What is design for social innovation to you?
I will break it down like we do the first three weeks of our Global Guest Lecture Series:
Design: In its simplest form, design is an approach that results in an outcome. Core to an approach are the values we prioritize and the outcomes we desire (see ‘social’ and ‘innovation’ for more on these two). Secondary are the tools we use to achieve those outcomes. Here, our design approach encompasses managing complexity, facilitating inclusive processes, surfacing people’s real needs and constraints, and exploring our own untested assumptions.
Social: Broadly, the ‘social’ in DSI represents where we apply our design approach; our embedded values. Practitioners of DSI believe that the design practice should evolve beyond its colonist, capitalist past—where it has been harnessed solely for financial gain. This field uses design to foster social progress towards a more just society—this includes rebalancing society’s environmental impact and stabilizing our planet’s climate.
Innovation: When I think of innovation, I think of change. When you innovate, you either change something established or introduce something new to shift the standard paradigm. At DSI, we explore how the design process can appropriately adapt to the social context. When we get this right, design can be a tool to fortify futures that are equitable, accessible, anti-discriminatory, sustainable, and regenerative.
What would you like to say to prospective students about the program & the course you teach?
The field of design for social innovation is vast and shapeshifting. It’s a place where practitioners have to be ready to package and repackage their skills depending on an organization’s needs, that’s why this program takes a generalist approach. We have designed the Global Guest Lecture series, specifically to expose students to the expansiveness of this field by inviting guest practitioners into the space to share their values and process.
While students are exposed to current practitioners, we ask them to take stock of their own skills and values and define their own personal statements. Over four semesters, students interrogate where they currently ‘are’ and where they want to ‘go’ and begin to catalog a professional body of work that positions them for success.
Can you talk a little bit about your background and the work you do outside of DSI?
I work at the intersections of service and user experience (UX) design, technology development, and continuous improvement. I design solutions defined by the people who use them and are built to be inclusive and adaptive.
The common threads throughout my background are design and social responsibility. I hold an undergraduate degree in graphic design and a master’s from DSI. I am drawn to using design methods to address issues that disrupt our social fabric: broken democracy, apathetic public, complicated and discriminatory bureaucracy, over-consumption, extractive practices that have led to climate change.
I have spent most of my career in and around government. My work has supported criminal justice reform, international open government initiatives, and enhanced publicly delivered health and human services.
Can you talk in more detail about a project that you are working on?
I am currently volunteering with an organization near the Delaware River, dividing New York from Pennsylvania. They have been integral in national policy reform to ban fracking, which negatively impacts communities that sit within the river’s basin. I am helping develop storytelling collateral that breaks down the environmental disruptions and down-stream impacts of fracking, a topic that is quite technical and scientific. Together we are trying to make it digestible and meaningful. It’s been insightful to work directly with a small, scrappy organization fighting to keep their community protected from increased environmental harm.
If you could give one piece of advice to students starting DSI, what would it be?
As a former student turned faculty, I get asked this question a lot. My biggest piece of advice is to be self-directed. You are the one who knows best how this program can support your personal growth. Be confident in taking what you need, asking for more of what you find interesting, and leaving what you don’t.
This program is rigorous. You will grow. A lot of information will be thrown at you. You might find something non-applicable, while the person next to you might find it essential. That’s the beauty of DSI. We are able to learn so much from each other, as well. To be successful, you will need to navigate the curriculum and apply it to your own context. The class Miya and I teach is designed to support this process.
This program is for those who want to think more critically about the world, ask better questions, and practice working in the face of ambiguity–three fundamental lessons that will serve you no matter where your path will lead.