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Welcoming Sloan Leo: Designer In Residence for Spring 2020

3/4 Sloan headshot against white

We are very excited to announce the upcoming addition of our very first Designer In Residence: the brilliant Sloan Leo!

Sloan is a community-centered designer, facilitator and strategist currently working as the Chief of Staff at The Trust for Public Land (TPL). They apply creative problem solving, experience design and grassroots community development tactics to unlock the potential of mission-driven leaders, teams and enterprises.

In addition to working at TPL, Sloan is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, a board member at the Association of Design Professionals (NY) and the co-founder of the social design collective, FLOX. In addition, they have served for the last two years as an evaluator for the Echoing Green Social Innovation Fellowship.

Our hope is that having a Designer in Residence will help facilitate deeper and consistent connection with the design community, and have students collaborate on projects outside of their classwork that provide a foundation for real-world design. In order to get a better sense of how Sloan will help reach this goal, we had some questions for them in anticipation of our partnership:

Can you talk a bit about your professional experience (with both Design & Grassroots Community Development)? How did you get to where you are?

I grew up in Albany, NY in the early 1990s—and was fortunate to attend the University at Albany where I became active in the local social justice movement. With mentorship from amazing leaders like black feminist scholar Barbara Smith and activist Naomi Jaffee, I found myself at 17 on the board of Holding Our Own, the local women’s foundation. Working in partnership with volunteers, donors and grassroots organizers we raised money and stewarded resources to community groups working with women, girls and gender nonconforming people in the city. And not only did it shape my career—it changed my life. Over the last 18 years I’ve used my skills as a community builder, strategist and facilitator to strengthen each team and institution that I’ve worked with. As a self-taught community-based designer (note small “d”) my practice is informed by the work of Adrienne Maree Brown, Kimberly Crenshaw, Dean Spade, Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver. And most recently the work of Don Norman and Eli Spencer and Priya Parker.

What do you have planned for the coming semester with students?

In the semester ahead, I’m excited to work with students, faculty and the public to explore:

  1. How can designers in every field incorporate community-based design frameworks into their efforts?
  2. What does it mean as a design professional to design for the commons; for collective benefit rather than individual success?
  3. Is there a path to shift from “designer as expert” to “designer as facilitator” and really increase communities’ capacity to generate their own creative solutions?

What do you hope to personally get out of being the Designer in Residence?

It is a huge honor to be the inaugural Designer in Residence at SVA DSI—and it means a lot to me. I find great joy in interacting with life long learners in formal academic settings and out in the world. I am also eager to advance a design philosophy that is about democratizing the power of design to create a more just, equitable and sustainable world.

What would you say is your personal approach to design thinking in your daily life?

In my daily life I look at moments of frustration as opportunities for transformation. Beginning with the question, “why is this designed this way, and what can I do to improve it”, I’m generally seeking to make the world better than I found it—and the world that I can impact the most is my local and personal community.

Any projects coming up you’re particularly excited for?

Currently I’m looking forward to seeing more work from social designers like Lily Kwong, Kate Orff and the team at Creative Reaction Lab!

We are exceptionally lucky to have Sloan here starting in the Spring semester, and are excited to share the work that comes out of their residence. Welcome to the DSI community, Sloan!

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