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Yena Seo Lukac, ’16, Uses Social Design to Make Nanit’s Products Safer, Smarter

Yena Seo Lukac, ’16, wasn’t comfortable with the ambiguity of a career in social innovation.

“But through DSI,” she said, “I became comfortable. And you kind of have to be if you want to be a changemaker, so I think (the program is) almost like a two year test period as well. How strongly do you desire to really be a changemaker? Because to make a change is new. There’s nobody who already made a path for you; you need to make a path, and you have to be a pioneer.”

For the past year, Yena has worked as a design researcher at Nanit, a high-tech baby monitor company that strives to make products that are safer and smarter. She credits her role at Nanit to DSI, explaining that she is no longer simply making graphics look pretty in her design work; she has a place on the company’s innovation team, where she shares her research and proposes ideas on how to best implement her findings.

When she was looking for the right grad school, Yena said she looked up programs that focused on design strategy, design management and social change. That’s when DSI’s website popped up on Google.

“I was reading, and I was like, ‘Oh my god. This is exactly what I want,’” she said.

She found that DSI was one of the few programs to formally train people in human-centered design thinking and methodology. Yena relies on those skills every day.

But the other skills she learned — to be resilient, flexible, proactive and open to possibility — are what she said make DSI truly unique. It’s a holistic approach to learning.

“School is the last place where you can fail without getting fired,” Yena said. “It’s a place where we get bold, try all these different, wild ideas, and as we struggle two years with all these different projects, I think the beautiful thing about DSI is we are not just learning theory; every class is real project that you actually get your hands dirty.”

Yena’s thesis project required her to be audacious. She knew that one in five women experience prenatal or postpartum depression, but that many aren’t prepare for it. The project was personal, she explained. Yena experienced postpartum depression shortly after the birth of her daughter, who is now 8 years old.

That’s why she designed an app called HeyMama. It allows mothers to screen themselves and be aware of their mental status continually. The app then guides them to a support network of family and friends where they can communicate their needs. Based on the information collected, the app’s experts help mothers find the services they need. Its purpose is to deliver care in a way that’s personal and compassionate. And the project has earned her a spot as a finalist in the 2018 Interaction Design Association Awards. (The winner will be announced in February in Lyon, France.)

Yena said she’s still passionate about the project and has been encouraged by DSI faculty to transform the prototype into a usable service and a business.

The entire DSI team has been supportive of Yena, she said — faculty, alumni, current students. She compared the program’s people to a family, and DSI to a home.

“Change happens inside here, and it carries on outside as well,” she said.

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