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Grace Kwon (‘20) on Finding Purpose in Design

Strategist and DSI faculty-at-large Grace Kwon (‘20) started out training in traditional visual communications design back home in South Korea. However, she’s always known that it wasn’t her true calling. Even in her undergraduate life, she packed in as many entrepreneurship classes as she could due to her desire to be closer to people and industry knowledge in order to better understand the people utilizing design affordances. In addition to her interests in human-centered design, Grace was also trained as a classical painter throughout her childhood, and has utilized that background to excel at visualizing complex issues and ideas, which she demonstrated as our data visualization instructor during fall 2020.

Before teaching for us, Grace was inspired to apply to DSI to see how social impact on the global stage differed from what she was used to in Korea. South Korea, especially Sung-su, a region in south east Seoul, is a hub where the ecosystem for social innovation is strong and healthy. From working in co-ops, nonprofits and big tech conglomerates with limitless funding for social impact in South Korea, she was curious to learn from what’s happening outside of Korea, in hopes to bring in new thinking and approaches to social innovation back home.

Now, Grace is working full-time as a Strategist at Purpose in New York City. Some of her current projects at the firm tackle harmful narratives around poverty, create equitable working conditions for gig workers, and increase home ownership for Black & Brown communities–all topics she is familiar with from her joint thesis with fellow 2020 grad Grace Kang. Whether it be working with funders like the Gates Foundation to corporate clients like National Geographic, Grace’s job is to bring in the lens of equity and community design to projects that center product, service, and campaign innovation. In addition to her work at Purpose and DSI, she is also currently continuing her research in Community Design, which aims to critically examine the shortcomings of Design Thinking and HCD when it comes to equity. 

Her work has been informed by DSI’s approach to systems thinking and equity, stating that: “being from a homogenous country you don’t get to see the larger systemic forces of racial inequities impact the work you do. Being with colleagues from all over the world, you get tap into their perspectives and lived experiences that expand your world view and thinking.”

For new and current DSI students, Grace recommends that you: “know your why, have a clear goal and vision beyond DSI. Especially for international students, studying abroad is like swimming upstream. Everything will be against you, whether it be your immigration status, your race and or financial circumstances. But your community and ‘why’ will get you through.”

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