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Nick Chan’s (’18) Advice for Budding Social Designers: Adopt a Transition Mindset

Nicholas Chan (‘18) has certainly kept busy since graduating from DSI. Along with continuing to develop his joint thesis, he is currently working full-time as a Senior Design Strategist at Doblin: a human-centered design firm that helps companies address existing problems and seize potential opportunities for growth. These days, his work encompasses a combination of finance, healthcare, and energy sectors.

Before entering the world of design, Nick lived many lives. He worked as an artist and a chef, managed a dance festival in China, and co-founded the San Francisco Bay Area’s first organic bamboo bicycle company. Though it’s obvious he’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, his bike company was the beginning of his search for a foundation in social innovation. While working on this project, he began to feel that he didn’t have the tools or vocabulary required to holistically approach the problems that came with running a business. Despite his BA in business management economics and work in user experience design, Nick was soon on the search for an MFA program that would provide him a comprehensive understanding of the systems in place behind this work, so that he could better lead his teams.

He found what he was looking at DSI, which he chose to attend due to its systems-oriented approach to problem solving. The program also shifted his view on what social impact actually looks like, saying he discovered that “change is in people; though we can measure a lot of work we do in other ways, we need to be focused on leaders and leadership.” Additionally, Nick found importance in addressing personal biases and empowering others to be the leaders of their own worlds rather than being caught up in one’s personal hardships. This mindset is part of what fueled his work on the MakeGuffin Project, with partner Malé Sandoval (‘18), which is now fully installed at the Jewish Community Center in NYC.The project fosters a “relating-by-making environment for and by individuals on the Autism spectrum”, and enables participants to bond and develop informal support systems by sharing their common goals and passions.

Though Nick and Malé no longer conduct the sessions themselves, the two are still very involved in developing a “chapter two” for their thesis. Since implementation, the project has taken on somewhat of its own mentality by helping the JCC to innovate other workshop offerings by encouraging community members to identify their interests and design their own programming. Alongside developing more content, Nick and Malé are also considering what their product offering looks like in order to pitch and deliver it to other community centers across the city.

In addition to this work and his career at Doblin, Nick has collaborated on a multitude of projects since completing his MFA. He began working with the Mount Sinai innovation team right after graduation, where he helped the greater health system develop opportunities for clinics to adopt a primarily patient-centered approach by building a learning network for primary care clinics at an intersection between domestic and global healthcare. The projects took on a value-based lens as opposed to a business-oriented one, measuring success based on outcomes over financial gain.

In his two years at Mount Sinai, Nick learned a lot about the healthcare industry and how it can benefit from design practices, saying: “healthcare is riddled with vocabulary issues that confuse truths and inhibit progress.” He also saw a problem with how social innovators are rarely considered until the end of a process, even when organizations are opting to re-design. As a direct result, Nick spent a lot of time communicating the values of social design and how important it is to work with practitioners on strategy and leadership tactics in participation with medical practice.

Nick also participated in projects with DSI Faculty-at-Large, Lina Srivastava and Rachel Brown on developing training materials for U.S. cities to build more welcoming communications for refugees and immigrants. Much of this work involved implementing communication strategy among politicians and community leaders across the U.S. in partnership with Rachel’s company Project Over Zero and the American Immigration Council. He also worked with our own Karen Proctor on convenings for the Haiti Development Institute and on developing wellness strategies for the University of the South – Sewanee.

After accumulating all of this experience and knowledge, both in DSI and beyond, Nick had this advice to offer up-and-coming social designers:

Step 1: Breathe. You are privileged to be here.
Step 2: Be Grateful. Thank yourself for taking the initiative and investing your time into DSI.
Step 3: Adopt a transition mindset. You are constantly evolving as a human and a designer. Give into this fact and the evolution will happen quicker and smoother.
Step 4: Move from a performance mindset to a growth mindset. Stop competing and performing. Do good work, but more important is your ability to grow in any situation.
Step 5: Move from a designer mindset to a leadership mindset. Stop ‘designing’, start leading.
Step 6: Write down your own personal ‘top 5 transitions: from…. to…’ It will help remind you of the huge work that you’re already taking on.
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