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Catching up with Danielle Shepard (‘19)

Danielle Shepard (’19) was quick to kick-start her career in human-centered design after graduating from DSI, and her current trajectory is quite different from the work she was doing just a few short years ago.

Before discovering the world of social innovation, Danielle graduated from George Washington University with a degree in anthropology. Soon after, she became an associate producer at the Travel Channel before moving on to become a visual designer—and eventually head of operations—at Crate and Barrel. It was from these jobs that she developed a real affinity for creative thinking and soon found that she was ready to broaden her horizons. She wanted to marry her previous professional experience—which included an affinity for problem-solving and partnership building—with a suite of new skills that would allow her to make a meaningful impact on social issues she cared about. Drawn in particular to human-centered design, cross-system practices, and the opportunities that would come from such a skillset, she found herself enrolling in DSI.

Not long after completing the program, Danielle accepted a job as a full-time design consultant for the Applied Critical Thinking Function (ACT) at The Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY) alongside her fellow 2019 grads and thesis partners, Corinne Reynolds and Mary Beth Lumley. The department collectively seeks to challenge unconscious influences on decision making (e.g. groupthink), and their job was to introduce design thinking to financial analysts and economists that made up most of the ACT team. The trio brought in a range of human-centered design tools to help their coworkers and stakeholders understand the culture, barriers, and opportunities available within the broader Bank. To further the impact of design thinking at FRBNY, they also facilitated a 9-week game design workshop to familiarize the team with concepts like rapid iteration, user testing, and even game theory to apply to future FRBNY engagements.

At the start of 2020, Danielle made the shift to becoming a design strategist for Capital One, where she sits within the broader Experience Design team. The design presence at Capital One is robust and touches upon everything from research and content strategy to traditional digital UX and graphic design. The team has worked on a diverse set of projects meant to improve the current state of banking, in alignment with Capital One’s mission to “change banking for good.” These projects include the development of a tool to help customers align their financial behavior with their personal values, financial literacy events, and providing free checking accounts for teens to help them learn to manage money at a young age. Danielle herself is focused on a project that reimagines the future of banking services, as well as one to improve safety at Capital One’s brick and mortar locations.

Though these roles differ thematically she’s found common threads in all of her work since graduating from DSI: the value of user collaboration, and the importance of strategically identifying where to innovate in the problem space.

“Since DSI focuses on systems-thinking, we learn early in the program that social issues are often just a symptom of a larger problem. It is our role as designers to have a comprehensive view of the ecosystem in which a problem sits in order to find the most upstream leverage point.” She says, adding that this perspective has colored her view of the world every day beyond the workspace.

When asked what advice she had for current and future students of DSI, Danielle had this to say:

“There are so many meaningful directions a student can take post-graduation, which can sometimes feel overwhelming. I really recommend that students make time to connect with professors and guest speakers to learn more about the ways social design is practiced in the real world. It’s rare to have so many leading design practitioners within reach, so seize that opportunity to help inform your own professional trajectory. Also, don’t forget how special it is to work alongside people committed to improving the world. When things get stressful, just remember that the breadth of ideas, resources, and relationships you’re building are really once in a lifetime.”

To learn more about Danielle and her work, you’re welcome to visit her website or contact her on LinkedIn.

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