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Reflections after Year One: Bruno Silva

Bruno Silva is mid-way through the DSI program — a pivotal point for him and the rest of the 2016 cohort. He completed the first year of graduate school and is eager to dive into his thesis project, now equipped with key skills and tools learned from the classroom and out in the field.

Coming to DSI was an easy decision for Silva; it hit the sweet spot of an MBA-like education, but in the context of social innovation and design, and without being a traditional design grad program. Also, Cheryl Heller, DSI’s Chair, was his undergraduate thesis advisor when he studied graphic design at SVA a few years ago. He was thrilled about another opportunity to work with Heller, whom he considers a mentor — both professionally and personally.

Coming from a traditional design program, Silva found DSI to be a departure from what he was used to. Here, he encountered a collaborative environment where his eyes opened to new ways of thinking and he was taught practical tools to make his insights impactful and translate them into social innovation. Everything was presented through the lens of design, but he now has frameworks, models, and best practices to put the designs in context and draw connections to how they impact society. This new orientation caused an overall shift in how he operates in the world. He explains, “it’s really about looking at your daily interactions differently.”

Not only did Silva learn new and powerful concepts including: theory of change, systems thinking, disruptive design, and system archetypes, but he was able to put them into practice with real-world client projects. One of his key clients last year was the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. For the Communication Design class, he and his teammates created a digital dashboard that draws from large sets of data to visually reflect the health of the city in real-time. Having work experience in the technology sector, Bruno was a great asset to his team and also strengthened his leadership skills. He explains, “It was interesting for me to see that I was learning a lot more than just creating this product — I am also learning how to interact with people in a different capacity. You have to communicate to people that don’t necessarily speak your language.”

Even though DSI has a design focus, already having a design degree didn’t turn out to be an advantage for Silva. “I don’t think having a design background was a necessary thing. I have learned so much from other people in the program — from researchers, people that are not designers. At the end of the day, design just helped me to prototype things really quickly.” However, Silva does cite his years of work experience at Amplify and elsewhere as an asset that positioned him well to emerge as a leader in the program.

For his thesis project next year, Silva, along with his classmate Hannah Phang are addressing the complex but important issue of sustainability in fashion. They are now in the exploratory phase, deciding which facet of the problem to tackle, but already know that they would like to make sustainable fashion more appealing and accessible to industry influencers such as top fashion bloggers. You can see what the rest of his classmates have planned for their thesis projects here.

Speaking of his classmates, Silva says “I have never encountered — in any of my interactions — a group of people that identify with each other so strongly. We are all very different but we are all very close friends. It’s really amazing. Its very inclusive and everyone has been very thoughtful and caring towards one another and helpful to each other.” No doubt that their bonds will strengthen as they head into another challenging year to create solutions for an array of society’s most wicked problems.

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