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DSI / Social Design
About DSI

Emily Herrick, ’16, Designing Better Government

Emily Herrick, ’16, came to DSI with a clear goal: to design systems to help governments provide better services to citizens.

“Social design is a complex practice,” she said. “Social innovation is a complex field. So I think if you are going to get an MFA in social design you need to have a sense of what you want to get out of the program before going into it.”

After graduation, Emily took the skills she learned at DSI to Reboot, a social impact firm focused on inclusive development and accountable governance. Now, Emily is working as a designer at the newly launched Civic Service Design Studio within the New York City Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity. The studio engages residents as well as service delivery organizations, using the methods and principles of service to shape new programs and improve existing ones. In 2018, Emily will help host an open call for projects designed to benefit low-income New Yorkers.

Her decision to move to New York after graduating from Illinois State University was influenced by her studies in design, arts technology, civic engagement and social responsibility.

“I have this passion for design, but I also have this passion for civic engagement — for the social sector,” Emily said. “I had a love of volunteering in high school and in college and was always trying to figure out how to merge the two things (civic engagement and social responsibility) together. They felt very separate from each other in my mind. I had a constant need to bring these two passions or separate pieces of my life together.”

“I actually heard about DSI before the first class started,” she continued. “I was in undergrad back in Illinois and wrestling with these questions and kind of looking for something that would help me bridge this gap, and I found DSI.”

Two years into working in publishing, Emily was ready to focus on something more oriented to the social sector. Through volunteering, she became increasingly immersed and invested in social innovation, and decided to apply to the program.

Being a grad student in this field was complex and challenging, Emily said.

“I think it’s complex in that you are thrown into a generalist degree,” she explained, “and there’s so much thrown at you from so many different disciplines and so many different topical areas that you really need to figure out how to navigate it. It was challenging because from day one, you’re going out into the world, and you’re doing and you’re making and you’re not always in a classroom. The first or second week of school for our research class we were in Union Square talking to people about flu vaccinations.” This program takes students out of their comfort zones, Emily said, and encourages them to collaborate with one another.

“Every project you’re collaborating with another group of people,” she said, “so you learn how to work with different personality types, different skill sets and understand how to move toward a goal.”

While working for Reboot, Emily applied her collaborative skills. As a service designer, she worked with both local and international governments to solve communications- and technology-related problems. For example, Emily helped a Kenyan county government collect citizen feedback about roads and bridges that needed to be fixed. Locals were essentially using the messaging app WhatsApp to text problems into the county’s roads department, but government officials couldn’t figure out how to digest that feedback and use it to improve services. She spent several weeks leading the county’s government through a user-centered design training.

Emily said she entered DSI with a clear sense of direction: “I wanted to design systems and services better. I wanted to help governments provide better services to citizens. And so that helps you calibrate all of the information that is coming at you. I think the program moves really fast, and so you need to have a way to recognize what information is most important to you.”

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