the 2015 live conference blog. Straight outta Melbourne. Crazy copywriter named Cat Wall from a gang called Sex, Drugs & Helvetica. Three coffees deep and we’re ready to roll!

1615 Cheryl begins by noting that it’s September 11. Life is fragile, we are all very lucky to be here.

1616 She’s had a long life of designing things. She feels like she’s designed almost everything. Her secret is to never crack a smile. If the client doesn’t think you’re serious, they won’t take you seriously. That’s how you end up convincing clients to do ridiculous, wonderful, exciting things. Like photoshoots in Paris.

1621 And then she hit a wall. And design lost meaning. And she was tired of meaningless conversations. And then she discovered a book by Professor David Orr, where she learnt that humans are not a sustainable species. We use 1.6 times the resources the world can regenerate. These statistics are getting worse. Cheryl decided she didn’t want to propel that boat anymore and underwent three years of painful self-reinvention.

1624 She created the Ideas That Matter program – a company that give money to designers who want to design for the public good. And then the “education” conversation happened, where Cheryl first forayed into teaching. The class was called “Design For Good”, and it was a way for Cheryl to explore the ideas she was wrestling with. She began using what she’s learned in helping big companies to help other people do good.

1629 In 2008, the president of SVA asked what that class would look like as a graduate program. What we now know as the Design for Social Innovation program.

She asked herself some questions that she couldn’t answer. How do you design a graduate program that makes it possible for people to become real leaders of change? It would take a new definition of design. It had to be systems-based. It had to be about creating something new, not just problem solving things that have existed for centuries. And it would need business skills – entrepreneurship, leadership, mapping, change models, data visualisation, prototyping, communication and facilitation.

And most of all, it would take a new belief in the power of designers. It was and is the most difficult thing Cheryl has ever done.

1630 “It was like planning the world’s most expensive party and having no idea if anyone would turn up.”

1631 So the program made a promise – the designer that emerges will not just be a product designer or film maker etc. They will be all of those things, mastering all of those skills and how to apply them with a greater creative purpose.

1632 “The impact will be measured not by the program itself, but by what our students do out in the world.”

1637 Cheryl talks through some of their graduates’ projects. Salvage Supperclub – a sustainable, no-waste restaurant program. A way to minimise unnecessary waiting times and confusions in third-world health clinics. A way to bring together Israeli and Palestinian people by focusing on their similarities, not differences.

1647 Cheryl closes with another quote by David Orr:

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”

1651 Q&A time. How have you changed as a designer? The biggest difference is in what you’re measuring and how you define success. Once you become aware of the impact of what you’re doing on other people and the planet, you start to think about success differently. We need to challenge this idea of capitalist success. It’s a really entrenched system and there’s part of our culture that keeps driving us further and further away from nature. We’ve set up a system based on hierarchy and expertise. We view our species as having the planet here for us as our resource and money drives the system everywhere. We’ve constructed an industrial model of society that is really toxic and incredibly difficult to get out of. That’s why we need designers for social innovation.

1654 We need to be present in the world and pay attention instead of just getting a hammer and trying to make everything a nail. We have a model of nature that’s worked for thousands of years that we now ignore. We need to work out how to align behind a vision that isn’t a toxic one.

1655 At your funeral, what do you want to be remembered for? Cheryl’s big heartbreak is other species and what we’re doing to them. We are failing miserably at making a difference there. If she could really accomplish something it would be to make humans aware of the precious lives around them that they’re destroying all the time.

1656 Is this possible? Maybe not. We are pretty fucked. But we have a shot. And we always need to have hope.

1700 And that’s a wrap. Year Five is over. A huge thank you to our six incredible speakers for another hugely inspiring conference. Thank you to our sponsors. Thank you to our wonderful audience. And thank you to you, wherever you are, for whatever reason, reading this. See you next year.

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