DSI Getting Back to Nature with Danielle Skinn’s (‘20) Compostable Pillow Studio

MFA Design for Social Innovation: The Year in Review

Four years ago, DSI opened with an ambitious vision: to see our graduates leading positive change at every type of organization, from business to government and the social sector; and, to the be a leading source of learning on how to use design to solve the complex problems facing humanity.

DSI Class of ’14 alum Liora Yuklea at MindCETex

We don’t pretend to be there yet. But with only two alumni classes out in the world thus far, we’re excited to report progress. This newsletter is an opportunity to look back at the past year’s growth, and to look ahead.

DSI graduates are working in industry: at Arup; American Express; Disney; Mango TV (China), Coupang (South Korea), AKRF, Inc, TimeRepublik, VICE Media, Inditex. They are working in the social sector: at UNESCO; Convergence; The World Bank, Games for Change, UN Global Pulse, UN Women, Rockefeller Foundation, Reboot, MindCETex, ZenCity (Israel). They’re working at consultancies: Huge; Diagram; Veryday, Dalberg, Two Twelve, GRID Impact, Now Plus One, Smart Design, Worldstudio. They’re working for the U.S. Government: The Lab@OPM – U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and United States Digital Services; and as the founders of their own businesses: Lovability.

DSI Career Fair, Spring ’15

At these jobs, they are helping to reimagine the future of the built environment, a new vision for education in the U.S. and separately, in Israel, strategies for alleviating poverty, ways to make human resources more human at a national scale; ways to make the world safer for women, and promote sexual health for them; and just about every other issues on the table.

We have seen the number of jobs available for social designers in every sector increase dramatically over the past two years, and though defined with different language from one to the next, the number of employers looking for cross disciplinary, creative problem solvers is growing.

DSI was founded on a set of principles that have informed the nature of the program, and the means through which it has grown. They are the type of principles that become richer and more resonant with time.

Diversity of Thought

The meaning of the word “diversity” has been stretched to accommodate agendas of many kinds, and in the process, its purpose is often lost. It is not just for political correctness or for appearances.

DSI and CUNY Entrepreneurial Journalism fellows workshop, Fall ’15

Diversity is important because complex social problems (which, arguably, all problems ultimately are) cannot be solved by any single field of study, or methodology, or world view. They require the participation of uncommon minds, perspectives, paradigms and practices.

DSI Faculty Jane Englebardt on team building, Fall ’15

At DSI, diversity is a thread woven through every aspect of the program, with faculty who bring experience from widely divergent worlds. and with them, curriculum that crosses boundaries between design, science, business, philosophy, ethics, game mechanics and leadership. Our students have now come from twenty-four countries and counting (come on, Australia!). We have seen this cultural diversity become one of the students’ greatest unexpected learning opportunities: to live and work with people from places unknown, and sometimes unreachable from your own. Added to the energy and creative opportunities of New York, DSI has become a global community of people who cross boundaries to make life-long friends and colleagues.

Design in Context

Design is a means to an intentional outcome, not an end in itself. It cannot make a difference in the world if it is not of the world: not one made only of other designers and academics, but of the people and places for which we work. Our students come from backgrounds as varied as economics, philosophy, anthropology, global business, social services and marketing. They learn to apply the principles and tools of design to these other disciplines. By working inside communities, from an eighth grade class of social justice students and; this past year, to high school students from Brownsville, Brooklyn, they gain first hand understanding of realities other than their own, and find ways that design can build capacity there.

Acting Our Way to Change

Experiential learning has been central to our curriculum. It is in this way that theory becomes more than theory. This past year, through our partnership with Rosanne Haggerty and Community Solutions,

DSI students mapping in Harlem, Fall ’15

students worked on four related initiatives in Brownsville, Brooklyn, including asset mapping, facilitation of a community-led place-making project, preliminary studies for a living dashboard, and joint research on place-making as a means of violence prevention.

Other projects included working with: The Graduate! Network to help them scale to a national organization in order to help the thirty-eight million adults with some college credit but no degree complete school; Micromidas, to create curiosity and demand for biodegradable plastic beverage bottles; Greenmap, to help them become a sustainable global organization; and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, to help them measure and communicate the dimensions of a MutualCity based on collective health.

Since This Time Last Year

We put on a gallery show of tools that will solve social problems; hosted a career fair that engaged over forty potential employers in a conversation about their need for social design; hosted a film screening and luminary panel on juvenile incarceration; held a game jam with the legendary social impact game designer Asi Burak; offered a story telling workshop with social activist and transmedia goddess Lina Srivastava; then a wearable technology workshop with Despina Papadopoulos and Benedetta Piantella Simeonides. We officially founded the DSI Alumni Association; helped create an international exhibition attacking rape culture; created a workshop with the CUNY Entrepreneurial Journalism Fellows to facilitate a learning exchange; launched a partnership and mentoring program with Design for America; traveled to China twice and Australia to spread the word about DSI; and oh yes, graduated an amazing class of design leaders.

DSI Alumni panel at A Better World By Design Conference, Spring ’15

Five of our students spoke about their work at A Better World by Design; Meghan Lazier wrote a post about big D Design in government; one of the student games created in Asi’s class was selected for the Come Out and Play Festival.

The class of 2015 raised the bar high with their thesis projects that addressed complex problems in healthcare, racism, education, consumerism, violence and crime, food and finance, all of which can be seen here.

We welcomed two new faculty members; Manoj Fenelon and Ksenia Pachikov, and a new cohort of students.

If you’d like to know more, please browse the blog.

1 – DSI Class of ’14 alum Liora Yuklea at MindCETex
2 – DSI Career Fair, Spring ’15
3 – DSI and CUNY Entrepreneurial Journalism fellows workshop, Fall ’15
4 – DSI Faculty Jane Englebardt on team building, Fall ’15
5 – DSI students mapping in Harlem, Fall ’15
6 – DSI Alumni panel at A Better World By Design Conference, Spring ’15
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