Why DSI? Corwin Green. That’s Why.
Last spring, we were lucky enough to welcome Corwin Green to our DSI family. Corwin is an educator and communications designer, whose focus lies in investigating how collective power is created in design and art. A generalist, he works in print, environmental and digital platforms. He is fascinated by brand development and engagement, the function and dysfunction of cities, and the ways space can be augmented and manipulated.
What is Design for Social Innovation?
To me, it’s about anticipating the needs of society at large. Whether you’re looking at qualifying groups or not, social design really should benefit all people. It’s also about deconstructing and analyzing public service, in a holistic way. I think of it as addressing wicked problems by providing a design response rather than finding a solution to them.
Can you elaborate on the difference between a design response and a solution?
With wicked problems–problems for which there are no easy answers, like food insecurity or gentrification–specialists have been studying these things for a really long time. No designer can solve these issues over the course of one or two semesters, so we just have to think about finding design responses that can inform the ways that people think about and act on these issues in the future.
What would you like to say to prospective students about the course you are teaching?
Communication Design is a combination of visual, verbal, and written communication–but it’s also cultural production. In my course (which is co-taught by Miya Osaki) we focus on visual and organizational aspects of design. We discuss things like visual identity, brand development, values, and engagement, and how to leverage those brand decisions to foster the best possible relationship with clients.
Our class functions like a studio, with students taking on roles in small groups in collaboration with outside organizations to help them critically evaluate their brand values and deliverables. Last semester they worked with institutions like Weill Cornell and the Design Justice Network, for example.
I’m a Communication Designer outside of DSI, too, so I’ve enjoyed doing the process-driven work of thinking about things like stakeholder needs & transformational design with the students. I’m really getting to think about things like equity and social impact every day here, and it’s influenced my work outside of DSI as well.
Can you talk a little bit about your background and the work you do outside of DSI?
As a communication designer, I’ve been looking to get back into client work but have been mostly focused on educating lately. Recently, I worked with a real estate firm, which taught me a lot about power brokers and how to understand city dynamics, which has always been an interest of mine. It’s interesting because these brokers and real estate owners often have the most power in their cities, while remaining completely anonymous and virtually invisible, and I’m interested in studying that.
After that, I worked with the Prospect Park Alliance, a green space and small marketing and communications department in Brooklyn. It was a really small department, but really tightly knit, which made our communication swift and effective. There was an informality about it that made it really productive.
Can you talk in more detail about a project that you are working on?
Outside of Communication Design, I have a bit of a passion project going that’s in the realm of social design. I come from a long line of gardeners and farmers, and my partner’s background is in landscape architecture. As of late we’ve been designing and maintaining some beautiful gardens in Brooklyn, and recently have been thinking about shifting our focus to moving beyond the “pretty” and put more emphasis on research and community engagement.
We started researching a project in Southwest Virginia–in Appalachia–that’s thinking about innovations in sustainable agriculture. This research got us wondering about how farmers can invest in the future of their land and, subsequently, in the future of the community. It’s a sort of creative dialogue that’s going to challenge a new generation of farmers and encourage them to reassess their relationship with land.
We’re still in the early phases of this project, but I’ve been focusing on outreach and discovering what kind of creatives and deliverables will have the most impact.
If you could give one piece of advice to students starting DSI, what would it be?
I’ll share something I wish that someone had told me when I started graduate school: you should take advantage of all the resources available to you.
There’s a tendency to focus on the aftermath of college–which is understandable considering what’s being invested in higher education–but there’s a lot more to the journey. At SVA there are great facilities, talks, associations, fellowships, grants, and more, and I can’t stress how important it is to take advantage of all of these opportunities.