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Rutvika Gupta on Designing to Values

Though Rutvika Gupta (‘19) stepped straight into the world of design after undergrad, it took her some time to find her true niche within the ever-expanding industry. Right after obtaining her bachelors degree in Industrial Design and deciding that “the world maybe doesn’t need more physical products”, Rutvi decided to transition into the digital realm and accepted a position as a user researcher for IBM Design. There, she spent much of her time working on digital products in the financial sector. During her time there she focused on developing her skills in human-centered practices and research, which is where she truly began her path toward DSI and becoming a social designer. 

Even before beginning her first job with IBM, Rutvi had familiarized herself with DSI after seeing a group of students present their thesis work at the better World by Design Conference at RISD in 2015. Still inspired by the work she saw as a college junior, she decided to apply for the program upon leaving her job at IBM to further explore design research.

Not long after completing her two years at DSI, Rutvi began to work at Nava: a public benefit corporation that partners with government agencies to design and build human-centered products and services. As a design lead of her team, she is currently collaborating with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (an entity within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs) to develop human-centered technology for employees to better serve Veterans, who often wait 10-20 years to receive appropriate benefits and services from the government. Her goal is to build agency and transparency for employees to increase efficiency and accuracy to ultimately improve the Veteran experience. 

In addition to her primary role, Rutvi has also developed a number of side projects designed to improve the employee experience at Nava and contribute to making the organization and her product more equitable. She is leading her product design team in starting to build more equity in their practice by creating space to reflect and act. She recently completed a project where she and a coworker researched existing internal employee resource groups to uncover gaps and opportunities. Many of these ideas were guided by the human-centered practices she developed while at DSI. “Aside from approaching my daily design tasks,” she explains, “part of what I took away from DSI is the ability social designers have to positively influence organizations we’re a part of–especially when thinking about equity and inclusion, and transitioning conversation into action.” 

Outside of all she does at Nava, Rutvi and her mother launched Hatke, a textile-based company. In collaboration with artisans in India, the duo co-design and market hand-crafted textiles such as scarves and pouches with a mission to promote slow fashion through a highly-skilled ancient craft. As part of this work, Rutvi and her mother share their artisans’ creations widely at craft fairs based in the U.S., with the goal of spreading the stories and histories tied to the craft while expanding economic opportunities for their partnering artisans.

As a collaboration-based designer and entrepreneur, Rutvi’s advice for future DSI students is two-fold: “first, make sure to build lasting relationships with peers and professionals you meet through DSI. We all want to address large, complex problems, but they can’t be solved alone. DSI provides a really valuable and compassionate community that should extend beyond the two years. Second, I think it’s important to consider your values early on, and use that as a compass to define your decisions both during and beyond DSI.”

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